Career indecision and travel: A summary of my Masters research

A big issue for many people in our society day is career decision-making; the choice of what we decide to do for work. From childhood we are asked what we want to do, yet many of us spend our entire lives wondering what we would be best suited to doing.

So why is career decision making such a big challenge for young people today? There a number of factors, such as poor careers guidance at school, overly simplistic online tools, outdated advice and pressure from family members, limited awareness as to what opportunities are available, lack of self-awareness, and a lack of helpful experiences which provide context for particular choices.

I personally had no clue what I wanted to do for work for much of my life, however I found that engaging in experiences such as travelling really helped me to find direction and clarity. This led me to be curious of other people’s journeys regarding career decision-making and the transformative impact of particular experiences, so I decided to study this subject for my Masters research. This research was qualititative, meaning it focussed on the depth of experience rather than getting more limited data from a larger number of participants. These participants were from a range of places in the UK, were aged between 18 and 24, and all had spent time abroad either travelling or volunteering on a gap year.

What I found from the research often mirrored my own experiences, with most of the partipants being unsure of what they wanted to do after they had finished their formal education. The really interesting part of the findings was learning about the transformations each of them went through during their experiences abroad. Every one of them encountered real challenges and crises of confidence during their gap years, but were too far away from home to fall back on the familiar support from friends or family. This meant that they were forced to either give up, or to draw on their hidden resources to find solutions to the problems they faced. All of them were indeed able to tap into as yet unknown aspects of themselves, which brought about real changes in their sense of self and their confidence. This highlights the potential magic of being immersed in challenging and dynamic experiences in the real world, and is a clear indication of why our schooling system fails so many of us so miserably!

The findings showed that in order to have more clarity regarding career decisions, what we need is to be immersed in experiences which take us out of our comfort zones and help us to develop our awareness of ourselves and the world around us. This enables us to know what we are truly capable of, which builds our self-confidence and self-assuredness. When we are more confident it means we can be more effective decision-makers, having faith that we will make the right choice or having the awareness to know when something just isn’t feeling right. This leads us to further immersion in new and enriching experiences, which continues the postive cycle and ultimately helps us to take ownership of our choices and our lives.

So, what does this mean to those of you who are completely clueless as to what you want out of work and life? These findings are not a clear-cut, black and white answer for those of you wanting an easy solution. However, they do provide guidance to show you that there are ways to support you in finding direction that your school, parents and careers counsellors may not have thought of.

It is important to add that you don’t necessarily need to go abroad to have these types of experiences. I imagine experiences like the Princes Trust and other immersive trips have a somewhat similar potential to benefit those that are involved. There are also some really good websites out there with a whole range of volunteering opportunties such as workaway.info. This platform connects hosts from all around the world with volunteers who are willing to typically work 20 hours per week in exchange for food and somewhere to sleep. Using this type of approach can be incredibly cost effective, as all you need to pay for is your transport to get there and back!

The biggest tip I can give you is to follow what you love and what feels right (your intuition). For example, you could love animals and decide to have an experience as a volunteer at an animal shelter. On one hand this could lead you to realise that although you love animals, you just want a pet and don’t want to actually work in the industry, thus helping you know what you DON’T want to do for work (an important part of the process). On the other hand, you could realise that you absolutely love the work and you have the potential in the future to get paid to do something you love. Getting paid to do something you love is the goal. Then it doesn’t feel like you are working, it feels like you are truly living!

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