Remember when you were bright-eyed little Brownie, and someone would ask - ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ The question inspired a host of excited responses: ‘an astronaut!’, ‘a doctor!’, ‘a unicorn!’ Fast-forward a few years and exploring such avenues is far from simple.
Choosing a career path can potentially be the hardest decision of your life, particularly when you’re fresh out of school or college and you realise that this decision will ultimately shape your future. With the array of options available, from further study to gap years and everything in between, it can be hard to identify which choice will be best for you.
The path to your ideal future may be brimming with challenges and will undoubtedly have obstacles unique to each choice, but whether you are a young person facing this decision or someone who can offer support, here are some tips.
Experience a real work setting
Securing a career role can be an arduous task when you don’t have experience. Internships are a great way to build skills in an industry and can help you understand your preferences. Employers look for more than just academic experience and arguably value real-life experience more. So even if you are pursuing education, it's productive to balance this with an internship or work experience. By doing an internship in the field that you’re interested in, you’re gaining valuable knowledge in the arena while making connections with the professionals you want to one day become. Even if it doesn’t turn into a job, or you don’t pursue that career, it is still a learning experience. Interning at an organisation which values your time and invests in your development is equally important to ensure your energy is well directed. Volunteering at Girlguiding can be an excellent way to challenge yourself, gain new skills, and develop your ability to deal with diverse situations.
“With creative careers, it is important to get as much ‘real-world’ experience as possible so try to get work experience alongside your studies (but also, don’t be taken advantage of). For creative roles, utilise social media and put artwork on Facebook/Instagram to get exposure/feedback on your work; it can lead to getting freelance work. Also, University isn’t the only option especially in creative/hands-on roles, there are always apprenticeships.” Jessica Preston, 22, Former Girlguiding Design Intern.
Many successful academics credit the advice they received from more experienced professionals early in their career. Mentors can act as great catalysts to take your career to the next level. There is nothing wrong with utilising the relevant support networks and adopting a mentor - someone who has real-life experience who can offer you practical guidance. What’s also key is maintaining a supportive circle who can feed you positive outlooks, those who encourage you while you all embark on various paths, make contrasting choices, and ultimately navigate through life in different ways. Staying in the company of people who empower you is one of the most powerful tools of development, and it is important to reciprocate this to stay positive. One of the best things about Girlguiding is making life-long friends and being at the core of girls and leaders who accept, support, and are proud of each other.
It’s okay to trial and error
Truth be told, you probably won’t get it right the first time. In fact, trialling and error-ing is a positive way to become more aware of what you want from life. Indeed, your plans are never set in stone, and life is not a linear path; rather it can become a winding road but it’s those experiences weaved together which help you grow.
“It took me a while to get to where I needed to be. When I was deciding on my future, I was so sure that Psychology was the career route that I wanted to go down. Yet when I was immersed in it, I realised it wasn’t for me. At first, I dwelled on my failed decision and felt like I wasted my time. It took some time to get any closer to making a decision about my future as I felt lost. In that time, I ensured that I stayed productive by volunteering and continuously learning. Then, I returned to study and switched routes. Now I look back, those series of choices led me to the creative PR role I enjoy now, with applicable transferable skills so I suppose it isn’t so regrettable after all. Like Richard Branson said, ‘a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.’” Tesin Suleman, 25, PR and Communications Coordinator.
It is common, especially with the depth of social media sharing everyone’s moves, to feel inadequate or frustrated about your progress. It is important not to feel that you must follow the path everyone else is on as this can hinder your growth later and impact your contentedness. You are on your own journey so do what feels right for you to get you where you need to be. People progress within their own timing.
“I applied for university and decided on my A-level results day that it wasn’t for me and now I’m in a job that I love, doing something I enjoy, experiencing a realistic working environment and feel so prepared for a, hopefully, successful career! Obviously, mine is just an experience of not going through the final stages of education and I imagine everyone’s perception is different, but for anyone out there like me who had second thoughts about whether it was the right choice to go to university, definitely go out and see what it’s like to work and then decide, you can always reapply!” Rebecca Collinson, 21, Membership Systems Coordinator.
Follow your passions and smash that glass ceiling
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to love what you do. Of course, there’ll be bad days as with most things, but if you enjoy the challenges, it’s a great place to be. If you haven't found it yet, keep going.
“My advice would be, find a job that you are truly passionate about and believe in the product/vision of the company or organisation. It makes a huge impact on your wellbeing and keeps you driven and enthusiastic.” – Alexandra Dodd, 27.
With the scarcity of women in many occupations, STEM, Sport and Politics to name few, it can feel rather intimidating to want to pursue ‘unorthodox’ careers. You owe it to yourself to have the freedom and space to live the life you are happy and proud of. 41% of girls aged 11-21 (Girlguiding, 2016) think that there are too few women role models working in STEM-related careers. To find inspirational women, we must look much harder, so let’s become them.
Never stop learning!
Ask, ask, and ask some more. You never know what you don’t know, so ask as many questions as possible, engage, and be enthusiastic about all the people and experiences you come across - this will lead to enlightenment. When you look at the most successful people in the world, they understand this; they don't act like they know everything but realise that they must continuously learn to be successful.
And remember, if at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again.
“If your results aren’t what you expected, don’t worry; it’s really not the end. Sometimes when you’re led down a different path and where it ends can be fantastic!”- Louise Smith, 45.