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The Subtle Impact of Being "First" or "Different" on Choosing Your Career Path

The Subtle Impact of Being "First" or "Different" on Choosing Your Career Path

When you're choosing a career path, it's not just about what you're good at or what you like. There's a complex web of factors that shape your decision, and it becomes even more complicated when you're the first in your family to consider certain careers or come from a diverse background. Whether it's your cultural heritage, your socioeconomic status, or even something as unique as being neurodiverse—these factors can impact you in subtle yet significant ways.

What is First or Different

"First or different" refers to teenagers who are breaking new ground in some way as they choose their career paths. This includes:

  • Trailblazers: These are teens from racial or ethnic minorities aiming for careers where their community is rarely seen.
  • First-Generation Professionals: Teens whose parents didn't pursue professional careers or higher education, but they intend to.
  • Non-Traditional Roles by Gender: Teens going after careers typically dominated by the opposite gender, like girls in computer science or boys in nursing.
  • Social Mobility Pioneers: Teens from low-income backgrounds striving for careers usually filled by those from wealthier families.
  • LGBTQ+ Pioneers: Teens open about their sexuality or gender identity in careers where that openness is still rare.
  • Neurodiverse Innovators: Teens with neurodiverse conditions like ADHD or autism, choosing fields where their unique perspectives can be valuable but are currently underrepresented.

Each of these categories represents a unique set of challenges, but also opportunities for enriching a given career field with new perspectives.

The Subtle Impact of Being "First" or "Different" on Choosing Your Career Path

Lack of Role Models and Guidance

One of the most daunting challenges you might face is a lack of role models or mentors in the field you're interested in. Sure, you can read all about a profession, but having a real person to talk to and seek advice from is invaluable. If you're the first in your family to consider a career in a particular field or the first among your friends to aim for something unconventional, you might feel like you're navigating uncharted waters.

This absence of direct guidance can lead to uncertainty. You might wonder if you're taking the right courses, preparing adequately, or even if you're cut out for this career at all. Without role models, it's easy to miss out on opportunities like internships, networking events, or career fairs that could elevate your career plans.

Read for example the impact on daughters who didn't have a mother that worked outside of the house.

While it's great to have a mentor who's walked your desired career path, remember that guidance can come in many forms. Utilize online platforms, forums, and social media to connect with professionals in your area of interest. Many people are more than willing to share their experiences and advice. Additionally, don't underestimate the power of informational interviews; reaching out to professionals for a quick chat can provide you with insights you won't find anywhere else. If your school offers career services, make the most of them—they often have extensive networks and can direct you to helpful resources.

Psychological Barriers

Being "first" or "different" also comes with its set of psychological hurdles. There's the fear of discrimination or bias, especially if you're entering a field where people like you are underrepresented. Then there's the pressure to succeed—not just for yourself, but as a representative of your community. It's a heavy burden to carry, especially when you're just trying to figure out your path.

Moreover, you might feel like you have to prove yourself twice as much as your peers. This feeling can be emotionally draining and can even lead to burnout before you even get started. It's crucial to identify these psychological barriers and seek emotional and mental support to overcome them. You also might feel imposter syndrome. 

If you're feeling the weight of representing your community or facing bias, consider joining groups or networks that focus on diversity and inclusion in your chosen field. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can offer emotional support and even help you find opportunities you might not have heard of otherwise. Talk openly about your fears and apprehensions with trusted friends or mentors; sometimes, just voicing these concerns can make them feel more manageable. Consider talking to a counselor or therapist who can provide coping strategies tailored for you.

Financial and Resource Constraints

Financial limitations can be a major roadblock. Some career paths require years of education or specialized training that doesn't come cheap. If you're already stretched thin financially, the cost can be a significant deterrent.

Besides the money, some careers require an investment of time and unpaid work, like internships or volunteering, which not everyone can afford to do. Your social capital, or lack thereof, can also impact your access to these opportunities. Without the right connections, getting your foot in the door becomes that much harder.

Finances can be a significant hurdle, but they shouldn't derail your career dreams. Look out for scholarships, grants, or work-study programs that can ease the financial burden. Also, virtual internships and online courses can sometimes serve as cost-effective alternatives to traditional paths. When it comes to building your social capital, start small. Attend industry-specific events or webinars, and don't be afraid to network. A simple LinkedIn message introducing yourself can go a long way.

Cultural and Familial Pressure

Let's not forget about the expectations set by our family and culture. Sometimes, these expectations can conflict with your career aspirations. Your family might want you to pursue a "safe" career path like medicine or law, especially if you're the first to go to college or have a career outside of what's traditional for your community. Straying from these expectations can cause stress, strain family relationships, and even lead to feelings of guilt or inadequacy. You can also read about family scripts here.

It's hard to go against the grain, especially when it comes to family expectations. Honest communication is key. Try to explain your goals and why they matter to you. Sometimes, families are more flexible than we give them credit for, especially when they see you're passionate and have a plan. If aligning your dreams with your family's expectations is proving difficult, seek advice from career counselors or other mentors who have been in your shoes. Their external perspective might provide you with the arguments you need to sway your family, or at least help you find a compromise that won't leave you feeling unfulfilled.

Awareness Is The First Step

It's important to realize that recognizing these subtle challenges doesn't mean you're doomed. Quite the opposite. Awareness is the first step towards overcoming these hurdles. Consider seeking mentorship programs, apply for scholarships, or even use online resources to fill the gaps in your guidance. Seek out supportive communities and networks that can help you both emotionally and professionally. Most importantly, believe in your "superpowers"—those unique qualities that make you different could be your greatest assets in standing out and succeeding in your chosen field.

So take a moment to examine your situation. Are there any beliefs or circumstances you've overlooked that might be influencing your choices? By tackling these, you're not just making it easier to choose a career; you're paving the way for a fulfilling, rewarding future that aligns with who you are.

More Resources

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Careers That Matter provides online programs to teenagers across the globe. The organisation is based in Melbourne Australia. We have students from across Australia including Sydney, NSW 2000, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Brisbane, QLD 4000, Perth, WA 6000, Adelaide, SA 5000, Hobart, TAS 7000, Canberra, ACT 2600, Darwin, NT 0800. We also take students from The United Kingdom including London, Europe, and the United States including New York , Canada, New Zealand including Auckkland and Wellington, and Asia including Singapore and Malaysia.