In the past few articles (Courting Your Career: Part 1 and Part 2), we first explored how one could discover more about their future careers through “dating their jobs.” Then we looked at various categories of work and tried to match our interest with what’s out there.
However, those articles will not be of any help if you do not know your interests in the first place. This article will take a look at how we can start discovering our own interest(s) while still in school.
Not knowing what to expect
One primary obstacle in making an informed career decision is the lack of knowledge regarding the world of work. The average secondary school student is caught in a situation whereby he is too young to work, thus limiting his exposure. This constrains his experiences within school, tuition, and maybe the odd part-time cashier or promoter job on the side.
However, there are many other things you can do during your early teens to broaden your knowledge about both the world of work and yourself, so hear me out.
The opportunities for self-discovery are plentiful – regardless of which stage of life you are in. With the job market today, one can move across many different industries with a basic degree in any field. Entering a specialist field like accounting, law, or medicine is entirely possible though it may require additional qualifications.
The journey of self-discovery
Opportunities for self-discovery are also available at pre-graduate level as many programmes offer a variety of elective subjects to choose from. This allows you to try out psychology while studying for a business degree, for example. However, should you then decide to change your major, it can be financially costly, and there’s also the added time needed to complete the degree. Instead, it might be beneficial to start this process of self-discovery even before one enters into university; while still at secondary school.
According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages, teenagers find themselves in a stage of self-searching (Identity vs. Role Confusion). Simply put, during this stage, individuals have an innate urge to discover who they are through any means of exploration available to them. This is also an opportune time for the exploration of your own interest as you take advantage of the natural urge for self-discovery.
Secondary school is a good time for self-discovery. Most schools typically have extracurricular activities like cooking classes, sports and other events to join. The school schedule also allows free time during weekends or school holidays for volunteer work at charity organisations. The best part about trying these things out now, is that the cost is relatively low. You don’t have the weight of a degree on your shoulders or the need to face the wrath of your third boss in two years when you resign after only six months.
Knowing what you like vs knowing what you’re good at
On the other hand, you may be concerned that the limited exposure you have at this stage may not be reflective of the real world of work, and that is a valid point. However, even though some activities appear very different from the real thing, they may still be a helpful indicator of how much you’d enjoy them.
For example, working as a cashier may seem like a mundane job, but to be a good cashier, you need to be organised, fast, and accurate with your calculations. This reflects on the jobs in the “conventional” category (Refer to my past article here) like administrative roles and event management. Another good way to experience the conventional type of work is being a librarian at the school library. To do the work well, one needs to be organised and be comfortable working within a predetermined system. Similar to the kinds of skills and aptitude that one would need in order to be an accountant.
If one should like to experience entrepreneurial type of work, the debate club may be a good place to test your skills of persuasion. On the other hand, team management element can be experienced by entering positions of leadership like being a prefect or take part in club committees.
The social type of work can be tested out in any service-oriented event. Or, one could also volunteer to give tuition to weaker classmates. The Realistic type of work is found in hands-on activities, which are predominantly found in a subject called Kemahiran Hidup. As mentioned above, cooking, woodwork, electronics and sports are all Realistic type of work and may indicate how much you like the field.
Investigative, however, is predominantly restricted to the sciences in school. The many experiments you will be doing, although simple, exposes you to a process that hones your critical thinking skills. These activities involve observation, following the “bread crumbs” of available information, and your analytical skills to obtain the next step; skills critical to perform the research nature of the investigative field. Finally, the Artistic type of work can be experienced through any activity offering creative expression. Music, drama, arts and craft, are some of which can be experienced at secondary school.
Bringing it all together
Just remember this: The point of trying things out at secondary school is to learn about the different aspects of work that you can try to see what you’re both good at, and what you enjoy. Constantly ask yourself questions such as, “Can I get better that this?” or “How do I like doing it?” And finally, “Would I enjoy this eventually if I continue doing it?”
Trying things out while in secondary school does have its restrictions. Your exposure may be limited and you may be highly dependent on others. And that is typically what you will face throughout life: challenges and restrictions. Rather than dwell on what you cannot do, try looking out for what you can do. And that probably starts with joining the fundraising project in school to discover if you like event management.
Justin Yap is a counselling psychologist who is currently a counsellor, lecturer, and trainer with CAREERsense@HELP. He is also a counsellor, counselling supervisor, and trainer with The Mind Psychological Services and Training.