Please don’t think there is only one perfect career choice

Please don’t think there is only one perfect career choice

How often as a child did you have to answer, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” How often do you ask this question of young people, and are you really interested in their answer?

As a career coach, I encounter many adults, who are still trying to make that one ideal career choice by answering this very question of what they want to be when they ‘grow up’ . Only now they are already considered to be ‘grown up’ physically, emotionally and intellectually. And the lingering effect of having been asked this question far too often when we were children is that many of us subconsciously believe, well into our adulthood, that there is only one right answer and that we need to find it! But nothing could be farther from the truth, especially in the uncertain, complex and connected world that we live in today.

Having to make a career choice is a dilemma we will face repeatedly in today’s world of work – sometimes because of our own life situations or sometimes because of external events. It is important to recognize that the goals of career development must be to enhance overall success and satisfaction at work and in life and not to make that one perfect career choice, the grown up/adult equivalent of answering ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’

Because the career choice question is one that will have to be engaged with repeatedly, a broad set of strategies needs to be evolved and applied to deal with it, each time it pops up. What are some such strategies?

  • Give up on the idea of unwavering commitment to one kind of work/vocation/occupation. Unprecedented change is underway in the world of work – the future can hardly be predicted and neither can the variety of jobs and work on offer. So reframe the question of ‘what do I want to be when I grow up’ into ‘what are some things I can do and would like to try to do? 


  • Be curious and let your interests/instincts guide you – note that I don’t mean to say ‘follow your passion’ – all I am saying is that engage in a variety of activities around your interests. Being interested and not-over committed is a sure way to future proof your career – again, the object of commitment here is a particular kind of work/occupation, or even the idea of a particular kind of work for an extended period of time. 
Start engaging in activities around your interests – even if they are small to begin with
  • This one is especially for the early careerists – don’t let personality assessments decide what kind of work you should be doing. Personality assessments should help you understand levers for changing your behaviours in certain situations rather than match you to a particular occupation. For instance, don’t buy into ideas that if a personality assessment pronounces you as an introvert, you can’t get that startup venture off the ground or that you can’t be a marketing manager in a fast-paced setup.


  • Do examine what your beliefs around yourself, your work and careers are – for instance, do you believe that ‘I should be in a career which brings prestige to my family’, or that ‘I have always played safe when it comes to work’ – there is nothing right or wrong about any of the beliefs, but examining them periodically is a must, because sometimes our current reality and experiences may be giving us different signals which we are reluctant to listen to and act upon, if they appear to be in conflict with long held beliefs. 


  • Fallow times are not the same as failures. Think of times when you are not perhaps fully actively employed, as akin to sleep/intermittent fasting. They give you time to recover, repair and restore your energy for new pursuits, while still maintaining necessary bodily functions. 


  • Explore and be open to unplanned events – future career success will have a lot to do with your being able to take at least some career risks, and more importantly to remain alert and sensitive to the potential learning which can arise from engaging in unplanned events. This last strategy is also the most contrary to the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ but it is the one with maximum upside too, if you can play along. Batting for certainty and a high level of predictability in an uncertain world is not career savviness. 


It’s time we start looking at work as something we don’t have to ‘grow up’ to do. Let’s not grow up – instead, let’s grow into the many possible selves that we are, through work and life. 

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Kavita, an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, brings 20 years of experience in Experiential Learning, Coaching, Personal Growth & Change. Her forte is Career Transition Coaching and Leadership Development for mid-senior individuals, helping them find success and fulfilment at work . She also teaches Career & Self Development courses at leading management institutes including IIM Kozhikode, IIM Udaipur, IIM Indore and at the IITs.