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Sheridan College Neil Baldwin Student Services

I have been a Counsellor at Sheridan for over 20 years, the majority of it spent providing career guidance and educational planning. I help students explore career options, set goals, and make the educational plans to get to them. If you were to round up a hundred of my career counselling clients from past years, there’s a good chance 90 of them would tell you I said something along the lines of, “school is like an airplane, it’s taking you somewhere, so have an idea where you want to go.” It’s an important piece of advice. And it still holds as true now as it did the first time I said it because even though the immediate decisions a student may face are educational—“What program should I do? What stream should I specialize in?”—making those decisions relies on some vision or notion of the kind of work they would like to be doing down the line.

Over the years, I have probably worked with students from every program and they vary a lot in how they conceptualize career, and in the methods they prefer to explore it. Journey is an apt metaphor for career but, just as people go about planning their travel quite differently from one another, so it is with how they explore and choose career options. For some it’s a rational, linear process. But for many students, especially those of a right-brained inclination who tend toward the creative/intuitive end of the spectrum, they want to know the broad range of their options and sometimes they have a hesitancy to pin it down.

“Your task is not to decide where your career is ending, just to determine the best place for it to begin” – Neil Baldwin

I’m not just talking about “arts” students—because creative intuition can manifest itself in many ways and genres—but also about the more broad cluster of personalities who like to consider possibilities and connections and who, with the awareness that they have their whole lives ahead of them, do not see the need (or the sense) to map it all out. Sometimes clients’ career decision-making is paralyzed by the faulty notion that they must make an enormous and near-permanent choice. It seems, according to my own clients, that one of the most useful pieces of advice I have dispensed has been to say, “your task is not to decide where your career is ending, just to determine the best place for it to begin.”

Career development theorist John Krumboltz developed a model known as Planned Happenstance. It is based on the fact that unpredictable factors and chance events are important influences on our lives and careers, and that the counsellor’s role is to help clients approach chance conditions and events positively. That means helping my clients raise their self-awareness, and their awareness of the world of work around them, so that they proceed with eyes open and psyche receptive to whatever opportunities may appear. Krumboltz states that people with these qualities are more likely to capitalise on chance events because they can identify which ones hold value for their career journey.

Returning to the career-as-journey analogy, you don’t necessarily need to know your final destination but it is useful to have a general idea of the type of place you want to get to. You don’t need to set a course on the compass for 67 degrees but you do need to know whether you should be heading northwest, south, or whatever. When it comes to career, it’s the difference between standing on the street and hopping on the first bus that comes along and opens its doors, or standing there waiting for the bus that will move you, in some way big or small, toward the direction you desire. As Krumboltz says, it is about turning serendipity into opportunity.

The best way to facilitate this is to fill your mind with ideas and with information. Lots of students, and future students, are using our Idea Generator to better understand their career preferences and the programs that may best suit them. But I also routinely send clients to another online career planning tool, careerquicktips.sheridancollege.ca, which gives them direct access to immediately-useful resources helping them gain relevant knowledge and begin planting those seeds that will germinate in career success and satisfaction when conditions are right. Ideas and information are two halves of the whole and, especially when it comes to career planning, neither one functions optimally without the other.


Written by: Neil Baldwin, a Counsellor in Student Services at Sheridan.

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