When it comes to careers, for many people “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”.
We’re all asked from a young age “what do you want to do when you grow up”. When we leave school, we are all asked “What’s your job”, and “Where will that lead”. Even if these questions are not asked outright, it is common for people to think along these lines.
Most people have a “dream job:” which they don’t have, but aspire to have; but is that realistic.
There are three problems with aspiring to a dream job:
Don’t be misled by pursuing a career that is unlikely to ever happen. To do so can waste your time (and the time of others); and can lead to disappointment. This doesn’t mean you should not pursue jobs that interest or excite you though.
The first obstacle to making realistic career predictions, the counsellor’s inaccurate perceptions, can be overcome with careful and continuous self-monitoring for prejudices, biases and pre-judgements, in conjunction with ongoing and honest assessment of the counsellor’s overall predictive ability. Good counsellors are not created through education, but through a combination of education, experience and continual growth.
The second obstacle, the client’s inaccurate self-assessment, is not so easily overcome, because we tend to see ourselves in either the best possible light or in an unrealistically negative light. One theory that can help us understand this tendency is called Attribution theory.
Attribution theory states that we tend to see our problems, weakness, failures and behaviours as either a result of external influences (job market, other people) or as a result of inner influences (our own attitude, thinking and/or actions). Whether we attribute effects to internal or external causes will largely determine our willingness to learn, grow and change.
Many of us will justify our weaknesses by placing blame on external factors, such as ‘no job opportunities’, ‘other people’s attitudes’, ‘poor education’, or ‘other people’s prejudices’. While some of these conclusions may be true, they are also excuses for failing to reach – or even trying to reach - our goals. People who tend to see their opportunities and obstacles in terms of external factors are said to have an ‘external locus of control’. In other words, they see control for their life situations and experiences as out of their hands.
Counsellors with an external locus of control will frequently ‘blame’ clients for difficulties rather than deeply examining their counselling strategies or their own perceptions to ensure that they are providing the best possible and most relevant counselling for that particular person. Clients with an external locus of control might resent the ‘better opportunities’ enjoyed by others, or blame life for their difficulties with expressions like ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’, or ‘money makes money’.
On the other hand, clients (or counsellors) who attribute all or most difficulties or failures to themselves are said to have an ‘internal locus of control’. Those with this orientation tend to take responsibility for outcomes and look to changing their behaviour to improve those outcomes. Clients with an internal locus of control are much more likely to consider changing their perceptions, attitude or behaviour if they can foresee positive outcomes for doing so.
Problems arise with unrealistic attribution of causes. For example, a counsellor who generally finds teenage clients difficult, uncooperative and even hostile might conclude that teenagers really don’t want to work and are hostile to counselling. On the other hand, another counsellor faced with similar difficulties might conclude that he or she is not relating well to the clients, and after a while, might begin to doubt his/her own ability to counsel. In either case, an unrealistic external or internal locus of control might lead to incorrect conclusions and inappropriate responses.
Similarly, a client who complains about all the ‘difficult people’ they have worked with, the many rude and demanding bosses, and the prejudices that she continually confronts has already concluded that she is a ‘victim of circumstances’. Another client with an internal locus of control who has faced many workplace conflicts or career obstacles might conclude that he ‘doesn’t get along well with people’, or is not very smart or attractive. Again, the clients’ attributions of cause are limited and do not consider all realistic possibilities but focus on only one possible group of causes for their difficulties.
A more realistic approach might be to consider that both external factors and internal factors may contribute to the problems. Then, the client and the counsellor are able to carefully assess both their attitudes and approaches and identify external factors (other people, job market, society, etc) in order to identify and deal with the real causes of the problem. There will often be several causes, not just one. When clients are able to consider the many different factors that might be inhibiting or assisting their career prospects, their predictive ability will improve. Then, they will be more likely to anticipate outcomes of a certain course of action, and either prepare themselves for the outcomes or take action more likely to produce positive, desirable outcomes.
Training clients to monitor and realistically assess their situation, pin-point the real causes and act appropriately can be challenging. For one thing, we tend to have established patterns of behaviour and perception that can be quite difficult to change. Research shows that most of us consider ourselves quite self-aware, and able to accurately assess our strengths and weaknesses. “Nobody knows me like I know myself,” we believe. Yet the research indicates that very few of us do know ourselves well. We often to not even know what we are really thinking or feeling, and we have very little awareness of the image we project to others. For instance, a client upset because he is unable to find the kind of work he desires might interpret his feelings as frustration or even anger, and respond angrily.
However, his real underlying feeling can be fear – fear of not being able to support his family; of shame; of appearing incompetent, which he suppresses because he doesn’t like to admit to fear, or because he believe fear is “unmanly”.
Since there are many reasons why people suppress or deny their true thoughts and feelings, or resist any negative perceptions of themselves, self-awareness requires conscious effort and receptive.
To gain a more realistic picture of ourselves, we need to be open to others’ opinions about us and our behaviour. We do not have to accept all of them, but if we ignore them, we deny ourselves valuable sources of information about ourselves and how others see us. In the end, how others see us is even more crucial to job-seeking and career building than how we see ourselves. If our self-perceptions are highly inconsistent with others’ perceptions of us, we are working with partial knowledge and will not make the necessary changes to increase our employability and career opportunities.
A skilled counsellor – one who has learned to be more open-minded about his or her own thinking, first – will guide the client through a process of developing self-awareness. This process should not be based only on the counsellor’s perceptions, but on multiple sources of information about the client’s attitude, expectations and behaviour. These might include reports or criticisms from previous employers, employment history, friends, and family. The counsellor will have to encourage the client to consider these sources to obtain a more accurate self-image.
For long-term benefits to the client, the counsellor should also be prepared to educate the client in the area of employment, so that the client learns to gather and use relevant information that will or might affect his or her career. In the long run, the best measure of successful counselling is an empowered client who no longer needs the counsellor’s guidance or assistance.
There has been a steady trend for decades of decreasing employment working for someone else, and increasing employment working for yourself.
Public authorities today are often more inclined to sub contract work, rather than committing to new permenant employees
Private enterprise similarly is more attuned to employing contractors
Individuals are employing more people than ever in domestic services such as gardening, property maintenance and house keeping; but those services are mostly provided by individuals working alone.
If this trend continues, most jobs in the future will be either running your own business or working a series of part time contract jobs.
Some industries do more today, but employ less people than in the past. It has been estimated that around 50% of current jobs are threatened in the future by technology. Everything from medical technology to legal and financial services will see automation decrease the number of people required to do a job. Robots cannot however duplicate certain human attributes (eg. empathy); and there is no doubt there will always be some sort of employment.
To be realistic about forging your career requires an appreciation of yourself, the world and the fact that change is inevitable.
When you understand these things, you can then set about developing knowledge, skills, awareness and connectivity within the industry that stimulates and suits you. You can then build both a capacity and attitude to change with the times; and to find and take advantages of opportunities as they emerge over the years ahead.
We are experienced at helping people make career changes. We have careers counsellors that can advise you for free; books we have written to enlighten you about the possibilities and courses that can where necessary, provide the learning needed to get you started along a different career path.
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