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Transcending the Family Legacy: Choosing Your Own Career Path

Tags:  Career advice, Life after college

Who Defines Your Career?


Some experts believe that oftentimes young people choose a career based on those they see in their immediate family, almost as if they have been born and bred to enter into a certain profession, like royalty. The pressure to pursue the ""family line of business"" may be unintentionally imposed on you by a caring parent who shares stories of work or has you visit their worksite and help them with small projects. Or it may be an unspoken expectation that just comes with being part of a certain family, such as the one that runs their own business.


The problem is that with today's shaky economy and rapidly changing labor market nothing appears to be for sure anymore. Careers and companies that once felt so secure are no longer viable. Professions that held esteem or seemed like a great career choice might not hold the same allure as they once did.


What is important when choosing a career path is to select something that you not only have an interest in, but something that has staying power. And choosing a career because it's what your mother or father did or because it's what they ""push"" you to do, even though it is not your dream, can lead you down a path of dissatisfaction.


Are you going to allow someone else to decide what you are going to do the rest of your life, who you are going to be when you grow up, how you will financially support yourself? If not, then it is important that instead of letting your career be defined for you, you learn about yourself and the world around you and define the career that best suits your interests and talents. Yes, some people may be disappointed, even saddened by your choice; however, they are not living your life. You are.


Where Do You Begin?


First and foremost, it is not a bad thing to have your family provide input to your career choice. It's great to have trusted advisors. It's all a matter of degree. If they have undue influence, if you forsake your dreams and desires in order to please mom and dad, you are not being true to yourself. On the other hand, family can help keep you grounded when the world of choices is swirling about you and you're finding it difficult to decide what you want.


That's why it is so important to step back and look at your preferences, your interests and your talents in order to find the right career for you. But beyond that, it is also important to assess your choices based on future possibilities.


Okay, so you did not do so well in Crystal Ball Reading 101 in high school. It does not matter. You can still follow market trends and build flexibility into your career by staying abreast of current events and being sure to have a fall back position if you realize you need to make a career switch.


Here's what this means. If you've spent years grooming yourself for a career in finance, worked hard in high school by taking advanced placement courses, picked the perfect Ivy League college, held internships that classmates envied, and graduated college summa cum laude, only to find your dream of landing on Wall Street dematerialize due to the recent financial disaster, you need to be able to rethink your goal and choose a different career path.


Consider this: What if instead of being a little fish in a big pond and pursuing a career on Wall Street you choose to be a big fish in little pond and join a small firm that offers you a chance to spread your wings, make a difference, and stand out in this much smaller crowd?


Can You Redefine Yourself?


When someone asks you to describe yourself, do you tell them your job title? ""My name is Mary and I'm an accountant."" Your career does not define who you are. Yes, it is important to your well being -- it's what makes all your other dreams possible -- but what if you lost it tomorrow? Where would you be?


You'd still have your family and friends. You'd still have your health, your sense of humor, and your dreams. You might have to redefine what you do for a living, choose another path in life, and make some adjustments to your career, but people have been known to do it before.


Consider the story of Jaime Escalante, from the movie Stand and Deliver, who left a career teaching physics and math to students in his home country of Bolivia to take a job in the U.S. working in electronics and computers, until he was able to earn a mathematics degree here and teach in the U.S. It's about flexibility and keeping an open mind.


If you want to find career success, you have to choose your own career path; one that makes you happy. But one that also is fluid, one that can be adjusted as needed. You should never be so rigid that you lose sight of who you are because you are so focused on a single choice. It's like that old saying, ""don't put all your eggs in one basket.""


Leave room to redefine who you are and what you do for a living. Sure you want to be in finance, but if it's not on Wall Street, where else might you work? What are your alternatives? Perhaps a self-employed financial advisor to high-net worth clientele or a financial consultant to the owner of a small business would meet your needs equally well.


Whatever you ultimately choose to do with your career, know that you – not friends and family – define who you are and what you do with your life. And don't forget to have a backup plan, just in case.

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