September 27, 2011 at 3:05 PM

Finding Your Career Direction

"If you need help deciding on a career or college major, or how to make your dream career happen, contact your local college or university..."

By Patty Armstrong

Where’s My Great Career?

Patty Armstrong is a career counselor and educator on a mission to help people of all ages find careers they enjoy.

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When I was a little girl in the 60s, I remember there were about a half dozen careers women were expected to choose from, if they wanted to be anything other than a mother and wife; teacher, nurse, librarian, stewardess, waitress and secretary. A few lucky women could become the more glamorous actress or singer. I didn’t want to be any of those. I wanted to be a spy like my favorite TV characters Honey West, April Dancer and Emma Peel.

With the rise of feminism in the early 70s, women began entering the workforce in droves and changed the entire culture and world of work. Suddenly, women weren’t restricted to only a few careers, and with the liberation of women’s roles, opportunities opened for men. The possibilities for jobs and careers continued to expand and grow until there are now more opportunities than we can imagine. With our increasingly mobile society, we realized we no longer had to find a way to fit into the family business or settle for what jobs were available in our community. We were willing to move across country or even across the world to find more interesting and better paying opportunities.

The famous finding-your-career book "What Color is Your Parachute," by Richard Bolles, was first  published in 1970 and rapidly became a bestseller, which is still annually updated. Readers were given self-help exercises to try and figure out what kind of work or career they wanted. This helped some people and left others still adrift and confused. Like myself, most people were finding their jobs and careers in a sort of pin-ball approach, randomly bouncing and running into opportunities pushed by bosses, job ads and advice from well-intentioned teachers and family members.

Psychologist John Holland had long been studying how people made vocational choices and developed what’s now known as the Holland Code for assessments to help measure people’s values and interests to suggest career directions. These assessments are primary tools for counselors as the field of Career Development grew and became a specialized off-shoot of the counseling profession. In 1997, the National Career Development Association created a special credential, Career Development Facilitator (CDF or GCDF). I entered the field of Career Development in 1998 after my own pin-ball career path sent me to create my first career center in an inner-city high school.

As I moved from social worker/counselor into career counseling, I learned strategies for actually planning a career path or intentionally making a well-thought-out, well-researched career shift. I learned about resources and ideas to how help young people figure out what they wanted to do. When I came to rebuild career services at Santa Fe Community College in 2006, I found myself helping many mature community members who wanted to re-career. I’ve been fortunate to finally find a career I
love and a job I enjoy going to every day. But if I hadn’t, I would at least know how to now find that for myself somewhere else.

I’ve met and worked with career counselors around the country and the state. Some work for non-profits and private businesses, but many work for public high schools, colleges and universities. Each school has different resources, but the majority of colleges and universities will serve non-students, sometimes for a small fee. If you need help deciding on a career or college major, or how to make your dream career happen, contact your local college or university and ask to meet with a career counselor. High school students also have the extra option to meet with their school counselors.

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