The book everyone should read (instead of speaking to their school careers advisor)

At this point in my life, early twenties and finally figuring out the path I want to be on, I do feel more than a little frustrated that not once was my personality discussed in meetings with school, or even university, careers advisors. Conversations followed along the lines of “What are you good at [academically]? What do you like [right now]? Well in that case, logically, you should do ___.” In my view that’s just not good enough.

How about “Let’s work out your innate preferences, the things that you truly care about and what’s authentic for you. Then we’ll see if your subject choices and enjoyment of these subjects match up and work out the next step forward based on your own personal values.” We should be so lucky. But what’s so difficult about that?

Being a fan of both careers books and personality theory, the following read is the perfect combination. I’m a strong believer in needing to look much deeper than ‘skills’, ‘interests’ and ‘logic’ to find the right path, and this book does just that.

DowhatyouareFrom personality to profession

(Do what you are, by Tieger and Barron) 

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is essentially based on preferences – it doesn’t try to tell you what you’re good at or experienced in, only where your natural preferences are, and therefore your likely natural strengths.

The authors give a great explanation of MBTI before exploring each type in relation to careers. Each ‘type’ section describes real life examples of people sharing that ‘type’ who have fulfilling careers, before going on to pull out the common themes and suggest not just other careers to consider, but key factors to consider and rank, and even methods of job hunting that might be most effective.

I always like to hear people’s career stories, so unsurprisingly it was the examples that made this such an interesting read for me. Having done a lot of work on figuring out my own path, it was great to read about others doing work that I’d love to do.

The thing I find so fascinating is how different we all really are. While one person might love analysing data sat at a computer and hate the idea of spending time face to face with an individual discussing their problems, someone else might resent time spent putting together spreadsheets but feel passionate about supporting those with mental health issues. When talking about my ideal work, I often find myself saying ‘Yes, but who wouldn’t want to do that?!’ except the answer to that is, a heck of a lot of people!

It’s official: I hate my job

dead endOkay, so I have just had a rubbish day at work. But not an awfully or unusually rubbish day, just another bad day of many.

For the first time in my life I’m in a position to say, you know what, I’m not enjoying this and I don’t feel it’s helping me professionally or personally, and I have a choice to leave. All through school and university you’re on a set path – if something’s not working you make small adjustments within that path, like swapping a module, or changing a project or group. But in the world of work there’s no longer that sense of commitment to a set time period. There’s no clear path to follow or ladder to climb.

I miss learning and feeling like I’m really getting somewhere. There’s always a sense of progress with exams and time-frames, whereas in the world of work you make your own targets. I realise I could take a course alongside my job, but I’ve been working so hard to build up experience alongside work that I don’t feel like I have enough time just to relax. It doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day to do everything. Busyness is never an excuse. If you want to do something you make time. And I really believe that, but I’m getting stressed out. 8 hours a day, 5 days a week feels like a massive chunk of my life right now.

And everyone’s been talking about Meg Jay and her book. Part of me feels I should read it, part of me wants to avoid it like the plague. I know your twenties are important and aren’t for messing around. I know that professionally and personally it’s the time to start to make sure you get to where you want to be. I know all that and it scares me and stresses me out. I don’t want to read about how behind I am and how much work I have to do in my twenties. I’m already terrified that time’s flying by and I’m getting nowhere.

I’m considering going back to university, but I don’t want to pick that because it’s all I know, I want to pick that if it’s genuinely the right thing for me to do. Because I miss knowledge and learning and academia. From my experiences so far I’m really not sure that the business world is for me. And then there’s teaching, and I like that idea, but am I just clinging onto another thing that’s familiar?

I’m not proud of my job. I want people to ask me what I do and for me to be able to tell them with pride, not embarrassment.

