Making careers decisions: TEDx Talks and what we learned from them

Written by Jenny Sloan, Careers Consultant at The Careers Service

After university, you’re faced with a lot of decisions. Postgraduate study or graduate job? Graduate scheme or start-up? Return home or look for work in Manchester?

In a world that tells us we can do anything, we can find ourselves feeling lost and confused, unsure of what direction to take next. This is especially prevalent given the current climate – some doors may be closed to us, others may have opened. We may have had to rethink our original post-uni plans. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by choice.

Fortunately, there is a way to harness this indecision to your advantage. Not having a set career plan gives you the freedom to take a step forward in a different direction, to try out other roles, to think about what interests you and what you’re good at. Not being restricted to a particular sector can open you up to a variety of new skills, experiences and contacts you may not otherwise had access to.

And remember, you don’t have to do this alone. There are lots of resources on the Careers website to help you get started. You can also chat to one of our Careers Consultants if you’re feeling overwhelmed by choice and aren’t sure what to do. While they won’t be able to predict the best path for you, they can help you to work through your options.

In the meantime, check out our top 4 TEDx talks on the psychology and philosophy behind decision making, and how we can better understand the decision-making process to improve our career choices.

  1. The Psychology of Career Decisions | Sharon Belden Castonguay

What’s it about?

The host of this talk is an Adult Developmental Psychologist and Careers Consultant with 20 years’ experience working with professionals at all points during their careers. She’s also the host of two podcasts, Careers by Design: The Interviews and First Year Out. In this talk, Sharon discusses how our personal, cultural and social identity impacts on how we make decisions about our career and encourages us to make decisions that are right for us.

What did we learn?

  • Making a decision about your career is tough. It’s okay to feel confused, but make sure you reach out for help (remember, you can book a careers guidance appointment with one of our Careers Consultants!).
  • It’s also okay if you don’t know what your ‘passion in life’ is. Start by considering what you enjoy doing and what interests you. Our ‘I don’t know what I want to do’ pages can help you get started.
  • Chances are you’ll have to try out quite a few different jobs, both to find the kind of role you like, but also in response to changing labour market demands (rise of automation and AI, etc).
  • Lots of people make career decisions based on influences from parents, peers and social communities.  Self-awareness is important – what do YOU want. Sharon reminds us, ‘Don’t let others write your story for you’.

What’s it about?

Orla, the host of this TED Talk, has had several careers during her lifetime, including PhD chemist, editor and science communicator. At the moment she works at University College Dublin where she helps thousands of students every year make decisions about their careers (mostly about which course to study at university, but this talk is also very relevant to those finishing university). She shares her insights into how we can make careers choices that are unique to us. 

What did we learn?

  • It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to be doing in 30-40 years’ time.
  • Choosing a job now does not have to be the job you will be in for life. Focus on taking that first step forward, and don’t get overwhelmed by becoming fixated on the ‘final destination’.
  • Ask yourself, what is expected of me and by who? What do I want to do in the short term? What will make me happy? Remember, it’s essential that you make decisions for yourself, not others.
  • While talking to friends, family, peers and academic staff can be useful, it’s also important to find someone neutral that you can talk to about your next steps (our Careers Consultants are on hand to offer impartial advice).

Many of us are asked the question, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ throughout our lives, but after finishing your degree, being asked this question may cause you more anxiety than it did before.  Career coach, writer and artist Emilie reminds us that the majority of us have several interests and things we’re good at, and we can use this to our advantage throughout our careers. In this talk, she introduces the concept of ‘multipotentalites’ and its benefits.

What did we learn?

  • The belief that we all have one specific thing that we’re great at, and we need to find it and devote our life to it, is prominent in today’s society. The concept of ‘destiny’ is often romanticised.
  • Some people have a clear idea of what they want to do, and that’s great. But the reality is that most people aren’t wired in this way. It’s okay to be curious about different topics and careers, and have lots of things you want to do. If this resonates with you, you may be a ‘multipotentalite’.
  • Emilie explains that ‘multipotentialites’ are people who have many different interests, and therefore will have many different kinds of jobs over one lifetime. Being a multipotentalite should not be considered a limitation, but instead has many strengths, including:
  • Idea synthesis: multipotentalites can combine two or more fields of interest and make something new. Having an eclectic mix of skills, interests and experiences can make you more innovative (check out our Enterprise Club for more inspiration about innovation and entrepreneurship).
  • Rapid learning: multipotentalites are used to trying new things and learning fast, and therefore are not afraid of stepping outside of their comfort zone.
  • Adaptability: it is important to be flexible and adaptable in a world that changes so quickly. We all must be prepared change and upskill in order to meet the needs of a changing market if we want to thrive in our careers (see our article on futureproofing), and multipotentalites often have experience of learning adapting quickly to new fields and roles.
  • Emilie suggests that instead of think about what we can do, we should think about all we can do.
  • The world needs more creative and outside-the-box thinkers to tackle complex problems. In fact, the best teams are often composed of a mixture of specialists and multi-potentialities.

What’s it about?

Ruth finished university and struggled between deciding to pursue law or philosophy. She chose law, only to return to philosophy years later. In this talk, she suggests that big decisions (like deciding what job to do, where to live, etc.) can appear more difficult than they are in reality because of how we frame them in our minds. This is the most theoretical talk on our list, but certainly poses some interesting and valuable ideas about unleashing the power behind difficult decision making, and how making hard choices can help us to become who we are (or want to be).

What did we learn?

  • When faced with difficult decisions, it can be a mistake to think that one alternative is wholly better than the other (if it was, then it wouldn’t be a difficult decision!). Hard choices are not difficult because of our ignorance, but because often, there is no best option.
  • Hard choices can be a good thing. They give us the power to create reasons for the decisions we make and the things we do, and therefore give us the opportunity to transform ourselves into who we want to be.
  • When faced with a difficult choice, don’t try to work out which option is better, because there may not be a best alternative. Instead, we should consider our reasons behind selecting each choice. It’s a personal choice, and while others can help, only we can make the decision.

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