Find Your Career Flare – Your Significant Others

Career Decision Making Wheel
Model by Norm Amundson
Image by Jody Little

Thaddeus Golas once wrote: “What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.”  This nature versus nurture debate also fits the world of work; knowing how you, and significant others in your life, will react to a particular career choice you are considering can be instrumental in gaining their support.

Your Family

If you have a life partner, you likely need their support more than anyone else, as your choices will impact them the most.  Parents typically want what is best for their children, and they believe that they know them best and what is best for them.  If you get feedback you don’t want to hear, it can feel deflating, and other times their pragmatic response is appropriate.  Consider including your extended family in these discussions.  If you are examining a few career options, talk to them about what you are considering and why you think it will work.  They could become your best allies, and support you with family naysayers.

Family may also help you financially, emotionally and otherwise if you are making a career choice or change, so having their buy-in can be critical for your success.  Involve them in your exploration and share your rationale with them.  If you are struggling with getting family support, consider inviting them to meet a career development practitioner with you.

Your Community

Community can also play a big role in your life.  If you live in a community that is resource-based, or limited in career options, you might think that you need to pursue a career that fits the community.  If staying in your community is a priority over other aspects of the Career Decision Wheel, then considering the local labour market is critical (see the blog on the Labour Market for more on this topic).

The values of your community have likely also played a big role in shaping who you are today – and your cultural community may hold some careers in high regard, while find others unacceptable options.  Consider what community activities you have participated in over your lifetime, and think about who has played a part in your life.  These people may be excellent resources in discussing your career options, given that they know you and are perhaps more objective than your innermost sphere of influence (family).  Ministers, sports coaches, teachers, counsellors, and others may be helpful (they are helpers by nature), but consider talking to anyone you admire in your community to get a sense of how they made their career choice.  You may want to ask them what other careers they considered and why.  Think about also talking to a professional Career Development Practitioner who can be objective, provide you with tools and information to learn more about the world of work specific to your community – it is their job to know about the world of work, so are a great resource to you.

Your Allies

In addition to your family, consider your friends and how they may impact your career choice.   Also look to the mentors you have had in your life for their support, encouragement and ideas.  Your schoolmates, colleagues, and professional peers can also be a great source of ideas, wisdom, and support.  Don’t hesitate to ask them for help – and be sure to thank them along the way.

Significant Others – Gaps

If you aren’t close to anyone, are new to a community, this might be time to take stock.  Consider if other factors are impacting your work and life.  Speak to a Career Development Practitioner as they can help guide you to people in the local labour market.  Consider also how you spend your free time and see if there are opportunities for developing meaningful relationships there.

Significant Others in Career:  A True Story

A middle manager found himself married with two children in his forties, and stuck in a job he hated. He had developed great skills – he was excellent with customers and staff, believed in the company he worked for, had a great salary to provide nicely for his family and a great pension.  Ultimately, he knew he had always wanted to be a teacher.  His dad wanted him to follow in his footsteps, and dismissed the idea.  The family did not have the financial resources when he was coming out of high school to pay for teacher’s college, so he worked part time doing his Bachelor of Arts on the side for a few years.  Then he became busy with work, had a family and had no time for school.  At a turning point in his forties, he quit on the spot.  As the main supporter of the family, his wife was very angry, and his frustrated father urged him to work for the competitor.  He ended up pursuing his passion, but not without significant cost.  His wife finally came around after eight months, but his father never approved of the decision and their relationship has since been extremely strained.  The family has had to make significant financial compromises, including the wife returning to work and selling their home.  He also has no guarantee of a teaching job at the end of his training, as there are more teachers than jobs projected at the end of his program.

Significant Others Assessments

There is no formal assessment process for this.  Talking to the people that matter to you is important if you want their guidance, but most importantly you may need their support if you are going to pursue something that involves them or requires compromise on their part.  Consider the following questions or make your own. Be sure to craft them in a way that doesn’t predict the outcome you want, but rather forces the responder to think hard about what is best.

Here are some questions to ask your family, community and friends to help you choose an appropriate career:

  • What do you think I am good at?
  • When do you see me the most joyful?  What activities am I doing?
  • What kind of careers do you think are best suited for me?
  • What kind of careers do you think I should stay away from?  Why?
  • What apprenticeships, internships, or other training do you see working for me?
  • What do you see that captures my attention?
  • When I worked at _____, you noticed that I _____. (Create your own personal questions.)

Here are different questions for you to consider on your own when they are not supportive:

  • Do they disapprove because they are embarrassed by the career choice?  Does that matter to you?  How can you overcome that?
  • Do they disapprove because it is in conflict with their values?
  • Do they have higher (or lower) aspirations for you?  Does that matter to you?
  • Do they think it’s a poor career choice for financial reasons?  Is this valid?  Do you need to speak to a financial advisor?  Career Development Practitioner?  Other significant people in your life?
  • What is the cost of doing what you want, instead of doing what they want?  What is the cost to you of doing what they want, instead of pursuing your true preferences?  What can you live with?
  • Are they paying for any costs incurred with a career choice or career change?  If so, does that dictate your choice?  What additional barriers comes with that?
  • If your family understands how passionate about a career option, will they truly disapprove or are you just assuming that they will?
  • At what cost are you willing to pursue this career path?

Next Steps

Talking to a Career Development Practitioner can help you develop some skills to overcome their objections.  Consider inviting your significant others to meet with a practitioner as well, so they are a part of the process, and they can hear an objective perspective too.

Sarah Nelson’s educational background includes education, linguistics, and career development. Professionally a Career Development Practitioner with a CHRP designation, Sarah has a vast array of work experience across several industries. Her early career began in the hospitality industry and has morphed into a career with a strong focus on education, including being a School Trustee in the public education system, a Learning Consultant in the career development field, and a college instructor.

Her main areas of interest include communication and the power of words, innovation and creativity, living with passion and purpose and a desire to see the world full of lifelong learners who want to ‘be the change’. Sarah is also a “midnight genealogist” with a desire to uncover lost roots for herself and others, with a desire to learn from the past to live in the present and create a better future.  Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn at or Twitter at!/sarahnelson71.

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