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Designing your life from the inside

Designing your life from the inside

We’ve written before about the three main pitfalls of careers tests. The kind of tests that promise to deliver The Answer, The Solution, The One True Path to a career. Do test - set goal - write it down and tick the box marked ‘Career planning’. No. Not the way to do it. 

That post about the pitfalls of this approach is here: Funding a career test doesn’t mean you’re doing career education.  

Let’s come back to the pitfall of passivity, of ‘waiting for life to start’.

Life is now. We are all in the middle of it. Life flows around us all the time.

And at any age we can learn skills and ways of thinking that will help our future self.  

Specifically in careers education: at an early age students can learn and practice skills and ways of thinking that will benefit them as they design and redesign their life.

It's like learning how to paddle while the water is flowing all around you.


We all make career choices all the time

Career choices happen all the time, in small adjustments rather than large inspired choices.

We take up a work opportunity (or angle for one, such as getting on a project that might lead to something). We seek additional training, apply for a promotion, leave a job, start a side-job that takes over, move sideways, go for a new role. We may choose between multiple options.

Each of us does this incrementally, adjusting as we go, juggling many combinations of study-work-life decisions. We respond to unexpected events in work, family and life circumstances.

One path versus many branching paths 

Tests can imply to young people that there is one true path to clearly defined success, rather than the reality which is constant adjustment while facing in one general direction, with success defined and redefined on the go. 

When we give students a test without also explicitly developing skills about how to explore, navigate and design the future, we are encouraging a lack of agency.

Tests encourage a passive tendency to wait for the answer to suddenly appear, clear and whole and singing loudly in the sky: "You Will Be a [Insert Job Here]!" Ta-da!  


Seeking Shortcuts

Such divine inspiration rarely (if ever) strikes.

In fact, a large set of our aggregated student data recently analysed by Prof. Jim Bright and BECOME Education strongly suggests that in the absence of clarity, students seek the next best answer, which is usually a shortcut to what they are ‘supposed to’ do as a career.  

This may be an aspiration set by their community or context, or encoded in family identities at an early age (‘The eldest is the sporty one and her sister is the scientist’ … )

It can even be a systemic denial of future, i.e. that someone won’t have a productive or fulfilling future simply by the nature of where they were born. (‘People like me don’t have jobs.’)  

The result of shortcuts is the incredible narrowing of aspirations we see in the data, and career plans that follow traditional gender and demographic patterns whose time has long since gone. 

Which brings us back to tests, and the danger of ‘the answer’ being just another way to take a shortcut.  


"But we use tests!"

Expectations that tests are intrinsic to career guidance are very strong.

Just choose carefully, and remember that tests should not be the starting point in students’ careers education. And tests certainly are not a substitute for open-minded and wide-ranging career exploration.  

Tests need to be used only as an additional source of insight after students have already learned how to explore widely, assess the influences acting on them, and think deeply about options for their future. Learn to live life in flow.

Want to know more?

BECOME's new data analysis was first discussed in our presentation to the OECD's Disrupted Futures conference, June 2023. We're still working on analysis and will be publishing more as we deepen our insights.

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