“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”– Wendell Berry, American writer, poet, environmental activist and farmer
Career planning is an extremely crucial process. It leads to decisions that impact not just one’s daily life but also one’s long-term goals.
As important as it is, if not done properly, it can result in loss of precious time, self-doubt and disappointments.
The Beginning of Career Confusion
Whereas some individuals are clear about their choices, others face many difficulties in deciding on a suitable career path and pursuing it to realise their dreams.
Career confusion may start in one’s student years and continue well into professional life.
In my experience, career confusion takes root when children are told by the adults in their lives that they can be whatever they dream of, but by the time these youngsters reach their teenage years, the same grown-ups often start questioning their decisions and choices. They display cynicism towards the idea of ‘making one’s passion one’s profession’.
That is when disillusionment arises. Such students may carry this feeling well into their adult lives. They can be baffled and scared even at a later stage when thinking about a career switch. If this issue isn’t resolved, it may persist forever.
Confusion is Natural
Confusion is an epistemic emotion, i.e., it’s a natural emotion associated with the development of our knowledge and understanding. For instance, career confusion pushes individuals to think about their options, explore opportunities, seek clarity and reach a well-thought-out decision.
Speaking about my own journey, my career confusion and panic started in high school. All my friends were applying to colleges, whereas I was clueless about my next steps!
I belong to Kullu – a small town in the lush green valley of Himachal Pradesh – where the only ‘career options’ that most students think they have are medicine, engineering, teaching or government services.
This, however, did not stop me from exploring other career opportunities. I had a few options in mind that I found interesting but didn’t know much about the courses I needed to pursue or the colleges that were best suited for me.
Lacking knowledge about career counselling, I started reaching out to professionals working in the fields of my choice. My interactions with them helped me gain valuable insights into these areas of work. But it was a tiresome way to go about understanding my suitability (or lack of it) for different careers.
Here’s an example. To explore the profession of physiotherapy, I took an appointment with a physiotherapist. The therapist, at first, assumed that I was there for ‘treatment’ and started asking me about ‘my issues’. When I told him that I was there to understand more about his profession, he sat dumbstruck. “This is the first time that a student in the town has approached me for such a thing,” he said before sharing with me the highs and lows of his work life, his career path and his challenges. Similarly, I interacted with a psychologist and some other professionals.
Work your way towards Clarity
Eventually, I did make an informed career decision but it was a long, meandering path. I now realise that I could have saved precious time if I had known about the benefits of career counselling, back then.
Today, when I work with students, I tell them that feeling confused about one’s career path is normal – at any age…that no one ‘has it all figured out’…and that confusion can even be good. This immediately quells their panic.
All stakeholders of the educational system – students, parents, teachers and society – need to understand that young bright minds can lose their spark under the heavy and constant burden of career expectations that is placed on them – both by their own selves and the others.
I’ll reiterate – being confused is not bad at all. It shows that you are trying to explore and understand.
However, I’ll advise all the youngsters out there to seek career guidance from professionals and save their time, energy and other resources. Don’t shy away from asking for help when you find yourself struggling to make the best career choice for yourself.