Knowing yourself and what you want to do!

Self-assessment: Knowing yourself and what you want to do!

Ellis, Marjorie

Self-assessment is an indepth look at who you are, at discovering and learning your personality type, at becoming aware of what’s important to you, and at understanding yourself, i.e. your values, interests, aptitudes, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. It is a way of learning what is a good fit or match for your personality. Because it is the process of knowing who you are, it is the step you must complete before you explore suitable careers.

Begin your self-assessment by asking yourself the following questions: What do I want to do in life? What are my goals, dreams and ambitions? For the answers, look inside, focus, and concentrate on yourself, your needs, and your future, not those of your mom, dad, or friends. That is not to say that what your parents or friends say isn’t important but that ultimately the most useable opinion about who you are and the decision as to what career you want to pursue are yours. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else, even mom.

One way to start figuring out who you are and what you want in life is by evaluating your academic record. Look at the courses you’ve taken: both the ones you liked and disliked. Of the classes or subjects you liked. What did you enjoy most about each? What made you dislike other classes or courses? Why didn’t they appeal to you? Did a class or subject provide you with something that you can develop into a career? For example if you liked and did well in psychology, examine it as a possible career field for yourself (i.e., counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist). Research those career possibilities; what do these people do in their jobs, what training/education did they have to have to perform well? What is the job outlook for these careers? What opportunities exist in these careers (i.e., upward mobility/career advancement, travel, salary, etc.). Do any of these things fit your personality?

Next consider what’s really important to you; things you value and interests, skills, and abilities you have. Take some time and think about what you need to be happy and ultimately successful in your job/career. You are likely to have lots of things that you want, but which ones do you feel are vital to your job satisfaction and career success. Prioritize them. Examples of a few things to consider are salary, geographic location, opportunities to travel job autonomy, type of supervisor, level of responsibility, work hours, and professional growth opportunities. Which of these or others are more significant, things that would determine whether we would enjoy our job/career? If you don’t take the time to consider who you are and what you want, you won’t know what you are looking for. You need to be aware that no job/career is going to be perfect and meet all of your expectations, but if you at least t h i n k a b o u t which things are vital to your happiness and aim for those, you can come pretty close to what you want. Think about the skills and abilities you may have that you would like to use in your chosen profession (i.e., leadership, helping others, mathematical, physical strength, creativity, communication, etc.) Which careers give you an opportunity to express and be yourself? Many people make the mistake of assuming that they can and will do just about anything for the right amount of money. Well, let me assure you that this assumption may be wrong, especially for you. In the beginning the money may seem as if it can sustain your job satisfaction and happiness, but soon, as everyone realizes, money alone is only a temporary fix. If you don’t really like what you are doing, or believe in what you are doing, or like where you work, or who you work for (i.e., company, agency, department, etc.) you will be unhappy, and because you are, you will never have enough money.

Another way to assess your interests might be to consider careers that you may already have been exposed to through friends, family members or previous part-time and summer jobs, volunteer opportunities or internships. Talk to anyone you can find who may be doing something you think you want to do or have thought about doing. Really pick their brains about why they chose that profession, what they like or dislike about their job, whether they would choose it again if they could start over, what a typical day on the job is like for them? Asking these questions is called informational interviewing. You are trying to acquire as much information as possible about the career areas that you may decide to pursue. The more insight you have the better choices you’ll make. Also, draw from your own experiences about what it may be like to work full-time. What kind of supervisor would you prefer? Do you prefer flexible or set work hours? Do you like being in a leadership role where you supervise others or have managerial responsibility? Would you like a career involving travel, etc.?

The best way to answer some of these questions is through an internship or co-op. If you have not considered an internship or co-op before, please do. Cooperative education and internships add meaning to the academic experience. Both offer the student the opportunity to gain practical experience. At the same time students can identify career interests and goals and relate them to academic endeavors. Most people think that you don’t need to be concerned about figuring out who you are and what you want to do until you’re just about ready to graduate. Yes, this is one way to do it, but why wait until the last minute? You may realize that what you thought you wanted to do really doesn’t appeal to you at all.

Self-Assessment should be done early and regularly, as early as your junior year in high school and at least once a year thereafter. The sooner you start to think about your future, the better prepared you’ll be for it. While you were in high school, you should have seen your guidance counselor about your options such as area of study, types of careers available, choice of college/university, etc. If you didn’t go this route, it’s not too late to catch up.

