Picking a life path is never easy, yet we all have to make such choices more often than once. Whether choosing a university after finishing high school, deciding about continuing to a Master’s program, or short-listing companies when looking for a job, young adults may feel lost in the sea of options. This article aims to offer several tools to help the decision-making process in these difficult situations.
When faced with a tough decision about what to do next and which direction in life to take, the best you can do is get informed and look inwards. More specifically, looking inwards means investigating what would make you happy, whether you are familiar with a concrete area, and evaluating what you are good or bad at.
The SWOT analysis is a valuable tool to facilitate self-exploration, where each letter stands for a field that should be further explored. For instance, a person would need to look deeper into what their Strengths are, including all skills, talents, and abilities. Then, the analysis moves to the Weaknesses, meaning the shortcomings and all areas in which the person feels they are lacking. Next, we move to the external environment, which is again divided into positive and negative influencers. Namely, Opportunities are any trends or other exogenous forces that may help the person reach their potential, while Threats represent all the factors negatively impacting attaining the goals.
The SWOT is just one of the many tools that can be used for self-evaluation. For example, reflection is another resource that can improve self-assessment. Understanding your feelings, thoughts, and reactions to different situations is crucial to get to know yourself better. This activity can be done anytime you are alone – whether it is while taking a walk, resting at home after school, or writing in your diary. Though it sometimes helps to verbalize the thoughts and write them down in notes, it can also be just a mental exercise. It would start by asking yourself what the main takeaway of a specific situation is, what you have learned about yourself based on your reactions or emotions, and what you would like to apply as a good practice the next time you find yourself in a similar position.
Overall, the more you know yourself, the clearer the goals and the “right” paths become because you are more aware of what would best suit your wishes and skills. Connected to that, perhaps you can dig deeper with the 5-Whys technique, which is simple but very powerful – for every answer you get, ask why again until you reach five questions. This helps to avoid scratching only the surface and forces you to look for the root of the cause instead.
However, inward exploration is just one part of the complex decision-making process. You would also need to be very well informed about the options and opportunities that are sometimes hidden around you. An intuitive way to start this search is by googling the universities, courses, scholarships, NGOs, or job vacancies and asking your peers to share their experiences. This enables you to get a good picture of the reality around you, the requirements to get the wanted positions, and what you need to do to apply to different places.
Besides, you can continue your search by contacting representatives of the exciting options or looking for further informal education through events organized by NGOs and youth workers. Aiming to help high school students who feel uncertain about which direction to take once they finish high school, an event was organized at Volunteer Centre Skopje as a result of the Training Course for youth workers named “Into the Future,” funded by the Erasmus+ program of the European Commission.
Once you gather enough information about each option and review the relevant strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, you will hopefully be able to decide what course of action would work best for you. The next step would be to fully apply yourself to working towards the wanted position and keep up to date with any additional requirements or deadlines. Once you know what you desire, you must find the inner motivation to work hard toward your goal because knowing what you want without putting in the effort is not enough.
Lastly, reaching a final decision is less stressful when you try to take it one step at a time. Remember that you will probably have the option to change your mind and switch paths if you see that something isn’t working out for you anymore. As time passes and we are busy working towards our goals, we learn a lot more. Some questions naturally get answered while new ones arise. Sometimes we discover new interests. Sometimes new opportunities pop up unexpectedly due to our previous efforts, and paths interchange again. We can never plan our entire lives because life happens organically and spontaneously. Still, it is always better to set expectations and goals for ourselves to keep track of the overall direction in which we are headed. I sincerely hope that some of the tools and suggested search options will help you make a decision that will work for you, and I wish you success regardless of your chosen career path.