By: Winnie Jiang
It was a cozy morning in the fall of 2018 and I was at the Student Success Centre’s office, feeling lost.
I was a fourth-year Commerce student, who did not feel I had a sense of what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what jobs I would enjoy doing, or what kind of industries or positions would be a “fit” for me. Meanwhile, my friends were either applying for grad school or searching for a job. They seemed to know more about where they wanted to be. All I knew was that I didn’t want to work in the banking or finance industry.
I was thinking about pursuing my childhood dream of being a teacher and was working on my teachers college application. However, something was still off. Instead of feeling inspirational and passionate, I felt that I was forcing myself to write my personal statement for teachers college.
There was a lot going on. Therefore, when I filled the Career Planning Group event registration form, I put, “Should I find a job in business or should I start my teaching education after I graduate?” as my learning goal, hoping that I would be able to make my decision soon after the event.
The workshop started with self-introductions of each attendee and a discussion about career development. After getting to know the group, Kerri Latham, the workshop facilitator, gave each of us a deck of cards, each with a transferrable skill. We started card sorting individually, which gave me a chance to reflect upon my strengths that I would want or not want to use in work. As I continued the activity, it got more and more difficult for me to sort the card, not only because I’m indecisive but also as I realized that my card sorting result might change my career choices.
The second assessment tool used was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Kerri gave each of us a handout according to our assessment results and emphasized that the results might not be accurate. We would need to read the descriptions for the personality type to find out if it felt like ourselves. The handout also provided a list of popular occupations for my personality letter combination.
Let me remind you — my goal for the workshop was to make a decision for my career as soon as possible, which resulted in me spending a lot of time reading the recommended occupation list, even though Kerri indicated that the list just provides us with some options to think about. I put a star next to the ones that I was interested in and planned to do more research on each of them when I got home. As I reviewed the pitiful list of occupations I had added a star to (exactly four occupations) I got a shortness of breath. My options felt so narrowed, which made me think that I don’t have many choices with my current set of skills.
Soon, it was lunch-time. Before we went on lunch break, Kerri asked us how we felt about the assessment tools, and if we wanted to share any kind of thoughts or insights. This reflection opportunity brought my mind back from the psychometrics world to the real world, where I needed to decide my career soon. I was also anxious because the workshop focused on self-reflection and raising self-awareness rather than telling me what to do directly, which is different than what I hoped. When it was my turn, I tried to stay calm and share positive feedback despite my anxiety.
“It’s interesting to see how most of my strengths are relationship skills, which I do enjoy using in work. When I read The MBTI description for my personality type, I feel like it is describing me. It’s quite precise,” I said.
However, my anxiety level had risen to the top and urgently needed an outlet. I couldn’t hold it anymore. “However,” I continued, “I’m seeing a lot of the occupations that need additional training, and I’m feeling a bit desperate as there aren’t many choices available for me. I’ve been working on a teachers college application, but I feel stuck…” My tears had found their way to slide down my face and reminded me how desperate I felt with such a narrowed list of career options.
“Career decision-making is a stressful process, and it’s good to let some of the stress out from time to time,” Kerri said.
The morning session ended with my embarrassment, mingled with a slight sense of comfort for being able to share my thoughts with the group. I grabbed some snacks and went back to the meeting room to find that other group members hadn’t come back from lunch. Kerri came in and checked in with me, “How do you feel?”
“I’m feeling better. Our group members are really supportive.”
“They are. I’m glad you are feeling better. If you would like to share with me, what was the reason that made you feel stuck when applying for teachers college?”
“I want to apply for a high school teacher job as I realized that I don’t see myself working with small kids. However, as a commerce student who doesn’t have too many electives, I had to force myself to choose a teachable that could meet the admission requirement, instead of a subject that I’m interested in.”
This was my first “aha moment” of the day. I had been trying so hard to meet the admission requirement that I hadn’t realized that I was forcing something I didn’t want to do on myself.
“You don’t have to be a teacher to teach. For example, there are adult learning specialist programs and training and development programs in human resources. We can explore other options like that together,” Kerri told me.
“Right! I didn’t realize that I don’t have to be a teacher to be able to teach! Actually, I’m specializing in human resources,” I felt that my pupils dilated, and my brain was thinking and moving again. I wasn’t stuck!
That was September 15, 2018. I started that day feeling stuck. When I left the group, I felt like a different person. I felt like I could breathe again. There was hope ahead of me. After that day, Kerri booked individual career counselling appointments with me, and we worked collaboratively to develop an action plan. Kerri, and the Career Planning Group, grabbed my hand and saved me out of the water.
I might not remember Kerri’s exact words, but I could never forget how she made me feel. That feeling inspired me and made me realize that I wanted to do what she was doing. I know what it was like being stuck in a field that doesn’t feel right. I want to help students who might be faced with a similar dilemma to find themselves and find something that motivates them, like how I feel about what I do right now.
I’m currently a career development practitioner intern who works closely with our career counsellors in the Student Success Centre. I’ve stopped wondering about the past and started focusing on the future, as I know that my life is not at a corner wall anymore. Life consists of open doors, whichever door I choose to enter, I believe it will be somewhere that brings me more challenges and opportunities.
Winnie is a McMaster grad who first joined the careers team as an intern. She is now a career development practitioner who works with the rest of the careers team to support students’ career development at McMaster.