You can't be what you can't see

JP Michel

As a career coach, I used to ask students: "What do you want to do?"

I remember sitting at a coffee shop, meeting with a frustrated 18 year-old. He doesn't know what he wants to do. Yet here I am, asking the same question he doesn't have an answer to. I felt incompetent.

Here's what I learned: My reflex to tap into his inner motivation, while fueled with good intentions, was misused.

Career advisors can overvalue 'starting with self' at the expense of discovering possibilities.

When we ask students to imagine their place in the world of work, we expect them to generate possibilities as if they have had the same exposure we've had.

Since they haven't, we risk of focusing them on what they already know. This can inadvertently limit their career options.

In a complex, ever-changing world with countless opportunities, our first step should be to broaden horizons. This leads to powerful 'aha' moments, excitement and fuel to explore further.

Here are three steps you can take to help students go beyond what they know to discover what is possible.

Step 1 - Broaden horizons through exposure to new possibilities.

It's hard to imagine what you don't know is possible. You can't be what you can't see.

To help students see new possibilities, use the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals or the Challenge Cards. Alternatively, you can ask them to google 'the future of' an industry, topic or class they enjoy. Then, ask students to pick their favorite challenge, problem or opportunity.

Step 2 - Dig for meaning to connect the self with the labor market.

Asking students to explain their choice helps them articulate what is meaningful to them.

This is how students can connect who they are with outside possibilities. Some questions to ask:
-Why did you pick that challenge?
-How do you want to solve this challenge?
-What skill do you have that could help with this challenge?

Step 3 - Identify avenues for further research.

The combination of 1) discovering new possibilities, and 2) articulating why they are meaningful to you, will generate energy and momentum.

At this stage, it would be easy to 'commit and quit'. This means choosing one related job title, and ending the career exploration process(!). This would be a mistake as their is still so much more to discover.

Instead, help students find companies and people working on this challenge. This will help them learn more about what's possible.

I'm glad I made this mistake earlier in my career. It help me discover the value of helping students go beyond themselves.

When you use these three steps, you can expect students to gain a new perspective, and several new possibilities.

Photo by Osarugue Igbinoba on Unsplash

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