As a neurodivergent careers coach, I've heard people tell me some variation of this sentence all the time: “I should have found the RIGHT career path by now - I’m turning 20/30/40 this year. What’s wrong with me?”
Then it's followed up by a request for me to tell you what you SHOULD be doing.
As humans, we like the idea of 'shoulds' because they are shortcuts. They take away the tricky task of making our own decisions. Eeek, there, I said it.
For many people, neurodivergent or not, making decisions about our careers goes hand in hand with a whole lot of negative self-talk/imposter syndrome, unhelpful assumptions about what IS possible and an awful lot of rumination without action.
Traditional careers education usually involves a helpful "Fairy Godmother" career advisor perform a magical "Skills Survey" that divines your "Ultimate Career Path".
Unfortunately, it's not very effective in dealing with those annoying "shoulds", "musts" and "can'ts" that limit our thinking about what's possible for our careers.
How Does This Affect You?
In my professional experience working with neurodivergent people, I have discovered that many of our career decisions focus on mitigating the things we find challenging and identifying careers or roles that minimise disaster.
We use the framing of "should’s and cant's" and we talk ourselves into finding the "right" career to feel safe.
So many people (especially parents of neurodivergent kids) ask me to tell them what career they or their child should choose because they are neurodivergent.
By the way, it's not always IT!
Many of us have not yet learnt to take a strengths-based approach to ourselves, to learn about what we are good at and to play to those strengths in our careers.
Often, it's because we've grown up in a family environment or have been cared for by others who don't embrace that strengths-based approach to career-building.
But that doesn't have to be the case. There is no "Right" and no "Should" for our career path. So what can we do to start embracing that strengths-based approach to your career? Here are my top hacks on how to start that conversation with yourself.
Hack 1. Stop, Examine and Reframe
The first thing you can try is to take notice of every time you start to use the language, "Should, Must, Cant" types of language. If any of those words start to creep into your language when talking about your career, stop and examine the assumption.
Here are some questions to help you examine your assumptions more critically:
What assumptions are you making when you frame your career problem or question and seek to make decisions?
Where have those assumptions come from and are they useful or relevant?
What purpose are those assumptions playing? Often assumptions are shortcuts to keep us safe.
What might be the most useful way of framing the problem so you can make a good decision?
Hack 2. Look Inwards not Outwards
Do you know and embrace your own unique skills, talents and interests? Do you know exactly what you need from other people or the environment thrive? Are you clear on how to demonstrate your value to others in a clear and concise way in whatever way you best communicate?
When we know the breadth of what we bring to the table and what we need, it is easier to make decisions that are right for us right now rather than shortcutting to a "should".
We have more confidence in the concept that there will be multiple pathways we could take in life. The more options we believe we have, the greater chance of getting somewhere!
Hack 3. Slow Down and get Curious
When I get asked to use my "Fairy Godmother" skills, I ask a few different questions. What do you get excited about or curious about right now? When do you get into flow? What energises you?
A fantastic phrase I have heard around this is: “What latent wonderfulness do you wish to pursue in your life?”
Don’t pick off the list of careers that have been deemed available to you and do the “noble task of living someone else’s life”. Seek to understand the intersection between the things you are most curious about in the world, and your unique skills and talents. Let that understanding drive your decision making.
In summary, seek to get rid of the "shoulds" in your Career decisions and don’t be fooled into pursuing the one ‘right’ career. You deserve to make decisions that are right for you as a unique human being and to have choices that enable you to create a flourishing life.
Samantha Nuttall is the founder of "The Neurodivergent Coach", a careers advisory service that empowers neurodivergent people to design careers built upon their unique strengths, abilities and interests.
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