From the very first years of school, we are encouraged to give an answer to the question: what do you want to be when you grow up? And we are encouraged to believe that "yes, of course you can be an astronaut, a film star, or even a dinosaur, if that's what takes your fancy!" because of course anything is possible if you want it enough.
But that is not reality for most people.
Now don't misunderstand me here. I am not saying that we cannot have dreams, or even fulfil the goals that we set as children, but these things don't just happen. Also, our interests and aspirations can change a lot over time. And that's ok.
So here are my thoughts on how to decide on a career or job, based on my own experience so far:
1. Keep in mind that the future cannot be predicted and keep your options open:
If you're still a student, opt for a wider range of subjects/ experiences. For example, if you are choosing A Levels, it can be beneficial to choose a mix of subjects (some you simply enjoy; some more academic or career-focused). Even if you feel you are dead set on one career path, having extra-curricular hobbies that are separate to your chosen subjects could make the difference between you and another candidate in a future interview: employers look for multi-faceted people with interests and passions that could give them additional skills. Also, trying a range of subjects can help you decide what you do and don't want to do in life.
2. Take risks and try new things (especially when you're younger):
The older we get, the more financial responsibilities we have. If you are able to, take risks and don't be afraid to change courses, take up new work experience or try new ventures. I am not suggesting that changing a course of study should be a decision made overnight or taken lightly, but if you have given it weeks or months of thought, don't be afraid to take up something that could be life-changing. Any work experience or part-time job opportunities should be snapped up because they will let you learn more about yourself; the better you know yourself (your qualities and skills), the better equipped you will be to choose a career.
3. Try out a career path before dedicating your life to it:
To really get an insight into a job, you should ideally try it out for a while before making a commitment, especially if you have to pay fees for your training. I worked as a teaching assistant in a challenging Secondary school before signing up to do teacher training. For me, this was invaluable experience, but doing it for two years meant that I was sure of my decision when paying the tuition fees for my training. Two years is quite a long time to be on a low wage (three years, counting the training year), but it was worth it for me because I had a good understanding of what the job would entail and how difficult it could be. The statistic is that two fifths of new teachers leave within five years of being in the profession! Maybe this is linked to people having an idealized version of their chosen career path. All jobs have highs and lows, teaching tends to have these to the extreme!
4. Accept that most people can't have it all:
You hear about people in the public eye that seem to 'have it all': riches, time to raise a family, a career they love- but for many people, this is just never going to be the case. It is important then, when considering careers, that you know what is most important to you. For me, I would rather do a job where I can be creative every day and try to make a difference to people's lives, than be rich. Equally, some people want to aim to earn as much money as possible to secure a comfortable future for themselves and their family. It really depends what the priority for you is.
5. Research the career path:
Don't just rely on one source for this. The internet is a great way to find out what the job entails, how to apply and how much you might be earning; but to get a real sense of the career you will need to research beyond that. Talk to people who already work in that industry and ask them to speak frankly about the pros and low cons of their job. Work experience can be difficult to find in today's competitive climate, but keep trying and apply for as many posts as you can.
Halloween 2008 (the year I began teaching!)
I still don't know what I'll be when I 'grow up'! Teaching is currently working out for me as an enjoyable career and I have no regrets about my decision to teach. However, you never know how the future may go. Maybe I'll fulfil my childhood dream of being an actress, pop star or writer! Stranger things have happened.