I wish I knew what I know now about myself when I was younger. I’d have made different choices.

This statement from a 40-something middle manager sums up why I set up in business nearly 6 years ago and made it my purpose in life to help prevent this generation looking back later in life with regrets. Although some things are down to a lifetime of experiences, the lesson from the quote is to choose insight over hindsight.

There is a paradox in the way young people today are portrayed. They are both maligned and lauded depending on who perceives them and who experiences them. Entitled and entrepreneurial, apathetic and challenging, victims and global change agents. These polarities and generalisations are unhelpful because fifty shades of grey exist in between.

Leaping without Learning

Some young people I come across who are unhappy in their early-career jobs, and new graduates looking for entry-level jobs, dive too quickly into completing their CV without doing the essential upfront thinking to inform its flavour, focus and content. They limit themselves by not spending the time to recognise their talents, valuing them personally and seeing the value they would bring to a specific employer. Being tactical when panic kicks in rather than being strategic and taking the time to think.

This is sometimes followed by communicating (rather than engaging) with employers and recruiters simply via scattergun posting of their CV, often on job boards along with thousands of other jobseekers.

Many of us have taken jobs early in our lives that we don’t necessarily like or want, but it pays the bills or enables us to do other things we enjoy. We have also done things that we love for no payment (like volunteering or fundraising). These experiences help us learn what to rule in and rule out. Where things get murky for young people today is being exploited on unpaid internships and lack of opportunities for work experience (only 1 in 4 employers provide it). So it can be tough.

The danger lies in getting stuck in an unloved job and career or moving aimlessly from job to job. It can become a recurring pattern. This is leaping without learning. The years go by and before you know it you become stale and fearful of change (better the devil you know). Inside your head you are screaming ‘I’m a human being not a human resource, get me out of here’!

Career management involves personal leadership. The keys to achieving more career fulfilment and less disillusionment is to get on the front foot by being clear and confident about your purpose and how you want to feel in a job.

Find the sweet spot between the wants and needs of both you and the employer. You can then make more informed decisions with which you are comfortable. Get organised, take responsibility for becoming your own expert in the job application process, take some risks and follow your heart first before sense-checking with your head.

Clarity and confidence come from investing in your self-awareness, personal and professional development. Explore what you are good at/want to be better at, like/don’t like doing, need/don’t need and interests you/has no appeal. Get better at something that matters to you. Then do something. Take the plunge.

You don’t have to have your whole life planned out in advance because most of us don’t end up where we think we will. Let your passion find you rather than looking for your passion. You’ll know it when you feel it. I call it learning to leap.

What will you choose?