Navigating Career Choices: Who's in the Driver's Seat?

I’m the Lyft passenger who talks to my drivers. . . What can I say? It's just in my nature to ask people questions. I’ve heard such interesting stories during these quick conversations: the immigration story of an Afghani man who came to the Bay Area after having his life threatened as a result of being a US-military informant; a Baltimore-born-and-bred father of two who moved to Oakland for a better life for his children. But the Career Consultant in me was struck by a recent conversation with a young man who took me to the airport. Over the course of our ride, I learned that he grew up in Richmond, had a short stay in Juvenile Detention after which he threw himself into sports and a “better way” program. Now, he was in his second year of a basketball scholarship at a college somewhere in the midwest, and was faced with a big decision ahead: put all of his eggs in the pro-ball basket by accepting a paid position with the European basketball league, or forgo the money and international experience for the long-term benefit of being able to finish his degree for free with his current basketball scholarship. Tough choices, made even more difficult by being 20 years old and having a plane ticket to Europe all-but bought by his family.

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We have all experienced family pressures (whether directly or indirectly) and have seen how they can impact our decision-making. I planned my wedding last year, so I have first-hand experience navigating the needs of family. Lucky for me, I have an incredibly supportive family who has truly empowered me to make smart decisions that give me fulfillment. But what if you have the type of family who insists on you going to their alma mater or wants you to become a doctor because that’s what will make THEM happy? That’s where things get a bit more complicated.

While it is important (and is oftentimes expected) for you to listen to the advice of your elders, you owe it to yourself to ask the tough questions to get in touch with your desires for yourself. When you think about your future, where do you envision yourself? Do you want or need stability or can you afford to have an adventure? What types of tasks or causes excite you and bring you joy? Who do you look up to and what do you admire about them? I know these questions can feel overwhelming, but you’re not expected to have all of the answers. A huge part of the journey to finding a fulfilling career and a balanced life is exploring these themes and being open to new possibilities.

By the time we got to the airport, my Lyft driver hadn’t made any firm decisions on where he was going to spend next semester— Europe would provide him valuable life experience and a decent income, but staying in school would allow him to pursue his ultimate goal of becoming a teacher a bit more quickly. That said, I do think we made progress on him finding his own voice on the matter, in large part because I was the first person who had actually asked him what he wanted to do. If you don’t have anyone asking you what you want out of life, let me shoot you a few virtual words of encouragement: when it comes to your career (and the educational choices that inform it) you have permission to place yourself firmly in the driver’s seat!

“When it comes to your career (and the educational choices that inform it) you have permission to place yourself firmly in the driver’s seat!”

Interactions like these truly inspire me. Not only did my Lyft driver gain some free advice from a professional, but we were able to spend a solid 30-minutes in traffic (which would have otherwise been less-than-awesome) having a conversation that made both of us feel good. Networking and community aren’t just about your career— they aren’t about an exchange of goods and services, an even tit for tat transaction. They are about shared experiences, dialogue and being open to hearing each other’s stories.

If you liked this article and want to keep the conversation going, feel free to message me: jenna@careercooperative.com. I look forward to hearing your stories!


Career AdviceJenna DeFabio