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The Psychology of Career Decisions | Sharon Belden Castonguay | TEDxWesleyanU

recently I was forced to assume an
alternate identity started with this
cane I suffered a knee injury and while
I will soon have surgery and be able to
walk normally again my orthopedist
assures me that my running days are over
now for those of you who only run when
chased you may be thinking what a stroke
of luck a doctor sanctioned excuse not
to work out but since taking up running
after college it’s become more than just
a pastime for me but part of who I am
Runner has become one of my identities
and giving up that identity has turned
out to be more painful than the injury
itself now like everybody I have a lot
of identities I am a woman a mother an
American a proud native of Rhode Island
I’ve had a number of professional
identities in my life tour guide can’t
counselor schoolteacher graduate student
in developmental psychology podcast host
career counselor and it is through my
career counseling practice that I’ve
come to recognize how personal
identities can affect and create
professional identities I’m going to
talk a little bit more about how and why
this is so but first I’d like to address
why it’s important according to Gallup
eighty-seven percent of employees
worldwide are not engaged in their work
there are a lot of people who study this
phenomenon largely because it has a
pretty substantial effect on the bottom
now the organizations and consultants
that study this tend to look at the
external factors for why people are not
engaged things like office culture or
wages as a career counselor I’m more
interested in internal reasons like why
someone shows a particular line of work
in the first place and my field of
career development has looked
somewhat differently over time of course
throughout much of human history people
didn’t actually choose a line of work
you basically did whatever your parents
did and what you did for a living was
prescribed by where you were from your
gender and your social class but during
the first and second industrial
revolutions as people started moving
from the farms into the cities the world
of work broadened and the very first
career counseling open office opened in
1908 the vocational Bureau was located
in Boston’s North End neighborhood and
served the local community free of
charge to help them navigate this new
world of work they interviewed them
extensively about their backgrounds
skills and interest and provided
background about local employers now
obviously this wasn’t a particularly
widespread phenomenon but the military
started to take an interest in their
work they needed to figure out a way of
putting workers placed into jobs to help
serve the war efforts during World War
one in World War two
and by the Second World War they had a
lot of psychologists that they had hired
to develop tests specifically for this
purpose some of these tests are actually
still used today in various forms and
it’s possible that some of you have
taken them maybe through a high school
guidance counselor through an employer
now by the time I started in the fields
of career counseling in the late 90s we
were in the midst of the third
Industrial Revolution the digital age
and the testing industry was still alive
and well but by then a new paradigm had
emerged that held that what we really
needed to would be concerned about was
our clients passions do what you’re
passionate about and you’ll never work a
day in your life right I remember early
on attending a professional development
session with a woman who was considered
one of the biggest names in my field a
very successful author she told the
story of a client with whom she had
worked who was really difficult simply
because she didn’t have any clearly
articulated passion
finally one day in desperation the
counselor said to her give me a sense of
something you’re interested in anything
at all the woman kind of shrugged
somewhat sheepishly and said well I’ve
always been kind of interested in
gorillas triumphant the counsellor
announced that she had gone on to work
for a local zoo and voila problem solved
passion wins now at the time I was
working with business students who
generally speaking we’re not interested
in gorillas in fact I found that the
dirty little secret of most MBAs was
that they had gone back to school
because they didn’t like their first
jobs out of college and they were
looking for a socially acceptable way of
hitting the restart button if I
suggested to them that they should find
their passion they would respond that
they were tens of thousands of dollars
in debt and that while they were
interested in finding a good
professional fit they were primarily
interested in generating a paycheck now
over the last ten or fifteen years
there’s actually been quite a bit of
pushback around the idea of passion
dictating career decisions and there’s a
couple of reasons for why this is one is
that most people have no earthly idea
what their passions are but another
reason for this pushback comes from fear
of the fourth Industrial Revolution what
difference does it make if we’re
passionate about something if artificial
intelligence is going to take away all
the jobs even those who embrace our
robot overlords will admit that no one
really knows what the jobs are gonna be
twenty ten even five years down the road
so how do we help people navigate career
decisions in this new world order
one potential framework that has emerged
from this conversation comes actually
from the field of design the design
thinking process holds the designers
work with clients to really get to know
them well understand their problems help
define them they work with them to
brainstorm possible ideas
and prototypes and then test out
possible solutions those who are
proponents of applying Design Thinking
to career decision-making holds that
people who are working today will need
to go through a lot of different
iterations for the jobs that they do
they might have to try on many different
cells and avoid prematurely foreclosing
on any one area the problem with that is
that most people don’t have the
self-awareness to do that well most
people don’t take the time to figure out
who they are before making a decision
about what they want to be now if
there’s one thing that we have learned
from the fields of behavioral economics
and psychology in recent years is that
we as humans are not nearly as rational
as we thought we were
for example we are predisposed to make
bad financial decisions like spending
too much money today and not saving
enough for our future selves to enjoy
retirement I suggest that we are just as
irrational about making career decisions
let me give you an example a number of
years ago I was working with a law
student she came into my office very
upset she had just received her grades
for the year and realized that she had
done so poorly that she was going to be
locked out of the jobs that would pay
her the kind of salary that was going to
be necessary to pay back her
considerable loss school loans as she
sat there sobbing in my office she
admitted that she simply did not like
the study of law so I said to her well
what made you decide to go to law school
because I didn’t want to go to medical
it is a gentlemen of the jury I submit
to you that most people do not make
career decisions rationally but rather
based on deeply-held often unconscious
biases that they received from their
social surround they’re highly
influenced by their parents their peers
their local communities and they
internalize a lot of these biases that
they see around them and they tend to
then follow others into things that they
have done as well they also tend to
internalize messages that they are
receiving from their local and national
cultures particularly around personal
identities like gender race religion or
socioeconomic status and will tend to
either embrace or foreclose on options
accordingly particularly if they
anticipate barriers for success
and let’s acknowledge that a lot of
people do face barriers to success
particularly along the lines of gender
race religion socioeconomic status
sexual orientation but this is exactly
why I think self-awareness is so
important because not only can it help
us not internalize these biases that are
coming from culture but also help keep
us from making false assumptions about
others when it comes time for us to do
the hiring
what is tricky is that each of us as
individuals will internalize and make
decisions upon a lot of these
unconscious as well as conscious
personal identities at different times
throughout our lives and this is going
to be constantly in flux for those of
you who are more quantitatively oriented
allow me to present this as an equation
with career identity being the sum of
every possible identity you could have
all influencing you in different ways in
different periods of time a lot of it
but I will admit this is not my favorite
analogy I tend to think of all of those
individual variables all of those
identities coming together is not an
equation but as a script a deeply
personal life and career narrative that
tells the story of who we are and guides
our decisions this is why in the fourth
Industrial Revolution we cannot program
computers to make career decisions for
us a script is deeply personal but we
also must learn not to just follow it to
the letter we must learn to understand
it and question it your script is
iterative and like any writing process
it’s likely to be messy I urge you to
embrace that messiness own your story
and don’t let others write it for you
and know that this process has always
been messy if one of my identities is
former runner another of my identities
is liberal arts college graduate and as
such I cannot end a presentation without
including a quote from a dead white guy
so I offer you this from Cicero to
underscore that throughout time this is
the most difficult problem in the world thank you very much
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