I remember being 16 and sitting in a windowless room at my school in Carluke (Lanarkshire, Scotland) with the school career advisor. She was a middle age lady with messy hair who clearly wasn't much interested in me or my future career. As if reading from a script she said "...I think you should get an apprenticeship at Ravenscraig as a turner or draughtsman...". Now the "Craig", as we all knew it, was a great place (long gone and much missed steel works); my Grandfather worked there and a couple of my friends were keen to do apprenticeships. However, this suggested career direction didn't make any sense to me. I was studying the 3 sciences, was hopeless at mathematics (I got a C "twice" in my exams) and metal work and technical drawing were terrible distant memories - of confusion, nasty teachers and failure. Why on earth would I want to be an engineer?
Despite my reservations, I felt I had no options and was on the verge of filling in the application forms. Fortunately my Grandfather was on hand to steer me clear of this nonsense and I went on to study for a science degree. I was reflecting on this recently and wondered what would have happened if I had gone to the Craig? There would be a good chance that I'd still be an engineer (a bad one) and an even better chance that I would be miserable.
This made me think - I wonder how many of us are locked into careers thanks to decisions taken by our teenage selves? Would you take a 16 year old's advice on what to do for the rest of your life? I certainly wouldn't have taken my advice!
This sort of thinking has had an impact on me and the advice I have given to clients for many years now. Finding your passion is often difficult and certainly wasn't easy nor clear for me. I hated psychology at College and it was only when I met yet another mentor, Professor D.L. Gardner of the Pathology Department at Edinburgh University, that I realised I had a lot to learn about myself and, most importantly of all, about learning.
The good news is, it's never too late to find your passion and if you look hard enough you will find it. I frequently challenge people to think about the question:
"for whom do you work?"
How people answer this question and how well they understand the consequences of their answer, the more exciting the outcomes can be. Often this acts as a catalyst for a period of serious reflection (involving a lot of personal-life archaeology - hence the article title), soul searching and in some cases it has even lead to resignations!
The good news is that many of my clients (and myself) have managed to find their passion and my friends, who as teenagers actually had an aptitude and passion for engineering are still engineers and happy to be so. Other friends, family and clients haven't been so lucky and are stuck in jobs they feel they have to stay in given the life investment (sunk costs) they have made in their careers - "...at least I get a good pension eh?"!!
The lessons? - beware making teenage mistakes for the rest of your life, it's never too late to change and make sure you get help from a mentor(s) when faced with life changing decisions.