The 4 career-searching personalities


I’ve been thinking about different attitudes to building fulfilling career paths, and I’ve come up with these 4 categories:

Decided Undecided
Starter Know where they want to be and on the path to get there Don’t know but are exploring options proactively and linking interests
Settler Know but unsure how and/or unwilling to put the work in to get there Don’t know where they want to be and aren’t making an effort to work it out

The decided starter – you know the type, have known since childhood exactly what they want to be without even needing to consider other options out there, usually studying something vocational, e.g. medicine, teaching. These people can be pretty irritating. Who wants to hear from someone who has their whole life planned out and is completely content with their decision? Well actually it is kind of nice to know there are people in this world who know what they’re doing. Good for them.

The undecided starter – now you can’t be annoyed with this type, they don’t have a clue but they’re doing their best to work it out. I’d say these people are pretty inspiring, they admit they’re not perfect but they’re not just sitting back and hoping for the best, they’re out there trying things out and building a path for themselves. And this is one major way in which they differ from decided starters: they’re creating their own path, not following a predefined one.

The decided settler – this type is frustrating, they know what they want to be doing, you know they know what they want to be doing, but they’re not doing it. Why? Fear of failure, lack of encouragement, laziness? Whatever it is it’s not a good enough reason for them to settle for something that’s not on the path to what they really want. You want them to make the effort, to work at their dream, but it feels like they’ve just given up and are simply sitting back and waiting for something to fall into their lap.

The undecided settler – they don’t have a clue, and because of this you do feel for them, finding the right path for yourself isn’t easy. It’s discouraging to come across this type, they seem lost and unsure where to start. But it’s a small step to go from undecided settler to undecided starter.

I know which category I want to be in.

Not so great expectations

I was looking through some old school reports the other day. Back at school the teachers knew and supported everyone, and had high hopes for many of those they taught, but from university onwards each student becomes more and more anonymous.


Well it would certainly be a conversation starter…

My tutor at university was great, I remember him telling me that I could do anything I wanted when I left. Nothing at all to do with my intelligence – one of his suggestions was joining the circus and another was becoming a weather girl! I think he was really just trying to say ‘the world is your oyster’.

Then you start applying for jobs and you realise just how big a pond you’re in, and just how small a fish you really are. And even once you’ve got that first job, there’s always that niggling feeling – is this really it? Can’t I do something better than this? Aren’t I destined to do something more meaningful?

And it begins to feel like you’re not living up to your potential. All of that talk of becoming an artist, a doctor, a teacher – whatever good solid, or even dream, job you thought you might end up with when you’d finished your education – has gone out the window, and worst of all, no-one really seems to care what you do or become anymore. You’re told you’re lucky to have any job in this economic climate, that it’ll ‘work out eventually’, that no-one really knows what they want to do.

Those dreams of doing amazing things, of travelling, of excitement, of adventure… “Oh yeah, you want to do that? Sure, you do that one day,” they say. Well I want to remind everyone, and myself, that we’re not here to live up to other people’s expectations of us; we’re here to live up to our own expectations for ourselves, so we better make them high.


Being a small fish in a big pond doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

cans and plansAbout a week ago I posted ‘Dream BIG’, so I’ve decided to take my own advice. When I was younger my dream was to become a children’s book illustrator – I should probably get back to drawing for there to be any chance of that happening! Here are my top 5 dream careers (in no particular order):

1. Science journalist

Always learning about new and interesting topics, getting to speak to and interview scientists about their work and then producing finished articles to be published. The down side? I’m a bit of a perfectionist and take criticism to heart.

2. Helicopter pilot

I very much enjoyed having a few gliding lessons and taking a ride in a hot air balloon – I think it’s the sense of perspective and beauty of being up so high. You could give people great experiences or work for the air ambulance service doing something really amazing. Unfortunately learning to fly a helicopter is extremely expensive and there aren’t many jobs around.

3. English as a foreign language teacher

Creative lesson planning, challenge and variety. You get to work with people and help them to learn something that could be really useful to them. The opportunity to travel is obviously also appealing, even if the thought of living and working abroad is a little scary.

4. Artist (of some description)

Who wouldn’t want their painting/photograph/installation on show in a gallery? I love seeing other peoples’ art and would definitely be proud if something I’d created was on display. But creative career paths are always difficult – you need both real talent and a lot of commitment.

