Feeling hopeless about your academic and career prospects? It might be time for a mind-talk

Feeling hopeless about your academic and career prospects? It might be time for a mind-talk
It has been a very difficult and disrupted period of schooling for those in the senior grades over the past two years, so students who achieve below-expected results need to be supported. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

If you are despondent about your employment prospects and are stuck in a prison of negative thinking, there are a number of self-management strategies that could help.

This week’s article has been inspired by two letters received in response to my recent article on making strategic study choices to improve employment prospects. One was written by an unemployed person and the other by a final-year student. Both bemoaned the current state of affairs in South Africa and had a view of having few or no career prospects, reflecting the way many people in the country are feeling.

I was wondering whether there is anything that could be done on a personal level that could be uplifting. Psychologists and career counsellors are seeing an increasing number of people presenting with anxiety, depression and substance abuse and, in the most severe cases, with suicidal thoughts.

The economic, social and political problems in South Africa are undeniably difficult and many people are struggling financially and emotionally. It is within this extremely challenging environment that we need to find individual coping mechanisms to remain positive and committed to our set goals.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that those who continue to maintain a positive frame of mind and keep career goals firmly in sight perform better academically and submit job applications more often than those with a negative mindset.

It is normal to feel despondent periodically, but having the resilience to bounce back and firmly focus on personal goals helps one to remain positive. Generally, feelings of despondency can be self-managed with the intention of wanting to remain optimistic and hopeful about one’s academic and career prospects.

Self-management strategies are abundantly available in resources such as self-help books, podcasts and addresses by experts. Psychologists and counsellors have an array of therapeutic interventions to support an individual’s shift towards a more optimistic outlook on life.

A useful self-help tool is the adoption of positive mind-talk, also termed self-talk, which refers to the internal dialogue we have about ourselves, others and the world around us. Mind-talk is fed from various sources such as a sense of self-worth, from the people one comes into contact with or chooses to associate with, as well as from behaviours that we observe in others, and information from the media. These have the potential to influence our perceptions and beliefs either positively or negatively.  

Reading about the success stories of people who have faced similar challenges to us can be inspirational. The influence of socialisation of children by their parents has a powerful effect on whether they acquire positive or negative mind-talk.

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Fortunately, we do have some measure of control over positively influencing our mind-talk. For instance, we can choose what social media we want to engage with and the people we want to associate with. We can also remain committed to our personal goals. Having a journal and looking at whether it reflects positive mind-talk is a way of creating self-awareness about one’s state of mind, feelings and beliefs, and whether these are based on facts or opinions.

There are self-help resources available for maintaining a positive mindset, and psychologists, therapists and counsellors offer professional help if needed. More and more people are needing emotional support. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group provides useful information on its website and may also be contacted on 0800 567 567 for advice about anxiety and depression.

Having positive mind-talk is an intentional choice that has an empowering influence on study and career success.

Q&A with Professor Monie Naidoo

Q: I am seeking a starting point for the training of a matriculant. He is 19 years old and of good character. His mother is in my service as a domestic worker and I would like to assist him to get access to training for a relevant occupation. He lives with his mother in KwaZulu-Natal.

Where do we start this journey and research to find a way forward for him?

A: The fact that you care about and want to help this young man could change his future! You could start by talking to him yourself and then seek professional help or refer him to professional help directly. You do not indicate whether career guidance services are available at his school, but even if they are, they are often inadequate.

If you wish to assist him personally, he will need to feel comfortable and safe talking to you, so upfront reassurance of your intention to help, of maintaining confidentiality and of not being judgemental, is necessary. Setting up a few appointments for formal discussions and allowing him to set the agenda is a good idea. He should want to study and, if not, you could outline the benefits of post-school study.

An analysis of the subjects and their levels selected, as well as previous marks achieved in the subjects, will help him to narrow down his options. Institutions of higher education specify the subjects and minimum symbols required for admission into different programmes. For example, mathematics with a particular symbol achieved and not maths literacy may be required for admission to a particular programme. The next step is to explore his interests and to narrow down possible broad fields of study, based on his past performance in the required subjects and the future employability in that field. Guiding his search of the web pages of the different institutions offering programmes in the selected fields will help, since the volume of information can be overwhelming. Guiding him to organise the information in a manner that facilitates comparison and having regular discussions will help him to refine the relevant information.

There are other factors to be considered, such as whether he would like to continue to live at home or away from home, or study at an institution in or outside KZN. The type of institution could also be identified – would it be a university, a private institution or a technical vocational education and training college? An important factor to consider is funding – would he have the finances or need to apply for funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme or another external source of funding?

The amount of career guidance that can be offered by non-professionals may be limited, and therefore professional career advisers could be helpful. Career counsellors at institutions could help, as these services are free.

Poor matric results should not be the end of the road for anyone wanting to study further. Upgrading marks in particular subjects should be encouraged. It has been a very difficult and disrupted period of schooling for those in the senior grades over the past two years, so students who achieve below-expected results need to be supported. DM168

Professor Monie Naidoo is an independent education development specialist and career coach. She was previously director of accreditation at the Council on Higher Education.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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