There is often a certain amount of fear that goes along with deciding one’s future. Some of the questions we panic about are: What if I don’t have a clue to who I am and what I want? What if many things intrigue me and I want to do them all? What if I choose the wrong thing? One thing to realize is that figuring out who you are and what you want takes time and a lot of effort on your part. Through examining what you’ve enjoyed doing, what things come easily or naturally to you, what motivates you, what interests you, etc., you will begin to put the puzzle pieces together. Bit by bit you will see a pattern developing. For example, if you tend to be inquisitive then you will like things that allow you to discover, uncover and research. If you are physical, then you are likely to prefer things that let you be hands on, etc. Next, you can do just about anything you want, and you can do more than one thing. But, you just can’t do them all at once. If you like lots of things and can’t seem to eliminate any of them, then your task is to select which thing you would like to do first and move on to the next at a later time until you have accomplished all that you want. The most important thing to remember is that nothing is 100 percent guaranteed. Life is about change and career planning and self-assessment are lifelong processes. You don’t just make a decision today and expect that you’ll be completely satisfied with that choice for the rest of your life. As you grow and experience things and meet different people, as society grows and technology develops, so will your interests change, grow and re-develop. Expect it; that’s life! However, that doesn’t mean that the choices you make today are worthless. They too will play an important role in your future. You will be able to draw on these experiences to help you assess yourself later, when you want to consider new options, goals, and dreams. There are no real wrong choices; all choices provide some lessons to be learned and will help you make better choices later.

This entire process of self-assessment may seem a little hoakie, but the process is truly important stuff. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can make all the difference! If you take the time to know yourself or at least evaluate yourself, you will have a truer sense of what’s good, or should I say better, for you. Many people choose a career and aren’t really sure why. They never consider whether they will enjoy the work regularly or whether it meets their needs professionally and personally. Many people are just glad to have a job that pays decent wages. Yes, finances are important, but ultimately being happy is more important than money. If you are unhappy in your job, the unhappiness will eventually affect your work, level of commitment to the job, whom you work for and even your personal life. Job satisfaction is directly tied to job performance and success. If you enjoy what you are doing, believe in it and know why you chose to do it, you will tend to be more committed to it, better at it, and you’ll work harder to do it well. This commitment to a strong work ethic is what helps us achieve greatness. If we are happy, we look toward the future with ambitions, goals and dreams. If we are just getting by in our jobs, could care less about whether we get the job done or even whether we come to work at all, we tend to wallow in our misery. We do more looking back at what could have been or should have been and can only see the future as more of the same dissatisfaction. Success means taking an active role in the growth and development of our personal and professional life.

Sometimes, the task of putting all the pieces together can be a bit overwhelming, and you may need the assistance of experienced and knowledgeable resources. Three sources I recommend are your career counselor, academic advisor and the Internet. Your career counselor is the most experienced of the three sources. A career counselor will be able to offer you not only his/her expertise through one on one counseling and advising, but share with you many more tools to uncover your true self. Career Counselors can provide career specific library resources such as books, videos about certain college majors, careers within those majors, and companies that seek to hire graduates in those majors. In addition, career counselors provide career interest testing such as the Strong Interest Inventory, the Campbell Interest and Skills Survey, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the Self Directed Search, and the Kuder Occupational Orientation. In addition, they offer computerized career guidance programs such a SIGIPLUS, DISCOVER, and Career Key. All of these indicators help you gauge your personality and interests and compare them with others who are already in the field. A career counselor will then sit down and interpret the test results with you looking at the similarities of the interests in different fields and types of careers. Your academic advisor is another important source to refer to about college majors and courses as well as jobs related to the field. An academic advisor can help guide you through your four years of undergraduate study and help you stay focused on the courses needed to fulfill the requirements of your selected major. Last, another wonderful resource is the Internet. The Internet can however be a bit overwhelming with the amount of information readily available at your fingertips. You can query an occupation on the Internet and end up with hundreds of pages of information to help you better understand that occupation and many others. You can research job openings, internships, co-ops, and even scholarships, grants and loans for college financial assistance, etc.

There is a lot of information to help you get to know yourself and know your options. Remember to begin your assessment by taking a good look at you. Look at who you are, the goals you have set for yourself, and the strategy you have devised to meet your goals. Take an inventory of yourself, both your likes and dislikes. Realize that you too are growing and are approaching crossroads in your life. Accept the challenge to understand yourself and to like who you’ve become or the person you aspire to be. Take an inventory of your career choices and options. Understand that there’s a sea of knowledge out there waiting to be excavated by you, waiting for you to venture out and discover terrain never before chartered. You must first discover yourself.

Finally, Francis Bacon, father of the Scientific Revolution in England once said that if a man begins in certainties, he will end in doubts; but if a man begins in doubt, he will end in certainties. It is easy to end in certainties when we have begun by understanding our plight in life. Even if it’s off the trodden path, we must realize it is our path. That’s the beginning of ending in certainties.

Control your own destiny… as long as you are going to make a choice… make it an informed one and choose wisely!

Marjorie Ellis is the associate director of the Career Development Center at Appalachian State University.

Copyright Black Collegian Oct 1998

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