5. Entrepreneur

Lie-ins, being your own boss, sense of freedom and control, ability to combine your interests, choose who you work with, when you work, where you work etc. etc. Though you are 100% responsible for your own income, and you need some sort of idea, and a lot of determination and motivation, to make things happen.

Well we’ve all got to have our dreams, haven’t we!

What are your dream jobs? Do you think you would enjoy them in reality?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

This TED talk explains in very blunt terms why most people will never have that great career… unless they get rid of the excuses.

And, on a lighter note, I’ve just come across this blog which is also pretty inspiring.

Go with the flow

One of our school mottoes was ‘Destiny is choice, not chance’, and this is something I feel like I’ve stuck to, a little too well. While I do try to take advantage of chance opportunities, I always feel the need to make actively thought-through decisions.

Basically I’m a bit of a control freak.

The following book was mentioned to me through a comment on a previous post, and it was definitely a good recommendation (thanks David Lindskoog). It’s not only helped me to clarify my thinking on taking advantage of chance events, but has also helped to convince me that I really don’t have to commit to long term career goals.

luckisnoaccident6. Coincidence or fate?

(Luck is no accident: Making the most of happenstance in your life and career, by John Krumboltz and Al Levin)

This book basically describes life, or how life should be: trying things out, meeting and speaking to different people, and discovering opportunities through networking. It’s easy to forget how small efforts, such as attending an event or chatting to a stranger, can lead to significant links, connections and opportunities, whether immediately or sometime in the future.

I love the idea of flexibility and ‘going with the flow’; the idea that it really truly is ok to make mistakes, that you can always change your circumstances and goals and that there is no right or wrong answer as long as you’re exploring and experimenting. I realise this probably all sounds like common sense, and it is, but it’s easy to forget. There are some great quotes and loads of great examples of different people’s career paths throughout the book.

One particular quote stood out to me: The question that I hate most that we ask of young people is, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” And the truth is, I still don’t know at age 45 – Michelle Obama. Maybe there’s a feeling that you’re a bit ditzy if you don’t have a career plan, that you don’t care enough about your future and making the most of your talents, but this book has taught me that’s there is no shame at all in exploring your options.

You never need to decide what you are going to be in the future (a great sense of relief to me!). Unplanned events will inevitably have an impact on your career. Reality may be offering you better options than you could have dreamed. Expect to make mistakes.

Reassuring? I think so.

Wearing more than one hat

portfolio-careers-hatsI’ve recently been having a look on the internet at alternatives to a nine to five job, and there are a lot of books out there on setting up some kind of business of your own or going freelance. I also came across the idea of a ‘portfolio career’ which I’d never heard of before but is actually something that I think would quite suit me.

Basically a portfolio career involves working part time or freelance in a few different roles, which could be similar or completely different. This allows you to gain much wider experience and to cover more of your interests in your work – the variety really appeals to me.

During the summer I volunteered for a charity in the city near my mum’s home two days a week while completing an internship in the city I went to uni in, staying in my old student house, for the other three days. I enjoyed the change of scene – when I was starting to get bored with one job I knew I’d be doing something completely different soon. It was also good to build up different skills and experience simultaneously. I’m currently doing an internship two days a week and fitting in waitressing shifts when I can, and again I like the variety, two days at a desk and a variety of lunch and evening shifts waiting on tables and serving customers.

At school or university we don’t seem to hear about the option of an unusual career. It just seems to be expected that most people will go into a standard nine to five job. I realise that stability is important, and that maybe limited office hours could be a problem in certain jobs, however this sort of career could really suit some people who have a wide range of interests and/or skills.

A conscious decision not to limit yourself to a single full time job should be seen as a career choice in itself. I guess the problem may be finding the sort of part time or freelance roles that fit together, are in the same location and don’t cause too much hassle or stress trying to balance alongside each other. Definitely something to think about.

Satisfaction or analysis?

Following on from my last post, I’ve been thinking about the idea of satisfactory. I guess I’ve always thought of satisfactory as a bad thing. Whenever you rate something the options are poor, satisfactory (meaning ok, not very good really), good and very good. Yet in terms of life and happiness and contentment, satisfaction is pretty great.

