Stuff the ‘career advice’ and make it up yourself

Photo of a 'career' signpost
At school I told the career advisors that I liked books and ideas and creativity.

They told me I should be a librarian or a teacher.

Not a writer or a publisher or a film maker.

I had just two options: librarian or teacher.

Even at the tender age of 16, I suspected this career advice was not all it was cracked up to be.

I went home, ignored it, and spent the next 28 years trying to figure out what the answer was.

It took a while because (a) it requires you to listen to your heart until it’s the only thing you can hear (tricky), and (b) there are no job specs for ‘children’s writer’. Just as there are none for ‘inventor’, ‘salsa photographer’, ‘shark expert’ or ‘wine taster’.

It’s OK if you want to be an Accountant, a Store Manager (yes, I did this once), or even a Zoo Keeper. But you are well and truly flambéed if you want to do something different to the norm.

Maybe things are better now? This is, after all, several decades ago. Maybe they have more adventurous career advice these days? I hope so. These things are life or death to the soul.

I once read about a girl who couldn’t sit still. She was hyper and anxious and jumpy all the time. She was tested for ADHD and all sorts. Her parents were so worried they took her to see a psychologist, who duly diagnosed the problem.

Was she unhinged? Did she need drugs? Did she need intensive therapy for the next 5 years?

Nope, she simply needed to move. The tension and jumpiness were all symptoms of a body which craved movement. And expression. And beauty. That’s it.

The second she entered a dance studio, she knew she had ‘come home’.

She grew up to become an international ballet dancer.

But of course, when she was younger, no one knew that. They just thought she was abnormal.

That’s why I say stuff the career advice. Make it up yourself.

11 thoughts on “Stuff the ‘career advice’ and make it up yourself”

  1. Could be the start of a great article for TAB – let me know if you are interested in developing it. I have some ideas to throw in the mix if you are. Amanda x


  2. I told the careers advisor at school that I wanted to be a journalist. She said: “that’s far too competitive – choose something else.” So, like you, I spent a major part of my life trying to figure out what to do instead! Glad to see you’re heading in the right direction now, though, with your children’s stories. (oh, and brilliant anecdote too!) x


  3. I am remember being sent to the careers office aged 16/17. They did some tests and said well you could be a mechanic, or we have this YTS scheme where you could join ICI as an apprentice and learn about computers. Strangely I chose the YTS scheme where the government subsidized pay was abysmal. At the time I remember the choice for me was as simple as, do I really want to have greasy hands the rest of my life. Well in summary probably yes, but I did what I thought was the sensible thing. Amazing that you found your calling!


    1. Ah, so you had just two options too! Interesting how you did the ‘sensible’ thing but looking back on it, you might have wanted to have greasy hands and be a mechanic after all. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’d love to know how many other people out there have found the same thing. I think the percentage would be quite high!


  4. “But you are well and truly flambéed if you want to do something different to the norm”… that makes me smile : ) When I was at school (the first time), I was steered towards writing and journalism because I was good with words — but it just didn’t appeal to me. My career advisors had tunnel vision and, back then, ‘artist’ didn’t seem like an option. It took more than 20 years for me to hear what my heart was saying and give myself permission to draw and paint! Better late than never!

    Thanks for posting, Katherine.


    1. Hurrah for following your heart!! Even if it has taken you 20 years to hear what it has been saying :-) (Is there something magical about 20+ years? Me too!)…I think it makes it all the more amazing that you are an artist now…


  5. I didn’t receive careers advice at school however for most of my working life I have had jobs that didn’t exist when I was a schoolgirl – we were still using fountain pens and slide rules then. When thinking about the future its best to have an open mind – who knows what tomorrow’s world will be like and how we will fit into it?


  6. Careers advisors can be so unhelpful! I remember doing a questionnaire and because I’d expressed interest in science and nature, that’s what all the options were about – forestry and forensic science. No flexibility – but then the economic climate has changed a lot in those 20 years, I wonder what careers advisors are like now?


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