Updated 24 April 2013

When I grow up

Deciding what you want to be when you grow up can be overwhelming, with matric around the corner you can't help to be concerned about your future. Career planning is the solution.

From fire-fighter, to bus driver, to lawyer, to artist to fashionista, you've wanted to be all of these while growing up. With matric around the corner you can’t help but to be concerned about your future.

Deciding what you want to be when you grow up can be overwhelming, not everyone knows what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they're 18. While you want to follow your dreams you also don’t want to squander the hard-earned money your parents saved in an education policy. Career planning is one solution.

"Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. It’s therefore necessary to take a proactive approach and spend time and effort in making this decision. Career planning can essentially be seen as part of a bigger process of life planning," says Heidi Wichman, counselling psychologist.

The benefits of career planning include:

  • An understanding of yourself with regards to who you are - your strengths and challenges
  • What you would like to achieve in your career and your future
  • Finding a career which brings you a sense of satisfaction and joy
  • Money well -spent in terms of studies, and focusing your time on the things which will bring satisfaction to you.

How common is career planning?

"I believe the more common approach is that people don’t really plan their careers. You'll find a small group of people who, already at high school level have started engaging in the process of planning their careers.  Another group of people choose their careers based on subjects they enjoyed at school, or on a career which they believe will earn them a lot of money.  A third group tend to base their decisions on what their parents choose for them, or the career which is considered 'right' within the family or the community", says Wichman

Choosing a career is an individual process because people want different things, and if you follow a one-size-fits-all approach you'll encounter problems.  Going through a process of career planning is important for everyone.  Develop a plan which works for you and that takes your individual needs into consideration, and the only way to do this is to go through a process of planning your career.

According to Wichman there are four factors which have to come together to secure a good fit for a career. These include:

  1. Aptitude, which refers to the ability to do certain things.  For example, do I have the mental ability to study at University level or do I have the ability to design and draw?
  2. Interests.  This refers to whether or not I have enough interest in the field I'm choosing to work in, at times people have an interest in a certain field but do not work in it, rather choosing to have it as a hobby
  3. Personality - which refers to whether or not you have the personality attributes to suite the career.  For example, if the job requires a more extroverted personality but I'm more introverted, it would require a lot of effort on my part to manage this job and this could result in a huge amount of stress
  4. Values.  This refers to the things that I would want to get out of a job.  For example, if money is important to me and in the career I've chosen there is no chance of me earning the money I would like, this could lead to frustration on my part.

It is important to get as good a match as possible between these four aspects and they are usually identified and clarified through a process of assessments.  These assessments can include various psychological assessment instruments administered by a person registered to use them.

"These can be costly depending on where you access them. Psychologists in private practice, counsellors registered to do testing, psychometrics and career centres at various educational institutions would be able to assist. Fees differ from place to place," says Wichman.

Once you have identified different areas of interest do further research before making the final decision. This can include speaking to people already doing that kind of work, job shadowing, and anything that would give you insight into what it involves to do the actual job.

What if I want to change careers after two years of studying?

According to Wichman, people choose careers at a time when they are going through a lot of self-searching and maturing into adulthood.  

"People need to see careers as something dynamic and not something static. It is really a process of finding out what works for you, what gives you the satisfaction you want. It's necessary to sometimes to change direction, to rather spend an extra year or two and have a career that fulfils you, than to continue in miserable work," says Wichman.

Here are some signs that a particular career is not for you:

  • When you are unable to academically manage the course of study, if you have exhausted all other interventions such as improving study methods and you still are unable to cope academically, then this might not be the right career.
  • When you have no interest in what you are studying and your motivation is impacted, it's probably time to reconsider
  • When you are not enjoying what you are studying

How parents can help

"Parents need to be aware of the fact that this should be a choice made by the individual child. The best way to assist is to make certain resources available so that the individual is able to make an informed decision. Other than that, try to contain their anxiety and be a support - someone your child can come to and discuss issues with openly," says Wichman.

(Leandra Engelbrecht, Health24, July 2011)

(Picture: career planning from Shutterstock)


Heidi Wichman, Counseling Psychologist,

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