EXPERT OPINION: UP career counselling specialist outlines how learners on lockdown can chart a course for future success

Posted on February 04, 2021

The postponement of the reopening of schools is a fait accompli, and it is up to all of us to manage yet another COVID-19 curveball in an emotionally and socially intelligent way.

This is an opportunity for learners to plan a course of action, and for parents to support them in attaining their goals. The key terms are “doing” and “moving forward – converting anxiety and uncertainty into useful behaviour by doing something instead of fretting about it is of fundamental importance.

Tips for learners

Learners can approach the matter by looking at it through a four-fold lens.

1. Reflect on the situation

Realise that you are still in control of – and thus responsible and accountable for – your situation and actions. Take stock of your life by asking yourself these questions:

a. What do I want to achieve this year? What sense of meaning and purpose am I trying to develop through my actions?

  1. What is my mission statement – what personal meaning will I get from attaining my goals? You might say to yourself: “I want to improve my mathematics mark by 20%. I need to achieve better marks so I can qualify for acceptance into teaching.”
  2. Consider the bigger picture. Ask yourself: What is my vision statement (what sort of social contribution do I want to make)? Perhaps you want to become a social worker or psychologist in an effort to convert challenges you have experienced into helping others (and yourself).

b. What are my short-, medium- and long-term goals?

Paste a motivational note that contains your dreams and aspirations as well as positive quotes by great thinkers on your mirror so you can look at it every day. Read the words aloud regularly.

What resources can I draw on to bolster my chances of achieving my goals? Do I have parents and friends whose opinion I can trust? Do I believe that I can attain these goals? Am I adaptable and resilient?

d. What sort of challenges will I be facing in my efforts to attain these goals? How can I best address these challenges?

Ask people who you trust, like your parents, siblings or friends, for their opinion. Only once you have a clear picture of what you want and need to do, can you actually start doing what needs to be done.

2. Plan your action steps: doing instead of talking

Now you are ready to draw up action plans. You might say: “On my first day of school I will listen carefully to what my teachers say, note their comments, and clarify anything that is unclear. I will tell my friends about my plans, ask them to help me execute these plans and volunteer to reciprocate (listen to them and help them carry out their plans).” Also remember to work social activities, exercise, relaxation, etc. into your plan.

3. Take action – move forward

Your plans should now be carried out. Begin by asking your friends how they feel about your plans or what their plans are; adapt your plans if necessary. Establish a WhatsApp support group so you can be there for one another: exchange ideas on how to study, when to study, as well as eating and exercise habits.

Surround yourself with positive friends. It is a proven fact that we see what we want to see. Our reticular activating system takes what we focus on and creates a filter for it: if we decide to see orange flowers on any given day, we will succeed in seeing some. Likewise, if we focus on positive news about the future, we are likely to find reasons to be positive. Be more willing to smile, congratulate others, and compliment them. Doing so impacts positively on both the “giver” and the recipient.

4. Conduct regular follow-ups

At the end of every day/week/month/term/year, ask yourself: Have I achieved my short-term goals for this week/month/term/year? Reward yourself for your efforts, and make time to feel proud of yourself, and satisfied.

If you didn’t manage to meet your goals, remind yourself of your mission and vision statements. Remember, all of us slip up from time to time, and that it is a chance to develop and grow.

5. Become more adaptable

Given how fast and fundamentally the world is changing, it is essential to become more adaptable. To achieve this, you need to work on the following five facets – the so-called C’s of career adaptability.

a. Your sense of being curious about the world. Ask yourself: How do I want to shape my future? Figure out what your key life themes are and what kind of work environment might be appropriate for you.

b. Your sense of being concerned about your future. Ask yourself: What does the future hold for me? Prepare yourself for a bright future instead of worrying about it.

c. Your sense of control over the future. Determine whether you are trying to take control of your future by executing the steps spelled out above. Consult a teacher, counsellor or psychologist regarding which school to attend, subjects to take, possible study fields, what you want to achieve, and so on.

d. Your sense of (self-)confidence depends on whether you believe you can achieve your stated goals. Your chances of achieving success are limited if you don’t believe in yourself, or believe that you can make your dreams come true by dealing with possible (perceived) stumbling blocks.

e. Your sense of commitment is about dedication, application, time and stress management, and emotional stability. Irrespective of how much talent you have, success will be attained only if you apply yourself adequately.

Tips for parents – how to support your kids

  1. Let your children know that you are there for them.
  2. Keep the conversation going. Talk to your child about their future.
  3. Really comprehend what your child has to say. Enable them to listen to and advise themselves.
  4. Be encouraging and positive.
  5. Manage your body language. Folding your arms, yawning, or not making eye contact while your child is talking sends out a negative and disrespectful message.
  6. Try to see situations through your child’s eyes and refrain from criticising them. Instead, repeat their own words and allow them to listen to themselves and decide for themselves whether saying “I have no future”, for example, is based on sufficient evidence.
  7. If necessary, gently enquire whether your child would like to speak with a psychologist or counsellor to help them manage their emotions or deal with specific issues. If your child is agreeable, help them to draw up action plans. See if you can obtain permission from them to follow up regularly on their progress. Amend the planned course of action as and when needed.

The pandemic is not about to disappear overnight, and while we cannot make the virus go away, we can adhere to all the guidelines to minimise our chances of contracting it. Remind yourself often about the thousands of challenges you have dealt with successfully in the past – your first day at school, your first test, dealing with sickness – and remember, this too shall pass.

Professor Kobus Maree works in the Department of Educational Psychology in the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria.

For more useful information, go to http://www.kobusmaree.org.

- Author Professor Kobus Maree
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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