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How to Make Big Career Decisions

At this point in your career planning process, you've learned about your values, interests, and skills. You've also identified some career options that interest you.

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You've completed the second step where you explored your occupational options. The next step in the 4 step career planning process is to decide on a career option.

Like many other big decisions in life, this can feel stressful. But tackling important decisions head on lets you take more control of your life. A little anxiety is normal when you're faced with hard choices. It can even spur you to act.

There are many decision-making strategies you can use. Researchers say a good choice:

  • Fits your values and self-image
  • Occurs after you’ve looked at the most promising options and the possible results of acting on those options
  • Allows your head and heart to agree on how to act
  • Is one that you can and will act on

Find out about the learning and experience the option requires

For many career options, you’ll need to meet specific learning requirements or levels of experience. These could be formal learning situations, such as diploma, degree or apprenticeship programs, or informal arrangements, such as mentorship or on-the-job training.

Find out about the learning and experience required for the option you’re interested in by searching for the occupation in OCCinfo. 

Prepare to handle challenges

You may face some challenges as you pursue your career option—paying for your education, arranging accommodations if you have a disability, finding day care and so on. Planning how you’ll handle these situations will help you get ready to focus on your goals.

In the career planning process, getting ready to make your career move can sometimes bring you face to face with difficult decisions and hard realities. If you’re feeling confused or overwhelmed at this point, you may want to seek some career planning advice by calling Alberta Supports.

Conquer your indecision

Does fear of making the wrong choice have you feeling too anxious to make a decision? Talk to a counsellor or trusted advisor. And think about this:

  • Even not making a decision is still making a decisionto stick with the way things are.
  • No choice is going to be perfect. Instead of aiming for a perfect situation, focus on the option with the greatest upside.
  • Career decisions are always a bit risky. But the potential rewards make it worthwhile to take calculated risks.

If the decision you want to make feels overwhelming:

  • Consider whether you need to go “all in” on the decision. Maybe you can just take a small step for now.
  • Taking a small step doesn’t mean you’re giving up on anything else. You can always take another step or make another choice later.

Maybe you want to be a surgeon. You can’t make one big decision and become a surgeon right now. It will take years of effort and planning to reach your goal.

What you can do right now is:

  • Research what a career as a surgeon would look like.
  • Take a course that will help get you ready for medical school.
  • Apply yourself in that course.

Each of these decisions is small and manageable. None of them mean you’ve turned your back on any future decisions.

Many people start an education in one field only to change direction along the way. They still have the benefit of whatever education they’ve undertaken. And they are often happier with the direction that education led them to take.

Stay motivated with SMARTER goals

Figuring out what you want to do in 5 or 10 years is your long-term goal. Long-term goals are necessary, but they can be overwhelming.

Think about a career like becoming a lawyer or getting your red seal in carpentry. Both professions require several stages of education and practice.

Is your goal to become a sculptor, actor, or musician? Goals like these might not have clearly defined stages built into them. Achieving such goals might just mean sticking with it for several years.

How do you avoid becoming discouraged? How do you keep going when you want to give up? You track your progress toward your long-term goal down by breaking it down into medium- and short-term goals.

One of the best ways to do this is by setting SMARTER goals. SMARTER stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-limited
  • Evaluate-able
  • Re-adjustable

Defining your goals in this way can help you manage challenges that almost always arise as you work toward your long-term goal. In this way and others, SMARTER goals can make your long-term goal feel more achievable. And what feels more achievable, is more achievable.

Decisions empower you to take action

Making a big decision takes time and effort. You need to make sure it feels right for you. You need to know what the option you've selected will require. And you'll need to consider the challenges that your decision will pose for you. But, once you've made your decision and taken all of these factors into account, then you’re ready to move on to the next step in the career planning process—taking action.

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