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Just Do Something: Helping Students Find Their Career Track

Who remembers choosing their career track in high school? I love what I do, but I’ve realized something about this particular track. It’s not the independently wealthy track I would have chosen; in fact, I apparently ended up in the work-really-hard-the-rest-of-your-life track. How did that happen?! Maybe you feel the same!

Do you remember picking your career track in high school? Did you spend a lot of time thinking about what you liked to do (and what you didn’t)? How did you make your choice? And how is your experience informing the way you guide the young people in your sphere of influence?

People arrive at their career track destinations in a wide variety of ways. Some seem to know from infancy what their lifework will be, and the detailed plan to achieve that career materializes without much angst. On the other end of the spectrum, others appear to fall into their careers almost accidentally and certainly without much advance thought or planning.

Then there’s the middle of the spectrum, where I suspect most of us (and our students and trainees) tend to be. We can identify some of our strengths and the things we like to do, but we’re a bit foggy on how to turn those things into marketable, living-wage careers. Those in the middle of the spectrum sometimes waver between two or more attractive career options. Or perhaps this middle crowd has a vague idea of what career track they want to follow, but the planning stalls out there.

Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge and awareness that creates the middle crowd…or perhaps the individual feels that there are so many options that it’s overwhelming. Whatever the cause, the middle of the spectrum can be a dangerous place because there’s just enough direction to make the individual feel that his or her career is not something to worry about. And that often means there’s no urgency for the crucial planning, honing, and growth that can be achieved in the here and now.

Just Do Something

I want to encourage young people to pursue a career track in high school—any career track. (Even if it’s not the independently wealthy track.) If I can modify Nike’s famous slogan, “just do something.” Doing something is better than doing nothing and hoping the right career floats by.

Just do something. The worst that can happen is that the young person discovers that this something is not the right track for them. That’s not a negative; they have just ruled out a career track that they would not enjoy following long term. By trying this route, they’ve gained valuable knowledge that narrows the viable choices and gives them the tools and experience to find the track that’s right for them. Trial and error, with the freedom to change direction as needed, are essential attributes of a robust planning culture.

A career track is just that: a track. If a young person finds it’s not taking them in the right direction, it’s okay to derail and find a new route. Many young people today are hesitant to experiment with any one career direction because it feels so final—as if once you take that program or step into that pathway you’re committed to it for the rest of your days, forever and ever, amen. But a track is there to guide, not to restrict. They need to know they are free to change their mind and their path at any time to ensure that they reach the right destination.

We can help students and trainees stuck in the middle of the spectrum if we encourage them to step out, be adventurous, and try a career track in high school. Let’s encourage them to make the most of their education… and just do something!

About the Author
Mark C. Perna Mark C. Perna is the founder of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client’s passion for making a difference.

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