By Amy Mazur

When you think about making a career decision, what do you think of assessing first? Your skills, values, and/or interests?

The Importance of Family to Your Career Decision-Making Process
While these factors are very important, and they do have a large influence on what you do and where you do it, another critical consideration that is often overlooked in the assessment phase of career-decision-making is the influence of family.

Broadly defined, a family can be any individual(s) with whom you surrounded yourself (by choice or circumstance) when you were making life decisions. Some of those individuals may typically be considered your family: parents, siblings, grandparents. But you can also extend the definition and think about others in your early sphere of influence who made an impression on you that directly affected the way you think about work: a great uncle, a cousin.

What happens if you trace some of the early career influencers you had in your life? What patterns emerge? What messages were sent? Did you come from a family of teachers? Lawyers? Firefighters? Artists? A combination?

If you want to be even more expansive, think about others not related to you. How about a neighbor? A teacher?  A member of your faith community? A member of another community with which you were affiliated? How might others have helped to shape the way you think about work, or the way you come to understand your own career choices?

Self-Assessment: Vocational Genograms
Vocational Genograms are one way to explore these early influencers, and to look for clues that could uncover how you think about your career. Topics like the meaning of work, what type of work is seen as important, gender roles, and values like independence and economic security, can all be revealed if you create a Vocational Genogram.

To create a Vocational Genogram, simply start by drawing a family tree as far back as you can remember, and fill it in with member’s vocations. No need to create anything fancy, but if you want to include symbols and graphics, go for it.  If you cannot remember back very far, reach out to family members or those who have a better memory to help you fill in the gaps.

Evaluating Your Results: How Family Influences Your Careers
Example 1

I create a family tree and notice most of the men in my tree were laborers and most of the women were caretakers.  I am interested in using my hands, and working outdoors.  I am not interested in being a caretaker.

Going forward, I might connect with the men in my family, and find ways that I can affirm parts of me that I did not realize were so prevalent in other family members. I might learn of different occupations and options for me that I had not previously considered.  I might explore the role that gender played in my family, and how time and circumstances have changed the options for women like me. I might feel more committed to this goal because I understand its origins, and I can choose to continue a family tradition with pride and purpose.

Example 2

I create a family tree and notice most of the men in my tree were laborers and most of the women in were caretakers.  I am not interested in using my hands, and working outdoors.  I am also not interested in being a caretaker. I want to study economics, international law and politics, and have always been fascinated with world events.  (My college course in economics had a powerful effect on the way I think about the world.)

Going forward, I might find it hard to build on earlier experiences and background. I might have a hard time finding role models in my family system that support my ideas and efforts to move in that direction. I may have received messages that directed me away from some of my true passions and interests. Knowing this, I can reach out to others who can provide information, advice and resources. The family influences are part of my story, and armed with insight and support, I can continue to write the rest of my story.

Because family structures have been redefined over the years, it makes sense to take a look at how you define family for yourself, and how you understand that system influenced your career choices. Interesting information may indeed be revealed!
Amy Mazur is a Certified Career Counselor, a Master Career Development Professional, and a Distance Credentialed Counselor. She is committed to helping individuals find their vocational path by tapping into their strengths and passions. Amy strives to create a trusting atmosphere for the client that, in turn, allows for self acceptance and self exploration. In addition to meeting individually with clients, Amy facilitates Job Search Strategy and Career Decision-Making Groups. Contact Amy at 617-795-1964 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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