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Chris Targett
31 March 2016

Sometimes we have to imagine something before we can pursue it, even if it is unrealistic or a complete fantasy. At times the pursuit of the fantastical isn’t always as dangerous as it seems, because during the journey to get there, we often discover something we would never have imagined (and sometimes it is better than the initial fantasy we set out with).

Careers work is constantly at odds with itself, as it balances our ability to dream with logic based reality checks. We access labour market data to help clients make an informed choice or use league tables of universities to help prospective students access a course which will increase the odds of them getting onto their chosen career. Yet without the dream or sense of direction, even if it is just the desire to study a certain course at university or to do something practical, the pragmatic tools become meaningless.

Careers work can help inspire clients and show them what might be possible by introducing them to opportunities, careers and ideas which they may never have heard of. It can also help them to consider philosophies or viewpoints that may never have occurred to them, such as the changing rate of the job market and emerging careers. Many of our students will dream an initial dream and change their mind a dozen times, as their ideas flux with research and reflection or, as they get older the practical reality of competition for jobs or location of work, affects their journeys. 

Any of us working in the area of careers have to tread carefully on the hopes and dreams of others and seek to find a balance between pragmatism and hope, through reflecting on the interactions we have. Each of us ask ourselves, do we stay at the logic based end of the spectrum, analysing every hope and dream for the odds of a realistic outcome or, do we remain at the end of the spectrum which supports hopes and dreams, no matter how fantastical? I think both extremes are dangerous and harmful as they are in danger of reflecting the value base and agenda of the adviser who is helping the client to explore, rather than the needs of the client. In contrast, the middle ground is often the most grounding for clients and advisers.

If we were to have a client, for example, who desired to be a Veterinarian but hated Science or was of middling to low ability, we would challenge the reality of this happening, as there is (unless the student took a huge cognitive leap forward) very little chance of this student becoming a Vet. Yet it is in the challenging of this fantasy that, a skilful and professionally trained adviser can unlock hope and possibility. A blunt way to face this difficult dashing of dreams would be to tell the student it will never happen. In contrast, one technique I have seen colleagues use is to set the scene first by exploring related careers to the dream, from across the spectrum of the related job family; from animal care through to zoology (this can easily be done with a diagram drawn on a piece of paper). An adviser can through this approach, look at what is involved in each job and which ones appeal for the client, before addressing skills and entry requirements needed.  In many cases the client is caught (before they fall) by the related occupations they like, so when they realise for themselves that they are unlikely to achieve what they first thought they have a safety net for their aspirations.

Instead of being left broken and in some cases no longer motivated to study, they are then revitalised for a new journey as they set their sights on a new horizon. It is this careful and mindful managing of hopes, dreams and feelings which sets qualified advisers apart from their unqualified counterparts. It is also how professional guidance can be used as a catalyst for change and focus within the life journey of our clients. A colleague of mine once told me that life is as much about the journey as the destination. 

Written by: Chris Targett

Originally published on the CXK blog, Tuesday 22nd December 2015

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