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Canadians are having second thoughts about their career choices – especially those who felt pressured into those decisions, as well as those who elected to play it safe.

According to a recent survey by Toronto-based non-profit career coaching and development organization CERIC, nearly 72 per cent of Canadians who meet with the organization’s career counsellors wish they had chosen a different career path. The study also found that nearly 67 per cent felt pressured into pursuing a career path they didn’t want, and 61 per cent felt that “playing it safe” prevented them from making better career choices.

“There's a bias for the safer or certain thing, as opposed to a riskier possibility that might not pay off in the short term,” said CERIC’s board chair, John Horn.

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Mr. Horn explains that when one makes decisions solely based on financial considerations they’re more likely to have some regrets later in life, given how much time is typically spent at work. At the same time he recognizes that choosing a career path solely based on personal passion and interest poses it’s own problems.

“If you follow your passion, but you really care about being financially independent, you might experience a lot of tension,” he said. “I'm passionate about singing, but if I was basing my career on my passion I wouldn't be able to support my family.”

The high proportion of Canadians having second thoughts about their careers might also be a sign of the times, adds Mr. Horn, who believes there might be a “grass is always greener” element in the survey data. “The science tells us that through channels like social media and the rise of super niche shows [about certain careers] and YouTubers, people are perceiving that others have it better than they do,” he said.

Canadians may also find themselves in roles they aren’t completely satisfied with because of how difficult it is to predict where career decisions, which are typically made at a young age, will lead years or decades in the future.

“School in general looks super different than the jobs that come after; not all the time, but a lot of the time,” explains Jennifer Polk, a Toronto-based career coach and co-founder of Beyond the Professoriate. She believes that learning about a role or industry in an academic setting can sometimes provide a less than accurate representation of what a career in that field might look like in practice.

“Even for the people who are convinced they know what's right for them, the reality is they might find themselves in a context that doesn't suit them,” she said, adding that even dream jobs aren’t immune to negative working environments.

Instead of focusing on earning a specific job title, Ms. Polk suggests seeking out fields and industries that align with core values. Monster Canada’s senior vice-president and general manager Angela Payne echoes that advice, adding that it’s much easier to switch jobs than it is to switch fields.

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“Your career life is long, so take the appropriate amount of time and do the due diligence to really find what you’re not just passionate about, but what’s aligned with what you stand for,” she said. “As you get older your interests change, but if its aligned to something you feel very strong about it’s probably something you will still feel strongly about 10 or 20 years from now.”

According to recent research by Monster, however, Canadians are still prioritizing compensation and benefits when making career decisions. Their recent State of the Candidate: Canada Report found that compensation is the top consideration for 70 per cent of candidates, followed by benefits and vacation time. “While alignment is all well and good, the pressure of surviving and thriving for your family is still trumping the hard work of really ensuring you’re in the right spot,” Ms. Payne said.

While the research suggests that Canadians are still playing it safe Mr. Horn emphasizes that “safe” needs to be redefined in the context of the 21st century.

“The scale of change has never been at the rate it is now,” he said. “Forces as big as climate change and globalization are impacting work in even the smallest communities around Canada, not to mention how automation and technology is going to augment, disrupt or eliminate work.”

Like Ms. Payne and Ms. Polk, Mr. Horn agrees that “safety” in this context requires a strong alignment to individual values. He points to numerous studies by organizations such as Accenture, the Society for Human Resource Management, Gallup and the Harvard Business Review that have found a correlation between employee engagement and performance. Such studies suggest individuals are more likely to thrive when they find employers or fields that align with their values.

“If you really care about the work you do then you will find ways to have that same level of engagement and joy for your whole career, evolving as the work and the organization changes and grows,” Mr. Horn said.

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