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How Did I Get Here From There?

by Mary Mazzoni on August 20, 2011

me, 1970

What was your career dream when you were 14? Has your life proceeded in a straight line toward that goal?

For most people, there are many twists and turns on the career journey.

Here are some snippets from my own story.  I highlight factors for you to consider as you support your child’s career exploration.

Career Interest Testing

In 8th grade, I took a career interest test at school. Weeks later, a report arrived in the mail. When I opened it – I laughed out loud. According to the test, my career of highest interest was cosmetology! My Mom, who constantly reminded me to tend my long hippie-style hair, laughed too. The idea of me styling other people’s hair was funny for another reason. As you can see from this hand-cropped scrapbook photo – I’ve never been very good with scissors!

Take-Away Points to Consider: There are all sorts of nifty computer-based and paper-pencil career interest inventories.  They compile bits of information about a person’s preferences and tendencies. The composite is then related to specific careers. In my case, I enjoy being creative, interacting with and serving all sorts of people and engaging in varied work tasks in an indoor environment. Bingo – Cosmetology!

Career interest assessments are valuable because:

  • The process of taking them helps kids think about what they prefer and value.
  • The results can broaden their perspective by suggesting career options they’d never otherwise consider.

But put interest assessments into perspective:

  • Kids need guidance to interpret the results of career interest assessments.
  • Career interest assessments don’t consider a person’s skills or labor market information.  A successful career match is based on a person’s skills and interests, along with thorough career research.
  • Kids need to verify their career interests through real-life experiences like job shadowing and volunteering.

Passionate Career Dream

Around the same time, I immersed myself in a series of fictional stories about a young student nurse. I had found my true calling!  One day I announced to my mother: “I’m going to be a nurse!”.

Mom could have pointed out my less than stellar math and science grades. Or, she could have reminded me how grossed out I always was when one of my 5 siblings used the “throw up bowl” or came home bloody and in need of stitches. But Mom was a wise woman.  Instead, she simply suggested that I sign up as a candy striper at the hospital.

What a brilliant idea! When I arrived at the volunteer office, I found out there was a waiting list for the program, and I had to earn my stripes by volunteering in other ways.  After months of filing papers in the billing department and wearing a hairnet to serve in the coffee shop, the fateful day arrived.

Donning my brand new pinafore and cap, I took the first step of my career.  I was on top of the world!

Almost immediately I knew there was no way I wanted to be a nurse!  The environment, the tasks, the smells, the precise regimens, the whole experience shouted “You do not belong here!”. I felt disillusioned, defeated and inadequate.

What’s more, I was unwilling to reveal my feelings to my Mom.  I’d been so passionate in declaring my career plans, and I was embarrassed to “back down” from my position.

After a few months of candy striping, I tearfully bore my soul to my grandmother. Nana helped me see that it was a very good thing that I had found out what I didn’t want to do, and she helped me reflect on my experience. I came to understand I wanted to help people in some way. Nana assured me that if I kept trying out possibilities, I’d find a career that I loved.

Take-Away Points to Consider:

  • Kids need real-life experiences to try-out career interests.
  • Kids often feel defeated when their career passions don’t turn out as expected. They need an adult to listen and respect their feelings. Due to the dynamics of adolescence, that adult sometimes needs to be a trusted person other than a parent.
  • Kids need adults to help them reflect on their experiences and decide next steps to take toward their future. (If my candy-striping experience verified my interest in nursing, I’d need someone to help me plan ways to increase my math skills and science knowledge to prepare for nursing school.)
  • It helps kids to hear that even adults needed to try-out different careers before they found a good fit.

Clues and Influences Along the Way

I became busy with other interests. By acting in plays and giving speeches, I discovered I was good at public speaking and enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing, too – and I took risks like submitting pieces for the school paper. Marching in color guard reinforced my desire to be part of a team. My spirituality was nurtured by a youth group leader who encouraged me to ask questions and express my passion for social justice. And my part-time job at a supermarket helped me learn employability skills as I saved money for a car. These experiences didn’t feel like career exploration – but they all provided clues to the “who am I?” question.

One day I learned about a future teacher club at school.  Throughout my senior year, I spent afternoons working with a young first grade teacher who took time to mentor, challenge and encourage me.  A college student at the supermarket worked summers at a camp for children with disabilities. I looked up to her, and decided to try working at the camp. I loved it! All these people and experiences influenced my decision to major in special education.

Of course, the journey didn’t end there. Over the years, I’ve worked for non-profit agencies, public schools, a state college and as a private consultant. I’ve volunteered at food pantries, nursing homes, churches and shelters. The relationships and experiences I’ve shared with people in all these places have influenced me in profound ways. I am grateful for them all.

Take-Away Points to Consider:

  • By trying out different activities and roles in different environments, kids can gain insight into their strengths and interests.
  • Kids need support to reflect on their experiences and plan ways to try-out potential interests (Think-Plan-Do is a great strategy for this.)
  • Volunteering is a powerful way for kids to develop relationships and learn about themselves.
  • When an adult specifically names a teen’s gift or skill, she may recognize it for the first time.
  • It helps kids to know that the process of career exploration and self-discovery continues throughout life

What Do You Think?

What were your experiences as a young person choosing a career path?  Take a few moments to reflect on your own journey. What experiences helped you understand your passions, gifts and values? Were there people who influenced and encouraged you along the way?

How can you support your child to plan experiences such as job shadowing and volunteering that will help him learn more about himself?

Do you have comments you’d like to share?  We’d love to hear from you!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Josie July 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm

I’d recognize that smile anywhere


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