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Career Advice After dealing with family stress, I need to identify a career track

The Question

I was a stellar student in high school, but in my undergrad, I battled with depression and immense family stress and didn’t get my degree. Now 27, I’ve achieved some stability and this has fuelled my desire to go back to school. But instead of throwing money at education aimlessly, I want to pinpoint a career to pursue. I have absolutely no specific idea and need guidance for this task – and not just results from a career/aptitude test such as the Jackson Vocational Interest Survey.

The First Answer

Bruce Sandy

Principal, Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting, Vancouver

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Congratulations on managing and overcoming the mental-health challenges that you have faced and finding some stability in your life. It will be important to continue the conditions and support that you have in order to stay as balanced and stress-free as you venture forth in your career and professional development. It will be important for you moving forward to find employers and postsecondary education institutions with programs and services providing employee and family assistance and supporting student health.

Take advantage of not only the student health resources but also the career and education counselling services that are available to students of most public universities and colleges. Book a session(s) with a counselor(s) at your previous university or other colleges/universities where you are considering enrolling. They can help you decide which programs you are interested in by offering you appropriate career and aptitude tests as well as education program advice and counselling. Also speak to the staff in the financial-aid offices about possible grant and scholarship funding sources to assist you with the financing for your continued education.

In advance of the meetings with the education and career counsellors you can take on-line career assessments such as the Motivational Appraisal Personal Potential (MAPP) assessment available through assessments.com which offers free, educational and professional versions of their assessments.

The Second Answer

Peter Caven

Founder, Launched, Toronto

You are not alone in not being clear on your career path: Research indicates that only about 4 per cent of university grads have any “passion” that is career-related and actionable.

The key is self-knowledge. Assessment instruments including Myers-Briggs can be helpful, but they are not a silver bullet. Self-reflection is instrumental. Write 250 words on what matters most to you in your life and another 250 words on critical issues about work and what they mean to you. This is not a list of what you want from or out of work but a general statement of your view of what, in your opinion, would make work good. Write stories about the times when you were “in the zone” – times when you were energized, completely focused on an activity and time stood still. Describe what you were doing and with whom. What knowledge do you possess – facts and lessons learned? What are your skills – things that you can do?

Think about what interests you. Are there sectors or industries that resonate with you for whatever reason?

Do some research to find out where careers will be in the 2020s; the World Economic Forum produced a report on this topic in 2016. This will identify areas that could potentially be a good fit for you and provide long-term career opportunities.

Learn more about those areas. Talk to people who work in those sectors or functions. Find out what they actually do and what they like about what they do. Experiment. Volunteer or take an internship. These activities might actually result in a job down the road.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

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