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May 10, 2016

Working with Values Conflict in Career Planning

As the Sakura trees blossom, we are nearing graduation and finals at the University where I work. Many of my therapy conversations are centered on career planning and decision-making.  From some clients I hear success stories; creative works completed, theses defended, jobs landed with major tech companies. Others are thick in the woods of confusion as they think about the reality of the job market.

Students feel the weight of career decisions throughout their programs of study. Many students get cold feet when they take preliminary courses, complete projects, or join an internship.  The pay works out to be less than expected. They work with some colleagues that irritate them. They must complete menial or mindless tasks. They have to navigate office politics.  Students begin to wonder if the topics of study they pursued translate into a meaningful career. College education offers opportunities for critical thinking, freedom to pursue tough questions, to think creatively and feel rewarded for work. When students experience the juxtaposition of these values at college and beginning work experience, confusion is natural. Values conflict is a culprit behind students changing majors, failing classes and feeling unmotivated. College students face a critical time to choose between values such as independence vs. collaboration, freedom vs. security, and stability vs. risk-taking.

Quarter-life crises can be fueled when young people differentiate their own career values from those of their families, communities and culture.  Some careers may have been deemed more 'safe' and valued. For example, college students feel the pressure to be financially independent and stable more than ever.  With student loans to repay, a career with a less secure outlook feels 'unsafe' to pursue.  Many families feel the pressure and encourage children to focus on a career that will make money.  This may result in prioritizing prestige and stability over freedom or innovation.  

We've all been asked "what do you want to be when you grow up?" since we could answer back. When working on career development, an interesting question seems to be, what can a 'safe’ career mean for young people, and where do these expectations and judgments come from? Many students have rich stories about how their values have developed.  Meaning and history can inform how values can translate into career choices.  

Values conflicts can leave students feeling unfulfilled or missing a part of themselves. Students who have creative skills may choose to express them through majors that are popular or may seem to lead to more earning potential.  With a busy schedule, favorite activities, talents and skills may fall by the wayside. Despite what can seem like a terrifying leap of faith, I have seen many students apply risk-taking, innovation and independence and move on to become leaders in an industry.  If students apply their passion and commitment, they can work to transform vision into reality.

When it comes down to it, much of the discussion seems to be about helping clients navigate why some career options feel “safe” while others feel risky. We can support clients by validating and naming fears about taking risks while encouraging them to pursue their values.  Join with students by acknowledging their values. Name the reality that we must prioritize and weigh choices based on values.  

We can also help students acknowledge and reduce barriers to seek careers that fit their values. Comparing self to others who are rich/have status/power/influence/success stifles creativity. Therapy is often a judgment-free zone for clients to hone in on the development of their values and make deeper connections to the meaning behind them.

Finally, counselors can model and encourage gratitude and confidence in choices we make and values we live. We are unique and can make our own path. We are walking among giants when we take risks and pursue fulfillment toward a valued life.
________________________________________________________________________Amy Rosechandler, MS, LMHC is a counselor in Rochester, NY working with teens and adults at a local university counseling center and in her own private practice, Clarity Mental Health Counseling.  Amy adores group counseling, youth development, and strengths based approaches to therapy. Read more about Amy at



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