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Having just finished writing an essay on the intricacies of the 16th Century European cloth trade, or something equally as fascinating, you lean back and try to clear your head. You deserve a break.
Or do you? The teacher now looming over you thinks not.
“Have you decided what you're doing after school yet?”, “Thought about applying for an apprenticeship?”, “Have you considered choosing a career in engineering?”, “Why are you asleep on the floor of the common room?”, “Places are being taken fast, you need to decide soon or you’ll be left behind”.
The same questions. Over, and over. Forget clearing your head because apparently the most important decision in the world is heading for you like a train and you’re running out of time.
Except, you’re not running out of time, and choosing a career is not as important as you think.
Choosing a career brings unnecessary pressure
Go to any family gathering and you’d best have a preloaded list of responses to all the unavoidable questions about your ‘studies’. Choosing a career can feel daunting because it seems to follow you like a shadow. All of a sudden, it becomes everybody’s business.
Sadly, most schools tend not to make this any easier. The pressure to choose a subject to specialise in and a career to pursue can become overwhelming.
So, please take comfort in the fact that this pressure is entirely needless.
School and family will place this burden on you because the common belief is that this is a once in a lifetime, make-or-break decision. The issue is, that this is based on the assumption that you can’t change your mind after making it. That if you go to university, or start an apprenticeship or work, then dropping out and changing direction would be more difficult and complicated than trying to operate a shower in somebody else’s home. In other words, practically impossible and not worth the hassle.
This is a false assumption.
Pursuing a career for the first time
Perhaps the pressure has gotten to you, and you’ve set out on following a career or subject that you’re not too certain about. Or, perhaps the pressure didn’t get to you at all, and you’re pursuing a route that you’ve been certain about for years. Either way, you do not need to approach the situation as if you are embarking upon a new life. Three or more years of university are there for you if you want them. The same goes for apprenticeships and jobs in general, you will not get the death penalty if you decide to leave (I checked the Gov.uk website, it’s illegal).
So, when choosing a career, know that you are not trapping yourself. Know that the world is more flexible than you think. Of course, you should put the hours in to ensure that you find a subject or job-role that you think you will love. But sometimes people get it wrong, and schools never seem to mention that bit.
You might notice in life that when pressure disappears, fear tends to fade away as well. So, if you stop applying that pressure, maybe choosing a career won’t feel so terrifying.
Here is why you shouldn’t be scared to get it wrong…
Abandoning a career for the first time
Choosing a career can feel pretty permanent. Especially once you’ve gone through the process of applying for one, maybe attending some interviews and, even just telling people close to you. The same goes when choosing a university.
It becomes almost unimaginable that, after all of this, you could realise that you’d made the wrong decision. In fact, it’s even more unimaginable that making this mistake could actually turn out to be a good thing. Yet it does, and if you end up in this position, it will for you too.
Imagine, just a few months after starting your ‘dream’ apprenticeship, you realise that you’re unhappy. The temptation is to push those thoughts away. Presumably, you’ve attended countless assemblies telling you whimsical tales of all the students that found success in higher education, who are now married to supermodels with celebrity children. People don’t just, drop out, not after working that hard to get there. Right?
They absolutely do.
Listen to that unhappiness. That poor boy that didn’t like his ‘dream’ apprenticeship, wondering why all the other apprentices seemed so much happier, that was me just one year ago. Yet I sit here now, in the halls of Liverpool University, wondering why I even considered an apprenticeship in surveying.
Learning from your mistaken career… for the first time
Did you listen to the unhappiness? If so, then the first thing you’ve probably learned is how easy it is to leave. Young people like to change their minds, which isn’t surprising considering the majority of eighteen-year-olds aren’t ready to decide what they want to do for the next 60 years. Universities know this. Businesses know this. If it’s clear that you’ve thought through your decision, then there really aren’t many obstacles in your way.
You might have learned that dropping out of university means only paying back the loans given to you for the terms that you were there. Or that leaving an apprenticeship might result in a moody Line Manager (that you’ll never have to see again) … and that’s pretty much it.
The most important thing is that you have learned more about yourself. How could you possibly have known that you didn’t want to do what you were doing without … doing it? It is impossible to understate how valuable that is. Of course, you can go to workshops and talks at school and learn about the ‘realities’ of going to university or getting a job.
But you will never really know until you try it.
Choosing a career isn’t scary when you know that, even if you get it wrong, you will still end up in a stronger position.
Choosing a career again (if you want to)
So, now you’re on the other side. You’ve left a career that you now realise was never for you, and you’re okay. Your employer didn’t have you sent to prison for trying to leave. The Dean of the university didn’t personally drop-kick you out of the premises. Things are good, and you’ve learned.
Thankfully, things get even easier from here. The experience may have enlightened you to a path that you had never before considered. I had always been dead set against university until I found that it was all I was daydreaming about for the months I was in my apprenticeship.
It doesn’t always work that way. But, even if you leave having no idea what to pursue next, at least you have a lot more time (and a lot less pressure) to decide.
In fact, you don’t have to decide if you don’t want to. Life is long and you have more time than you think. Sadly, you will probably have to earn some kind of income at some point in order to survive, but anything past that point is really up to you.
The value in choosing the wrong career comes from the knowledge and experience that you gain. What you might want from a career, from life, becomes a whole lot clearer. Plus, if you ever find yourself in a similar position in the future, you will know that you are not stuck.
You are never stuck.
Everything will be fine
Much that has been described in this article might seem very far in the future. For many of you, it will be. The point is, in knowing that the future isn’t quite as daunting and rigid as schools and parents make it out to be, you can hopefully survive the final years of school with a little less stress. Education is hard, and it’s demanding.
Please do not let people convince you that ‘you have it easy right now’ and that you should ‘just wait until you get into the real world’. Focus on the now, and take comfort from the fact that the years after school are yours, and you can do with them what you want.
Choosing a career is like picking up something unfamiliar at a continental buffet. Is it a freshly made doughnut? Or could it be a deep-fried ring of aubergine? You won’t know until you try it, but you can always pick up something else if you don’t like it.
Choosing a career with Fledglink
At Fledglink, we believe it's ok not to know when trying to choose a career. The app contains hundreds of exciting opportunities and events, as well as helpful resources just like this one designed to help you grow the confidence you need to dive into the world of work. Use the app to support you as you make your big life decisions, and change your mind as often as you need.