I’ve just finished a second decision-making book, and in some ways it seems to contradict the ideas relating to maximisation and satisficing.

2. (Over?) Analysing

(Smart choices: A practical guide to making better life decisions, by John Hammond, Ralph Keeney and Howard Raiffa)

Some good ideas in this book: Framing your decision problem well, looking for creative alternative options, and clarifying your objectives. However a huge amount of detail on qualifying and quantifying and trade-offs and risks and consequences which all seem to point towards maximisation rather than satisficing.

I definitely haven’t actively considered my objectives when making past decisions, and this really is so important. If you don’t know what you want to get from a choice, then you have little chance of making the right one. Another thing I’m definitely guilty of is falling into psychological traps, about which this book gives a great overview.

Some key psychological traps to consider when making a decision are:

1. Over-relying on first thoughts, i.e. getting an idea into your head which then anchors your thinking.

2. Sticking with the current situation because it’s easier to do that than make a decision – ask yourself whether you would actively choose your current situation if you weren’t in it and were comparing it to other options.

3. Protecting earlier choices – something I’m sure lots of people, including myself, are guilty of. It’s really important to see each decision separately without linking it to the past. Decisions only affect the future and you can’t change past mistakes, only accept them and move on. If you’re in a hole, stop digging.

4. Seeing what you want to see – trying only to confirm your own thoughts isn’t helpful, you need to be challenged by contradictions and alternative views. Get someone to play devil’s advocate and see things from a different perspective.

5. Posing the wrong question – framing questions differently affects your thoughts and choices.

(The book goes into more detail about these and more, but the above 5 definitely stood out to me)

Step 2 for becoming an excellent decision maker: Beware psychological traps. Also define objectives and alternatives.

How to make a decision

I am notoriously bad at making decisions. One of my teachers at primary school used to tell me to ‘go and be MAD’ meaning go and Make A Decision. I chose my GCSE subjects, most were obvious choices, but I struggled between choosing history and textiles. I can’t actually remember which I wrote down on the form, all I know is that I got history, begged to be able to join the textiles class, started textiles, then changed back. A moment of confusion? It’s only choosing one little subject at school. Well the exact same thing happened when choosing my A-Levels. Physics or English? Chose physics, swapped to English, swapped back. Clearly didn’t learn from that mistake (though I’ve realised it usually takes me three times to work out where I’m going wrong – I very nearly tried to change university course).

And it’s not just education-wise. I always leave labels in clothes and take an average of maybe 3-6 months before wearing anything new I’ve bought. Just in case it was a bad choice and I decide to take it back.

I always like to try out all the options. Just to make sure I’ve made the best decision. As I’ll explain later, that makes me a maximiser – and that’s not a good thing.

So, in my quest to become an excellent and content decision-maker (and that is my aim) I’m reading some books on the subject, and I thought I would summarise my findings in an attempt to help any other maximisers (see below) out there who struggle like I do.

1. Maximisers and satisficers

(The paradox of choice: why more is less, by American psychologist Barry Schwartz)

Maximisers always look for the best. They want to see and try out all possible options before committing to any one choice. The problem with this strategy? Nothing is ever perfect, and as perfect doesn’t exist striving for it will just make you discontent. This is me at the moment, however what I want to be is a satisficer.

Satisficers look at the available options and choose the best from a limited selection to best fit their goals and needs. They are happy with good enough, however they do have standards and being a satisficer by no means equals settling for something that doesn’t meet those standards. The way I see it after reading the book, this is the only way to be content. You choose to be satisfied with less than perfect, and as perfect doesn’t exist anyway then good enough (or great enough, remember satisficers do have standards) is really the best you can aim for.

What I learnt from this book? The grass isn’t always greener. We have so many options – too many options – that make it difficult to focus simply on what does the job and is satisfactory. And this applies to everything, from food to clothes to technology to cars, houses, careers etc. etc.

Step 1 for becoming an excellent decision maker: Accept that perfect doesn’t exist and there are some pretty great options that will lead to far more happiness than an endless search for perfection.