Whether you’re coming up to final exams or your dissertation, or just at the start of your time at King’s, it can be tempting to put off thinking about your future. Quite often the reason for that is the fear that you haven’t made the “right” choice yet about what you want to do.
“I’ll put off making a final decision until I have more time!”, you might think. But what is the right choice for you? It can be really overwhelming, but our Careers Consultants at King’s are really experienced at helping anyone and everyone figure out that choice, so come and see us to have a chat about it.
But in the meantime, here’s an idea that can help.
Think about making a career choice as being less about one straight road stretching out into the future, and more as a mixture of oil and water.
Right now, you might feel that there are lots of different things you could do, but the range of those choices is almost paralysing. “If I go towards one, aren’t I giving up on something else?”
That feeling is a lot like a mixture of oil and water when they have been shaken up together. Oil and water don’t naturally mix, so when shaken the oil separates into dozens of tiny spheres of different sizes, distributed throughout the water. That might be a lot how you feel right now! Big ideas, small ideas, attractive choices, irritating doubts.
But the oil will always be drawn back to itself through the water, and this can be helpful as a way of seeing your future.
Firstly, all those different career choices may not be as different as you think, not least because they have one thing connecting them together: you! There might be a common value, or a similar behaviour, interest or skill that links them all, however loosely. Identifying and understanding what those elements might be helps make them seem less different.
And if they really are contrasting, and the only thing that connects them is you, then that in itself is a really strong indicator of what you can bring to work: for example, the ability to bring different people together, or the ability to see problems from a very different point of view. Knowing that will help with making career choices.
But those oil spheres don’t join up again immediately, it takes time. And many of us fear that making the “wrong” first career choice will mean we never quite get to where we want to be, or not be as happy in work as we might be.
Fortunately, generations of graduates before you prove that isn’t the case!
Firstly, even if you find out that your first graduate job isn’t exactly what you want to do, you will learn a huge amount about yourself, what’s important to you, and what you’re good at, that will inform every other step you take afterwards. That will be true each time you take on a new role, or even take on new aspects within a role. All that experience informs better decision-making, so you will home in on the right choice through experience and time.
Secondly, even if you end up having lots of different graduate jobs – like I have – common links start to form very quickly, drawing those disparate spheres of oil together. Even though my first career choice – being an academic – wasn’t in the end something I wanted to do in the long term, many of its features (enabling others, being a specialist, making connections between ideas, making independent decisions) have surfaced repeatedly in different ways in my other careers (careers guidance, freelance writer and editor, strategic planning, leading a team).
And finally, remember that ‘career success’ means different things to different people. You are right at the start of figuring out what it means to you.
So whether right now you value security and certainty or diversity and variety, career success is not one choice we make in our early twenties and stick to for forty years. Careers grow and change and gather volume as we do different things and evolve as people, just like those oil spheres rising to the surface of the water and coming together.
Have confidence that your career will rise to the surface. Just give it time and space to gather.
Dr Kate Daubney is Head of King’s Careers & Employability, and is living proof that having lots of different jobs and roles creates a happy, meaningful and successful career.