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Chris Targett
10 February 2017

We have discussed the importance of role models and narratives in this blog before as they can provide us with examples of how to live our lives and build our own careers. What they can also provide us with, are examples of how career journeys can be navigated through their ups and downs. This is why role models are not only helpful in themselves showing us what is possible, it is the stories they tell of their adventures through life, which can provide valuable insight.

Seeing the bigger picture - the journey of a career

However when students talk to role models sometimes the bigger picture is missed. These role models may be employers visiting a school or college for a careers fair or talk about a particular sector, but what can be overlooked in the discussions of “how to be a… {insert name of occupation here}…” is the actual journey of how the individual in question came into their role.

Of course information on possible routes and steps is important (such as which degree or apprenticeship to take) in helping students navigate the possibilities, but so is the subjective journey. In such narratives students can learn a great deal about the non-linear paths which careers take. Of chance events, chaos and the importance of seizing opportunities, of letting go of some ideas whilst finding new ones… the wonderful “when one door closes, another opens”. Although a cliché, making sense of such things helps us understand the grain of truth in these concepts.

Sharing life stories

Having an understanding of the true shape of our lives, of the inter-connectedness of careers which evolve and overlap (starting as one thing and becoming another), can bring clarity to decision making processes. Without such insights there is a danger that the “career paths” and “maps” which careers advisers lay out in front of students are believed tooth and nail, with no awareness of the drama and trauma the real world can bring. This can arise from such things as the competition for job vacancies, to the collapse and sudden rise of industries, as well as the fragility of our own mental and physical health.

Finding the nuggets of truth

So where can students find these nuggets of truth, if they don’t emerge from conversations with employers and role models who visit schools? Probably the life stories they have easiest access to are their own family and friends, which may or may not be inspirational for them. Yet, what if they wish to discover something beyond what they already know in their immediate environment? Ideally, it would be for them to have access to some work experience relevant to their hopes and dreams, to enable them to explore if their desired goal is for them.

As well as access to these experiences, it is important for them to be primed by their careers coordinator or independent adviser in school; to ask the deeper probing questions to enable them to discover more, as described above. Yet, if such opportunities aren’t available what can be done?

The beauty of books

Books have the ability to take us to other worlds and lives, to sail among the stars, stride across great deserts or swim with dolphins. With nothing more than our own imaginations and ink on a page to power the engines of the mind, we can become someone or something completely different. It is, however, through autobiographies that we can enter into the lives of our heroes and role models, of others whose lives have taken different paths. We can learn from their journeys and apply their learning to our own situation. Perhaps the best resource for a careers library is a good cross section of autobiographies across a wide range of industries for students to browse and explore.

Luckily, there are some very good librarians in our schools who already understand the power of an inspiring story. Perhaps, in providing access to the stories of others, we can help our students become more than just bystanders in their lives and become authors of their own destinies.

(This article is dedicated to all of the tireless and wonderful librarians I have known and know; you do a great job ~ Chris)

Written by: Chris Targett

This artilce was first posted on the CXK blog on Monday 28th November 2016

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