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April 9, 2008 > Counseling Corner: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Counseling Corner: What do you want to be when you grow up?

By Anne Chan, M.S., MFT

We often ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. But many, many adults don't know the answer to this question, even when they are all grown up. It's a really tough question to answer. In my own search for a career, I spent many nights pondering what I could do with my life that would bring me fulfillment and joy. Now that I'm happily working as a career counselor and psychotherapist, I meet many people who feel stuck in their careers, but have no idea how they can change their lives. If you are sick of your job, but clueless about what's right for you, read on, and if you know someone who is having trouble finding a passion or even a goal in life, clip out this article and give it them.

Here are some fun, creative exercises you can do to get ideas about suitable careers. Do all or a few of them and be pleasantly surprised about what you find out about yourself and about potential career choices. The point of these exercises is to help you brainstorm all possible careers - get into the spirit of being creative and open - try not to nix anything that comes to mind. Imagine yourself as a treasure hunter looking for clues to your life.

"Interview" ten of your friends and family - people who know you well and think well of you. Ask them what they think your strengths are. Ask them to tell you three jobs they think you might be good at. I remember people telling me I was good at listening. That comment struck me even though I did not want to be a counselor at the time. Later, when I was thinking of making a career change, I remembered my friends' remarks about my listening skills and this helped validate my decision to change careers.

Flip through a phone book and pick out three jobs that appeal to you. Ask yourself: What do these jobs have in common? How might I create my life from these clues?

Imagine yourself getting a massive inheritance which has the only stipulation that the money be used to support your career. What would you spend the money on? What would you want to learn? These questions give you clues that will point you to your deepest interests.

Check out and pick out one volunteer position that interests you. This choice will give you clues as to what your passion is.

Work with a career counselor - people who are trained to help you find your passion. They can give you assessments to widen your horizons about possible careers. They can be found in private practice, colleges, and community agencies, like the Tri-Cities One-Stop Career Center, located at 39155 Liberty St., B200, in Fremont. Their phone number is (510)794-3669. If you are in Hayward, check out Eastbay Works located at 24100 Amador St., 3rd Floor, or call them at (510)670-5700. Those living in Milpitas can utilize the services and support of NOVA at 505 W. Olive Ave., Suite 330, in Sunnyvale. Their telephone number is (408)730-7640.

Ask yourself: "What would be the one world problem I would like to help eradicate? Would it be hunger, child abuse, poverty, racism, AIDS, etc.? What is an issue I feel so strongly about that I would be willing to invest my energies, time, and commitment to help find a solution?" These questions would provide clues as to what you really want out of yourself.

Picture yourself 50, 60; even 70 years from now, perhaps sitting on your porch watching the world go by. What would your future self regret not doing? What would your future self wish he or she had tried professionally?

Same visualization - this time picture yourself 50 or 60 years from now having a conversation with your grandchildren at your knee. You have had the best life imaginable. What stories would you tell them? What accomplishments would you share with them?

Write down a list of things that would create the most nightmarish job you could possibly have. Perhaps you hate a boss breathing down your neck. Or maybe you can't stand doing the same thing over and over again. Other people might find it hellish to have a job where the unexpected happens all the time. Make your list as detailed as possible. Then reverse those attributes and write these down on another list. For example, if you detest monotony, write "variety" on your new list. Voila! This new list gives you a description of your ideal job and career.

Do have fun while you do these exercises - they are meant to be fun and insightful at the same time. I hope your quest for finding clues will lead you to a clearer vision for a happier, more fulfilling career!

Anne Chan is a registered career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She can be reached at or (510) 744-1781.

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