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Career Planning Is for Everyone, Even People Who Feel Lost

Career Planning Is for Everyone, Even People Who Feel Lost

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By Anna Sommer
Career Exploration Specialist, APUS

When I began college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was never career-driven and didn’t know how to translate my interests into a potential profession. I’ve ended up doing what has interested me the most at any given point in my life.

I earned a degree in English because I liked to write. I worked various jobs in several industries — including insurance, retail, sales, and education administration — because they seemed interesting. In my spare time, I pursued other interests, including writing, dancing, traveling, jewelry making, teaching yoga and becoming a mom.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

I spent 20 years buzzing around from one thing to the next, feeling as if I couldn’t quite visualize my purpose in life. In many ways, I felt like a failure. Then I transitioned into my current role as a Career Exploration Specialist, helping people just like me figure out their career goals and how to get there. Ironic, right?

But something amazing happened when I took this role. As I spoke with students and listened to their stories and struggles, I watched a trend develop. Students were naturally falling into two categories regarding their approach to their career and life — either there was a single destination or there were many destinations.

My brother, who started college one year ahead of me, had something that I did not. He had a plan, a single destination. He wanted to be an architect and had a detailed, five-year path to get there.

It wasn’t until I began work as a Career Exploration Specialist that I realized it was okay for us to be different. There are different ways to approach career planning, and everyone holds a map that is unique to them. It’s not about which one is good or bad, right or wrong. There are just different ways to engage in the many phases and aspects that make up a career over a lifetime.

Some Already Know What They Want Their Career to Be

Some people, like my brother, hold a career map with a single destination. They have a more defined idea of the industry, profession, or job they want to pursue and view this idea as their end point or overall career goal. These people take deliberate steps to acquire the education, skills, and experience they’ll need to progress over time and achieve that career goal.

So how can you tell if you hold a single-destination map? If you’re holding a single-destination map, you likely possess the following qualities:

  • You are a go-getter and approach your career and life with a clear goal and path.
  • You tend to be goal-oriented.
  • You visualize the big picture and how each step along the way will enhance or detract from that picture.
  • You find your career and life overlap in ways that form your overall identity.
  • You can easily answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
  • You prefer progress towards a single destination, even if that destination changes or evolves over time.

Those people with a single-destination map may seem to have a fixed path, but it can actually be fluid, with detours along the way. Yet there is always a defined path that leads to a single destination. The map has a starting point, an end point and a clear line showing the way from beginning to end.

A Career Map with Multiple Destinations

Other people, like myself, hold a map with multiple destinations. One of the main differences here — other than having no starting point, connecting line and end point — is that these individuals don’t know their map is designed differently.

These multiple-destination map holders are very common. They also become confused and frustrated, because they don’t feel like they are getting anywhere in their lives and careers.

That is exactly the point. People in this group do not have a single path with a single end goal in mind. They often have multiple interests, including ones that do not directly relate to a specific career field or job. If you’re in this group, you most likely possess the following qualities:

  • You dive into interests (often more than one) with great enthusiasm, learn skills, take classes and practice tasks related to that interest.
  • You talk about your interests with passion and excitement.
  • You pursue specific jobs that allow you to further dive into your interests.
  • You tend to have multiple jobs over your career that cross into different industries.
  • You sometimes work to earn a living so you can pursue your interests in your spare time.

People with a multiple-destination career map usually joke that they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. They are very bright, savvy, and hardworking people who feel displaced, because they never seem to “get there” or even understand where “there” is. They stare at their map and see many points and lines with no clear indication of how to navigate the different paths.

What these individuals don’t realize is their map has allowed them to pursue a wide range of interests, develop many different kinds of skills and explore multiple areas within multiple industries. They are inventive, creative, and inquisitive people who can often bridge concepts, link ideas, and problem solve with creative insight in ways that others cannot.

Because these map holders are not experts in one field, they bring many talents and experiences into a world that is rapidly changing and industries that need to evolve with it. In a TED speech, writer and artist Emilie Wapnick calls multiple-destination map holders “multipotentialites” and discusses the many ways they bring value to the workforce.

Why Do These Career Maps Exist?

Traditionally, our society has placed more value on having a single destination. It was part of the American Dream, right? Kids grew up, went to college, learned a trade or skill, joined the military, or simply got a job. They entered a career field and progressed through that field while simultaneously progressing through life.

This dream works well for many people. It also works well in industries that need highly specialized people who have developed their craft or expertise over many years. I would much rather have surgery or get my car fixed by an expert in that field, wouldn’t you?

For those who have bounced around believing their career map is defective, it isn’t. It’s different because it needs to be different. In addition to needing experts, the world also requires people who can bounce around and offer a unique set of knowledge, skills, and abilities, ready to tackle problems and industries that cross into multiple areas.

Getting Help with Your Career Planning

No matter which map you have, you should be able to dive into the journey itself without developing anxiety over the destination. This area is where career planning can help you and why it is valuable for everyone.

The key is working with someone who can tell what map you’re holding and help you develop a plan to thrive during your unique journey. If you need assistance with career exploration or career planning, no matter what kind of map you’re holding, consider working with a Career Exploration Specialist or an Industry-Aligned Career Coach.

About the Author

Anna Sommer began her career at APUS in 2007. She has worked in the Academic Advising Department and Student Services Department, and now currently works as a Career Exploration Specialist in the Career Services Department. She thrives when working with students and alumni on career planning, researching industry trends, and developing career exploration resources. Anna holds a B.A. in English from Minnesota State University Moorhead, an M.S. in Adult Education from Kansas State University and an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University.

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