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  • Writer's pictureAlena Grunberg

When should career exploration begin?

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

Graduation season is approaching, and I have been thinking about the seniors preparing for college in the Fall. They earned admission to their dream schools by studying, taking standardized tests, joining clubs, sports, and passing interviews. Some have even taken AP courses, getting a real head start! It’s important to expose youth to new activities, and some parents thrive filling their child’s social and academic calendar. I’ve also started considering whether enough time is spent reflecting on these experiences, asking the questions that lead to self-awareness, alignment, and empowerment. Have graduates dedicated time to self-assessment and career exploration?

As a college career counselor, I see students who struggle to make the best of their school’s academic offerings or transfer to a more suitable school. We have conversations about just getting through an uninteresting undergraduate program so that later they can find their “true passion.” I can relate. My first career in finance taught me about the corporate world and allowed me to afford my master’s degree in Social Work and extensive post-graduate training. Had I done the kind of career exploration that I currently guide students through, I may have chosen a different major or college. Or perhaps my value of financial security and independence would have prevailed and my path would have been the same. Maybe I would have overlooked my passion for people and relationships, even if I had a re-do and recognized it. In any case, I would have reflected and been more intentional when making important decisions for my future.

One thing I know for sure…. I look forward to providing career exploration for my own children when they are in high school, before we even begin thinking about college. As a parent, you can start the process with simple questions about what your child “liked best” and “liked least” around academic, leisure, and work activities. Or what was the “best part” or “worst part” of any experience or task, even with household chores, school days, weekends! Listen carefully to the actions and verbs that describe your child’s favorite and least favorite aspects. This will give you and your child clues around where they find meaning and joy.

For example, maybe the best part of the weekend was teaching a friend how to dive or learning a new trick at the pool. Follow-up with a question about WHY that felt so good for them. Did they enjoy the mastering a task, teaching, helping, leading, performing, or something else? Not only will your child become more self-aware, but your conversation will allow you to connect with them on a deeper level.

I am so fulfilled and grateful for my career that I can’t help but want others to have passion and purpose. It’s why I incorporate career review in my private practice. As a career counselor and therapist, I work at the intersection of career, relationships, and mental health, and take a holistic perspective around living in a healthy fulfilled way. For most of us, we feel our best when we pursue and act in ways that align with our values, true self, and interests. I often do this work during therapy with 20 and 30 somethings. There is value in uncovering your most authentic self even earlier starting in high school.

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