Friday, June 17, 2005

Experience Designer and Career Planning

Brian Alger had an excellent post that I've had saved for weeks and keep forgetting to link to. He recounts a discussion with his college-aged son about career direction and life planning, but as usual, he goes much deeper to apply the personal experience to bigger questions about education and purpose:
"The source of career design and work is ultimately our life path, not imposed social expectations. Living a life and building a career based on some shallow conceptions of success will clearly lead to unhappiness and a sense of loss, if not illness itself. In other words, a career and the work we do within that career is simply a by-product of something far greater and far more powerful - our inner passion for the mystery of life itself."

As is often the case with great blog posts like this, they get better with age. This one triggered some fantastic comments and a thoughtful follow-up post. The most interesting comment was from Brian's son Justin -- I love this type of shared personal account. The whole thing is illuminating, but I'll just quote a bit of Justin's contribution:
"This all stems back to the ridiculous age of 16 - the age that the government of Ontario has decided for us all that we must start thinking about our 'careers’. It starts with a short course worth half a credit that they appropriately named 'Career Studies'. The purpose of the course was to fill out aptitude tests and browse career cruising websites so we could find careers that were ‘right’ for us. Of course, the definition of ‘right’ used was just plain wrong. Filling out a standardized test and looking up careers based on it makes absolutely no sense."

Since I began working in the career development field, I've asked dozens of people about their experiences with career planning and guidance counselling. The responses have been overwhelmingly negative, with rolled eyes and shaking heads. Generally we don't seem to have gleaned much benefit from the efforts of schools to help us figure out how we want to spend our time and create sustainable lifestyles. Family and friends seem generally incapable of even asking the right questions, never mind helping with answers. Why is this stuff so difficult?

Brian finishes up the follow-up with some great insight:
"Of course, being on one's life path, or following one's bliss, does not in any way mean that life is without problems and challenges or pain and anguish. But the possibility of happiness and contentment is ever more present in the face of the inevitable difficulties life will present. And the energy we bring to trying circumstances is more resilient - more purposeful - when we are in tune with our inner selves."


Anonymous said...

Typical path:

1. Kid graduates from high school
2. Heads directly to college
3. Within two years, must choose a major
4. That major will generally define his career path

How can a kid of 20, with next to no life experience, possibly make such a choice and have it be authentic? At best, it's a guess.

I've often thought that the "standard" should be that a kid would get out of highschool, spend two years traveling and working to support himself however he can, *then* go into college.

It might give our kids a fighting chance of getting to know themselves and what they really want out of life before they have to make such an important life choice.

Jeremy said...

Hi Stacy, thanks for dropping by. I've popped over to Virtualosophy a couple of times but haven't left a trace -- very interesting stuff.

Your first question -- "How can a kid of 20, with next to no life experience, possibly make such a choice and have it be authentic?" Expecting kids to choose a career goal has always struck me as kind of absurd. Aside from the keeners who always seemed to know what job they wanted, kids (even most adults) have only a vague sense of what they're interested in and how it maps over the world of work. I do think, however, that it's worth exploring possible future paths as a way to motivate kids to seek out interesting things to play with, work on and think about.

I completely agree with the travelling/working advice. Most parents gasp when they hear it, because they fear that their kids are going to spend their 20s wandering around in a fog instead of buckling down and getting the all-important degree. I don't buy it. My hope for my girls is that they'll be engaged in their lives, whether that includes university or not.