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Did you choose your career or did your career choose you?

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

«The most important thing is that a person should grow in the soil to which he really belongs; although where that might be is not always easy to know. In that respect there are certain lucky souls who have such a clear bias in one particular direction that, once it has been pointed out to them, they head straight off in that direction and are never troubled by the possibility that, in fact, they should really have been taking a completely different path. And then there are others, so completely conditioned in their progress by their immediate surroundings that they never fully understand what it is they really should be aiming for. » (Papers and Journals 1833–1855, published posthumously)

Ferguson, Robert. Life lessons from Kierkegaard (School of Life)

Are you an active sleepwalker at work?

If you were to look back at your career decisions, would you be inclined to make the same choices today?

Career development is one area of life that seems to be lived in reverse! It is like asking a young child to pick one ice cream flavor to eat for life, knowing full well that they haven't yet had the opportunity to sample the range of flavors available and that their taste will inevitably evolve!

In high school, when we are barely 15 years old, the education system forces us to make choices of specialization related to our future career path. Enriched math and science? Arts? Languages? Sports? Without even having the opportunity to explore these different fields, we must choose - tic toc - time is running out. In a period where we are highly influenced by our peers, in the midst of an identity crisis trying more than anything to be accepted, we are being asked to begin a reflection that will have a considerable impact on our future happiness. Moreover, the support available to guide us is often limited and disconnected from the needs and opportunities of the job market.

Some young people with inheritable careers will already have the ultimate answer to all these questions, their career path being largely determined by their family's professional heritage. Others will decide not to follow the family path and will attempt to chart their own. And some do not have much of a professional family heritage to be inspired from... In all cases, the student will be forced to adapt to the educational system, trying as best as possible with his or her abilities to jump through the fiery hoops of the typically imposed linear path.

In his book Grasp published in 2020, Sanjay Sarma, the head of Open Learning at MIT (Massachusetts institute of technology), emphasizes that the educational system is built to eliminate deviations as best as possible and ensure a certain homogeneity. He goes so far as to compare it to a winnower, an agricultural tool that farmers use to clean grain, separating the straw, chaff, and dust from the good grain.« It makes you wonder», he says, «how much raw human potential the global educational winnower routinely sacrifices for the sake of a consistent product. There is every reason to believe that the wastage is vast: a world’s worth of attrition parceled out most visibly in rejection letters and underwhelming test scores, but also in less obvious forms such as courses never taken, applications never sent, exams never taken, books never read.» And I dare to add skills never developed, job searches never done, talents untapped, careers forgotten and therefore societal needs unmet.

Creating an inclusive career development pathway will require making it authentic, experience based and rooting it in human values by embracing the uniqueness of each individual. To do so, changes are urgently needed. We must succeed in transforming learning into a voyage of discovery where imagination is as important as knowledge, where curiosity is recognized and promoted and transferable skills are valued. Some observations have already been made in Canada in the province of Quebec in relation to university courses. Over the past decade, at the School of Management Sciences (ESG), multidisciplinary bachelor's degrees have gained significant popularity compared to the traditional bachelor's degree (Montréal Campus, Véronique Sénécal, 2016, L'option d'un parcours unique) perhaps because this type of pathway allows for personalization and better life balance.

In addition to a more flexible, adaptable and open curriculum, it becomes crucial to include stakeholders who support career development starting as early as in high school. But not the gym teacher who suddenly becomes a career counselor because he or she has the skills to administer a career test that will indicate, after analyzing the answers to a dozen questions, that you were born to become a florist! I am referring to professionals who know the reality of the job market and the spectrum of opportunities, who have the gift of inspiring, motivating and empowering youths and adults to take action, to dare to target career goals in line with their real need for happiness and respecting their values. Professionals that have the right arguments to make future talents understand that money and comfort shouldn’t be their prime motivator but instead the result of a well thought and meaningful career in which talents will be doing what they love and contributing to our society in a viable way.

Today, with all the models and options available for designing a career path, it would be costly not to ask yourself the following question:

Is your current job maximizing your professional happiness ?

Now is the time to wake up.


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