If some older people hear the term “Career Guidance”, they recall memories of the most boring subject they had at school. The term also creates some feelings of apprehension from younger people as from a young age we are peppered with the question “What are you going to be one day?  or “What do you want to become?  (Maybe the more important question should be “How do you want to live one day?”) ; Yet no one can get away from it. Choosing a career is one of the most important and most difficult decisions we ever have to make in life. Getting it right is an art (requires creativity and luck) and a craft (hard work).  We must remember that we spend half of our waking lives as adults in our place of work; so if you get it wrong life is not as happy and as meaningful as it can be.

From a personal and practical perspective: career guidance means “getting help from objective professionals” (it helps you to make better decisions but it remains a personal responsibility). To do this well we first need to understand the foundational dynamics involved in career choices. Once we’ve succeeded, we then have to further anticipate that it is something that evolves through life and that we often will arrive at career crossroads.

Foundational Career Dynamic

Finding your career ‘sweet spot’ is about integrating the three key ingredients:

- IQ (Intelligence or SMARTS)

- Your personality

- Your unique interest

1.    IQ (Intelligence or SMARTS)

What was previously known as IQ is today more correctly referred to as “SMARTS”. A SMARTS is our ability to understand, learn and apply a specific skills sets. 

·         We get different SMARTS i.e.

·         Musical 

·         Logic and Mathematical 

·         Interpersonal  

·         Body kinaesthetic 

·         Language 

·         Spatial  

·         Self 

·         Nature 

·         Animal 

·         Spiritual 

·         Emotional

·         Social 

These SMARTS can be compared to the engine of a motor car. It is the driving force that provides power and tells something about our potential performance. Our results in school subjects also provide an indication of our unique SMARTS. It is important to remember that:

·          Most of us have two or three SMARTS and that we are defined by these. Remember that you are defined by what you have and need to learn to play  to them

·         Some fortunate people have more, but this can often become a burden as it complicates career choices 

·         People with more SMARTS have the problem that virtually everything they touch can potentially turn into gold and it thus creates confusion

Every person’s engine differs in size, power and output:

·         Is this a small high performance engine?

·         Is it a powerful engine that is turbo charged?

·         Will this fit better into a bus, family car or racing car? 

Finally, it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other people, but it is more important to understand our unique talents.


We all have a unique personality, but in career choices we need to consider its impacts:   

-     Are you an introvert or extrovert?

-       Are you a ‘thinking’ ‘feeling’ person or action-orientated person? 

-       Are you self-sufficient and individualistic or more of a team player?

-       Do you see life as black or white, judgemental (or is everything grey- more perceptive)?

-       What is your self-image and self-talk like? This influences your confidence which impacts on your assertiveness.

Then we can compare personality with a metaphoric car’s body. Are you an SUV, a passenger car, a sports car, a minibus or a bakkie?” It is critical for us to understand our own personality and to live authentically into it. Yoshikawa, the CEO of Samsung said: “A person who does not know himself can be of no use to anybody else”


·Interest is the most important determinant of success. This is where our passion and our drive come from. It is our inquisitiveness and willingness to be engaged with the subject that we derive immense joy from. It fires up our spirit and can include aspects like art, animals, sport, achievement, challenge, entertainment, technology, music, nature, being of service etc. 

·The main problem is that interest only gets crystallised and finalised in our early 20’s; yet we are required to make subject and career choices in grade 10 and 11 and when we enter into university these choices are strongly influenced by fads, romantic dreams, teachers, peer pressure and parents. We have limited exposure to real life. 

·In our car example it is the steering wheel, the suspension and the tyres. In Formulate 1 tyre choices often win the race. In what direction do you need to go? On what surface, the freeway, off-road etc? 

·Making the right choice is a process and it helps to get professional input. 


Crossroad 1: Subject Choices (Age 15 – 17)

·      Choosing the right subjects for Grade 10, 11&12 is critical as it can open or close certain doors. Decisions we make here can have an influence on the rest of our lives.  Past performance and ability are important pointers. However choices can also be strongly influenced by parents, teachers, peer pressure and certain fads.

·      We therefore recommend that you get professional assistance and with the appropriate psychometrics important answers can be found. This is a sound investment.  

Crossroad 2: Pulling up the Roots (Age 19 – 21)

Post Matric: Individuals are now ready to build their future dreams and enter into the necessary studies. The interest s are now more crystallised and will become the passion that drives behaviour. With late maturer’s and also limited exposure, individuals often find their answer by knowing “what not to do”. Often after a year or two at university, they discover that their career of choice is “not them” and then enter into a totally new direction. Having a GAP year makes sense. Hitting the jackpot the first time is often the result of luck. Individuals now dream about their future career, family and life.

Crossroad 3: The Dawning of Reality (Age 28 – 32)

The 20’s are our most idealistic years. As we approach 30 we are entering the most difficult passage in life. Individuals discover a new reality. Their dream careers have just become a job; their marriages – a place of responsibility and commitment; having a family is hard work. Life is not as romantic as we envisaged. It is hard work and making ends meet - a responsibility and challenge.  Interest, motivation and personality result in us having to face ourselves in the mirror. In career terms, individuals often make a dramatic u-turn and enter into something that is more of a calling. Those who are not brave enough end up with a job that becomes a ‘ball and chain”.  For most people it fortunately only involves tweaking their careers slightly.

Crossroad 4: The Deadline Decade (Ages 38 – 42

As we hit 35, people suddenly feel that they must make it at 40. They pour everything into their careers and start neglecting themselves and often their intimate relationships. Most of us arrive at 40 and are faced with crossroads: “Do I want to stay a professional or become a manager, managing myself or managing bigger teams? Being a leader requires a new skills set.  Often an imbalance between work and life results in people being successful in their careers but not in life. We tend to suffer from ‘hurry sickness’ and people are often ready for a well-deserved heart attack. Professional coaching and guidance at this stage is important. 

Crossroad 5: Winning the Game of Life (Age 55 – 65)

The idea of retiring at 60 is long gone. Individuals arrive at this point in life with the gifts of wisdom, ample experience and enough energy to make a real difference. This is a period for self actualisation. A well-known author Carl Jasper said We have not finished our task in life if we have not mentored younger people”.The choice – go and sit at home and wait for death or step into the role of ‘wise elder’. For a lot of people it unfortunately implies continuing to make ends meet in whatever way possible.  


A final few thoughts:

1.    Appreciate that managing your career and life is your responsibility.

2.    You can only do this if you face yourself in the mirror with honesty and integrity.  See and understand yourself and where you find yourself in life.

3.    Seeking professional advice and guidance at crossroads and turning points makes sense.

4.    Commit and be prepared to make the tough decisions that life asks of you. Appreciate that each of these decisions comes with certain risks. 

5.    Be aware of them and live them.

6.    You are the Captain of your own ship and your career does not need to be a ‘ball and chain’. Find the courage to live the career questions you are faced with.

7.    In the words of a Coke Executive Life is about juggling many balls; work is a rubber ball; family is a glass ball”. Take good care of it.

I agree with Kahlil Gibran:  “Work should be a place where you can bring your gifts and where you can express your love for life”

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