Avoid The “Career” Trap


One of my abiding memories of the teen years was the ever-present question.  It was asked at family gatherings, social occasions, and at school – time and time and time again.  The intent in the question was well-meaning enough, but after a while, it just wore you down.

What was the question?

In various forms, under many guises, and through differing words, it asked:

“What are you going to do when you grow up?”

If you are a younger person, I’m tipping that you are well and truly sick of it.

If you are finishing year 12, I’m tipping you will probably want to stab someone in the eye with a fork if you hear it again.

Personally, I think it is entirely the wrong question to be asking.

Let me explain

The (post-highschool) kids aren’t alright

If you are in the years that follow high school, you may well be finding things a bit tough.

In truth, numerous pieces of research are showing that many many young people find the years after high school quite tough and they frequently make more than one misstep (more on this in a second).

Classically, there are three different pathways young people take, and each has their own pitfalls:

  1. Knuckle down to further study to prepare for a career
  2. Dive into full-time work in an effort to get on with their career
  3. Take a gap year to avoid a career.

Lurking behind our well-meaning question (“what are you going to do?”) and underpinning our entire education system is a process that seeks to funnel young people into a career as quickly as possible.  While I don’t object to young people getting on with workforce participation, here’s the catch:

When a culture is primarily focused on turning its children into functional economic contributors it fails to provide the resources and time necessary for the young person to forge the required character to conduct themselves with confidence and integrity.

To put it another way, when you place the question “What do you want to do?” before “Who do you want to become?” we do our young people, and our society, a tremendous disservice (to say the least).

It Really Isn’t Working …


Studies tracing the decisions young people make in the years following high school highlight just how bad it is becoming:

STUDY:  roughly 1/3 of young people entering university drop-out before completing their first year.  Most frequently, uni drop-outs report that they weren’t actually sure what they wanted to do at the time of leaving high school so their choice of course was infact a grand (and expensive) experiment.


WORK: 3/4 of young people hate their first full-time job.  They report a sense of powerlessness as they enter the workforce and feel stuck in meaningless low-skilled low-pay employment.  Young people will change (full-time) jobs on average 5 times before they are 28.


GAP YEAR: 1/2 of those who undertake unstructured gap-years feel like they wasted their time and money.  For example, those who hoped to save for something, like a car, rarely reach their goals, while numerous young people who go travelling report falling in with the ‘wrong crowd’ while overseas.


Amidst all of this, other studies highlight that certain forms of risky behaviour peak amongst 17-22-year-olds while the majority of active Christian teens will leave the church and walk away from their faith within 6 years of leaving high school (You can read more about this in our previous blog).

Identity & Belonging BEFORE Significance & Contribution

So, if you want to avoid the career trap …  or if you work with young people and you want to help them avoid the career trap, you just need to remember one little thing:

A young person’s sense of significance and contribution is built upon their sense of identity and belonging.

That is to say, the primary, underlying questions that a young person needs to answer in order to leave adolescence behind and move into adulthood are identity, belonging, significance and contribution.

We cannot live constructive adult lives unless we can adequately describe who we are, who is with us, and what is in me that I can contribute to the world that is of lasting significance.

When we focus on finding a career as a way to answer these abiding questions we wind up taking ‘Murphy’s shortcut’ – the shortest route between two points that winds up being the longest way round.

The truth is, YOU will go with you into any career.  Your CHARACTER and FAITH is expressed in everything you do.  There are no shortcuts.  If you want to face the world with integrity, authenticity and confidence you need to take the time and effort required to forge a character based on a clear sense of your identity, belonging, significance and contribution.

Which is why we do what we do at NEXT


Study Who You Are NOT What You Will Do

NEXT offers students an amazing opportunity to navigate the challenges of life and faith after high school through accredited study.

Instead of using University, Vocational Training, the Workplace or Gap Years to experiment with different career paths, NEXT helps young people clarify who they are and what they believe FIRST before moving on to what they are going to do.

Through our emphasis on personal coaching, identity formation, values clarification and character development, NEXT students can approach their future with confidence, conviction and clarity.

NEXT @ a Glance:

  • accredited study toward a Diploma in Theology
  • explore questions of spirituality, identity & theology with skilled facilitators
  • electives in justice, creative arts, youth work & biblical studies
  • optional integration with an internship or practical missional placement
  • grow through spiritual retreats, camps, faith practices & personal mentoring
    fee help available

NEXT is a great way to avoid the career trap and an exciting option for young people after High School.

Learn more about NEXT by visiting our website – http://www.next.asn.au – or for specific questions relating to VCE and VTAC click the button below.

VCE, VTAC and NEXT   >>>


Want to go further?

(If you are interested, here is a bit more theory …)

Amongst researchers, a growing consensus has formed around the pathway from adolescence to adulthood.  Gone are the days when there was straight forward march into adulthood:

School –> Workforce –> Married –> Family.

These days, the years following high school are filled with twists and turns, laden with choices, opportunities and challenges.

One of the big issues is that our culture has set itself up to funnel young people into a career as quickly as it can without providing the resources and time necessary for the young person to forge the required character to conduct themselves with confidence and integrity.

Wyn and White, preeminent sociologists of Australian Youth point out that our education system is actually set up to serve Capitalism not Character formation.

They argue that, when you really think about it, the ideal product of high school is a young person who can make an economic contribution to society by having the necessary skills to hold down a job.

The educational system is also backed up by the government policy stance that supports young people post high school as long as they are working or studying toward a job.  Equally, while universities are increasingly constrained to offer courses whose graduate outcomes evidence an identifiable pathway into the workforce.

In these and other ways, our society seems to lock-on to career as the one-stop-shop solution for young people.  Get a career and become an adult.  But the truth is, becoming a constructive and engaged member of our society takes much more than that.

The truth is, when you focus on character and faith FIRST, you wind up naturally moving on to Career but with a greater sense of confidence and focus.

Our track record shows that NEXT graduates feel equipped to take on further study or approach the workforce with greater clarity. You can find NEXTers:

  • studying towards a Law degree with an emphasis on International Law
  • engaged as a community-based youth worker while studying to complete a Diploma in Youth Work.
  • finishing up a Science degree
  • working towards Primary School teacher accreditation
  • employed as an integration aid with vision-impaired children
  • studying Theology and considering a pastoral future within the church
  • completing a double degree in Psychology and Commerce

Some NEXTers come to us having deferred their future course of study, while others use NEXT as a springboard to open up further study and vocational options.

VCE, VTAC and NEXT   >>>

Find out more:

w: next.asn.au
e: hello@next.asn.au
or contact Whitley College on (03) 9394 4241


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