Happy New Year to one and all! As we enter what are the “new twenties”, it is worth a moment to pause and reflect. What words of careers advice may be worth offering to others in this twenty first century of both wonder and confusion? I would suggest that perhaps in a world where we have more information at our fingertips than ever before, one of our biggest weaknesses is the ability to inquire and be curious.
It is a blind spot that we work with many of our clients on. Helping them to consider how they will discover what they wish to do or the paths they wish to follow. Often this manifests as confusion within our clients and the atypical query they raise of “I don’t know what to do after school”. This is often followed by a pause and a certain sense of them feeling lost (with all the fear and sometimes frustration or combative attitude which comes from this).
There are many different solutions to this conundrum, or ways of “figuring things out”, such as Tim Minchin’s “9 life lessons” from a university address where, among other things, he acknowledges the importance of not being too focussed on one thing and keeping your eyes open for opportunities (“the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye). There is also the advice of the late professor and career theorist John Krumboltz, who espoused the benefits of curiosity! An outlook that, more and more, I am an unashamed fan of (having seen its benefits with the clients I have worked with). Especially for those clients who struggle to weigh up the pros and cons in the abstract; needing to experience things or ideas for themselves, before making a choice.
Yet of all the ways to experience things and gain understanding, exploring how others have gone before, can be a most wondrous thing. Whether to inspire, learn how not to do things or just to discover a little more about what might be possible in the big bad world. Of all the ways to do this picking up a book (I am unashamedly a bibliophile and adore books) and in particular an autobiography or biography is perhaps one of the most interesting, with potential anecdotes and insights galore!
Are you interested in Oxbridge and in particular Cambridge and/or breaking into performing arts? Read Stephen Fry’s exploits in his second book The Fry Chronicles. Does adventure and sailing appeal? Perhaps read one of Dame Ellen MacArthur’s books. These books enable us to escape and discover (via curiosity) other worlds which we may not otherwise have experience of.
If perhaps, however, books aren’t your thing, look to biographical television documentaries of those you admire or whose worlds you are curious about. Behind the scenes footage and the varied stories provided help us build a picture of different paths to success. Even if you have no interest in the individual’s occupation whom you are reading about, you can learn about how careers evolve and develop; including the role of luck and how often it is the unplanned detours which take us in new and fulfilling directions.
Building frames of reference such as these allows us to challenge the common narrative in fiction that careers and lives chart easy and predictable paths (this is often the rarity). However, if television isn’t your thing, a podcast or two may work instead. I have one student who listens to podcasts whilst running and is discovering new insights about the world this way (she is using them to decide what subject to study at university).
There are two caveats to all of this. Firstly, biographies are not the only way to experience or be curious. As many of us know, experience of the world of work is key in developing ideas. Especially during the formative years of career choice, when students in school are figuring out who they wish to be and where they fit but, due to their age, have limited experience of the world of work. For those trapped by circumstance, biographies provide an insight and experience of work through another doorway.
Secondly, biographies are generally partial and gloriously biased. Like any story, consider they often come from one viewpoint. A situation immortalised by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi where he tells Luke:
“What I told you was true… from a certain point of view”
So building a picture from multiple sources (even those which are biased have value) helps us to find greater insight. But caution is recommended and the ability to read between the lines encouraged.
Stephen Fry states (with regards being curious about how things are and people who are curious):
“… you are curious, in which case I love you, for curiosity about the world and all its corners is a beautiful thing”
Which it is indeed. It helps us to discover that which may further our lives, in all their manifestations. Curiosity and discovery go hand in hand. It feeds our emotions, intellect and ideas about the world.
So my advice for this year and decade?
Be curious. Pick up a book!
Happy New Year!
By Chris Targett, Careers Adviser and Area Manager
 Perhaps not a great surprise as a member of the Careers Writers Association – https://www.parentalguidance.org.uk/find-a-careers-writer
 Page 73, The Fry