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August 2012
« Jul   Sep »

Don’t Despair: Why Your Planned Career Path isn’t the “Be All and End All”

Posted by: Alex Linley, as part of School Leavers’ Fortnight


With A-level results just around the corner, and Scottish Highers results released yesterday, there’s a big, pervasive myth that we need to dispel:


It isn’t the end of the world if you didn’t get the grades you need. In fact, it might just be the best thing that ever happened to you.


I didn’t make the grade when I applied to Oxford University while doing my A-levels. In fact, I didn’t even want to go to university at that point, but I reached an agreement with my dad (who hadn’t gone to university, and so was desperate for me to do so), that I would go for one year and see how I got on…


So, off I duly went to the University of Leeds to start a four-year Russian and Philosophy degree, with the first year being entirely Russian to bring us all up to A-level standard in that year. And guess what – after one year, just as agreed – I left (albeit with a 2:1 and a Fail in Phonetics), because I didn’t want to be there.


Many adventures later (having worked in Moscow, run my own business, and stacked books in a book warehouse), I decided that I was ready to go to university – and so Leicester it was, this time to read Psychology. Warwick followed Leicester as I did my PhD before going back to Leicester as a Lecturer, which even then was just the prelude to starting Capp.


Could I have predicted any of this at the tender age of 17 years when I was making my university choices and completing my A-levels? Not a chance! In fact, as I often say to my children when they ask about careers – “My job didn’t even exist when I was at school – I invented it.


The upshot of this is that I don’t believe that anyone should be constrained by the career path they might have in mind at 17, 18, 19 years – or indeed any age – because there is always so much that can and will happen, that we just can’t predict. As a result, I say to my children, “Do what you enjoy and what you’re good at, work hard (always work hard), and then see what opportunities you can create...”


And contrary to the received wisdom, this is actually how careers develop for many of us, as Herminia Ibarra shows in her excellent book.


So if you, your son or daughter, or a young person you are helping, find that things didn’t quite work out as planned with your A-level results, don’t despair!


It could well be that you are just taking the path that so many of us take, the one that is emergent (and I think exciting), rather than the one that is prescribed and carefully planned.


After all, this indirect path that makes the most of what we have, rather than lamenting what we don’t have, is so often the route to an even better future than we imagined.


Has this indirect career path been your experience through life? Share your learnings with others through using the Comment function on The Capp Blog below.


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One Response to Don’t Despair: Why Your Planned Career Path isn’t the “Be All and End All”

  • Jacquie Lomas says:

    When I got my A-level results I feared I had not got the grades I needed. On closer inspection (and through the tears!) I realised I had in fact got the grades I needed to go to the University of Stirling, which had been my first choice, to study French and German, not because I had a particular career path in mind, but because, as Alex said, these were the subjects I enjoyed and was good at.
    I have never really used my languages however, not job-wise anyway. I tried personnel management, thinking I could work for an international company, however soon realised the world of commerce and business was not for me!
    Later in life, I developed an interest in special needs and studied psychology with the OU. Now, 28 years after getting my A-level results, I am studying to be an Educational Psychologist at the University of Birmingham and feel I have finally found my niche!

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