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Careers Café

You don’t have to decide what to do with your life


When you make a decision about a job or a program of study, it is normal to imagine how your life story will unfold if you take this step. Sometimes that story gets in the way of moving forward, or closes off options that might lead somewhere interesting.

It is important to recognize that this initial story is not the only possible story. It is one story of how things could go.

Your career story is more like a video game than a novel.

Video game developers write stories in a different way to novelists. Their stories need to be flexible and respond to the decisions the player makes at each stage of the game.

Each career decision you make takes you to a new “level” with things to learn, relationships to build, experience, skills and knowledge to collect. You will use all of those things to make decisions that will take you somewhere else.

Like a video game, you pass through some levels relatively easily and quickly, while others take longer to figure out.

Your most valuable tool is curiosity

In one of her first posts for the Careers Cafe, Liz Koblyk talked about the importance of curiosity:

When you’re generating career options, it’s enough to feel curious. The career explorer’s job is not to uncover one passion … The career explorer’s job is to identify a few options that might make good next steps for the near future, and then to see which of those options make the most sense.

Curiosity will lead you to ask others about their stories. Their stories may inspire you. Or just give you different ways of thinking about the options available.

Curiosity will encourage you to ask questions about what you could do with the skills, knowledge, experience and relationships that you have. Just replacing “should” with “could” opens up new stories.

What is your next best step?

When you make up a story about how this particular decision might play out in the long term, the elements  that are further in the future are usually less well developed. You can’t really know what your life will be like in 5 or 10 years.

Remind yourself that you can rewrite your story as you go along, then focus on the part of the story that is closer.

Can you imagine doing this job/degree for two years? Does it meet some of your needs right now? Does it offer you opportunities to add skills, knowledge, and experience to your collection? Does it offer opportunities to meet new people?

If so, that’s probably a good option. In two years time, you will have a different set of options to choose from. You can decide to stay in the job/program of study you are in. Or you can decide to take one of those other paths.

One day you will wake up and look back and see that you wrote a whole life story this way.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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