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Identify Significant Experiences to Inspire Your Future

Significant experiences are the events in your own personal history you remember because they made you feel good, satisfied, engaged, invigorated, inspired, in the flow. Looking back, whatever the outcome, you feel proud and fulfilled by those experiences.

Your significant experiences can tell you a lot about what’s really important to you. By reviewing your significant experiences, you can gain insight into your values, beliefs, interests, strengths and dreams.

Whether you’re choosing an occupation, thinking about going to school or changing your career direction, your significant experiences can help you:

  • identify new opportunities
  • adapt to change
  • create a satisfying career
  • succeed in your chosen career

The key to your significant experiences

If you’re like many people, you feel most satisfied when the things you do mean something to you, whether or not you excel at them or count them as successes. Although significant experiences can involve tasks you’re good at, the key is how you feel about the experience. A significant experience could be:

  • a school project that introduced you to an exciting new interest, whether or not you got an A+
  • a time when you helped a neighbour, friend or classmate, even though your actions didn’t make the 6 o’clock news
  • a time when you met a tight deadline, even though you were only 1 member of an entire project team

Identifying your significant experiences

The activities in this section will help you identify significant experiences. The following tips will help you get the most out of the activities:

  • Aim to identify at least 3 significant experiences.
  • Look for what you like to do, rather than what you do best.
  • Write down or record as many details as you can about each experience.
  • Do many of the activities. The more you do, the more material you’ll have to work with.
  • Reflect on how you feel about the experience. What anyone else thinks or whether anyone knows about it doesn’t matter.

Activity: What makes you proud?

Recall a time when you did something you were proud of. Don’t limit yourself to work or school—draw on all areas of your life, past and present: work, leisure, learning, home, creative pursuits, volunteering and relationships with family and friends. For each experience ask yourself these questions:

  • What did I do?
  • When did this happen?
  • What was the result?
  • Why did it make me proud?

You can use the “Significant Experiences Exercise” in the Know Yourself section of CAREERinsite to record your answers.

Activity: The loves of your life

Divide your life into time periods of about 5 years. Try to remember what you loved to do, the things that interested you and what you felt strongly about in each period. Refer to the examples below. You can use The Loves of Your Life (PDF) chart to record and print your answers.

Time Frame (age)

  • 5–10 years
    • Leisure and Recreation – dancing, taking care of pets, skating, reading
    • Education – favourite subjects: language arts, social studies
    • Work – none

  • 11–15 years
    • Leisure and Recreation – horseback riding, volunteering with special needs, kids, reading
    • Education –  favourite subjects: language arts, social studies
    • Work – babysitting

  • 16–20 years
    • Leisure and Recreation – hiking, volunteering in a riding program for special needs children, reading
    • Education – took special ed courses, like psychology courses
    • Work – camp leader, loved working outdoors

And so on...

Activity: Review your year

Look back over the past year. Find 3 activities or events from any aspect of your life that made you feel strong and engaged. Jog your memory by looking at your:

  • journals, agendas or calendars
  • portfolio, scrapbooks or photo albums
  • projects or products from work
  • assignments from school
  • performance reviews
  • family or company newsletters
  • social media posts

Activity: Your strengths

Complete the following sentences:

  • I felt strong when _____________________________________
  • I loved it when _______________________________________

Activity: Happy talk

Recall recent conversations with friends and family. What are the things you talked about that made you feel positive?

Analyzing your significant experiences

  1. Choose 3 significant experiences you identified from the above activities and describe them in detail. Write about them, record them or describe them to a friend and have your friend write down key words. Describe the following:
    • where and when the experiences happened
    • who was involved
    • exactly what happened
    • what you did
    • how you felt at the time
    • how you feel about the experience now
  2. Review the descriptions of your experiences as though you were reading about someone else. Look for clues and themes:
    • Note personal characteristics, skills, attitudes, values or strengths. Check out the word lists in the Use Action Words to Get the Job article for ideas.
    • Note words or phrases that are common to all these experiences.
  3. Review the descriptions and notes you made about each experience. Answer the following questions:
    • Why is this experience significant to me?
    • What skills or knowledge did I enjoy using in this experience?
    • What does this experience say about what I value?
    • What does the experience say about what I do, could do or want to do?

When you’ve completed this exercise, you’ll have a list of words that describe what matters to you: the things that motivated you in the past and will likely motivate you in the future. Use these descriptions and what you’ve learned about yourself when you explore possible jobs, occupations or education programs:

  • Brainstorm a vision of your future that includes the things that matter to you.
  • Google the words and see what comes up.

Take advantage of your past significant experiences to inspire your future

Focusing on things that have mattered to you in the past can help you make choices about your future. Use your significant experiences—those moments when you’ve felt proud, strong and centred—to help you move towards what you really want.

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