Family Lifework Activities Can Help Students Make Career and Educational Choices

By Sally Gelardin

In the past, traditions were handed down from families, communities, and religious institutions, but these communication links are evaporating. Parents are busy working (or trying to find work) and often returning to school or other training to enhance employability and reinvent their careers. Both students and their parents seek professional and personal mentors to replace a dwindling family and community connectedness. In addition, international unrest awakens a feeling of vulnerability and need for family, as well as "global family." Global issues, culture, family, education, and career issues are interlinked.

Family Lifework Activities
If students have not been given support for the choices that they made in childhood or adolescence, they may be not be able to make career and educational choices as adults. By performing Family Lifework Activities , students can learn how to make career decisions; choose internship experiences in areas that interest them; build self-esteem; develop career and life goals; describe family beliefs about values and myths that may affect their career decisions; and enlist support and trust from their family. These activities help students integrate life with work by:

      (a) identifying interests, values, skills, and strengths through a reflection upon past experiences; and


      (b) organizing these experiences to create a unifying life story.

According to Savickas, in order to make sense out of their lives and to embark on a life path, people first need to determine their needs, values, and interests and then make sure that they are harmonious. Through Family Lifework Activities, students can discover how to manage transitions; explore new career paths; develop new connections both within and outside the family; and adapt to the rapidly changing job market. Activities are grouped under the umbrella term Family Lifework Activities because family, life and work cannot be separated. Following are examples of activities that can be used by career and internship advisors to help students make career and educational decisions.

Family Lifework Activity Examples

Name 5 great things about you

      Purpose: Identify your best qualities that would be valued in the workplace.

      Describe your personal qualities - your physical, mental, and emotional self. Ask each of five people close to you (work associates, family, friends) to name five great things about you. Compare your perceptions about yourself with the perceptions of those who know you well. What did others see in you that you did not initially see in yourself? What did both you and the other people agree upon that are your best qualities?

Find mentors

      Purpose: Identify your mentors' best qualities.

      What you see in others whom you admire, you have in yourself. You can cultivate those admirable qualities. Who are your mentors? Envision a famous or not so famous person whom you admire. Identify the characteristics of the other person that you most admire - facial expressions, gestures, intonations and voice inflections, way of moving, beliefs, and actions.

Describe early work influences

      Purpose: Describe early experiences that you had that might have influenced your views of work.

      Research the views of your ancestors or ask your parents and grandparents about ancestral views on money, work, gender, and religion. Compare your views with those of your ancestors and parents. Are your opinions respected at work and at home? Are there other people besides your family who have views similar to yours?

List your internal and external sources of support

      Purpose: Identify your sources of support.

      List your internal sources of support (i.e., dancing, singing, meditation, writing, activity, reading). List your external sources of support (i.e., immediate family, extended family, close friends, neighbors and acquaintances, service professionals, helping professionals, social groups). List your parent's sources of support. Compare your sources of support with those of your parents.

In summary, Family Lifework Activities can help students: (a) increase their capacity to manage transitions, (b) explore new career paths, and (c) understand how their schooling relates to their future work and life goals. These activities can be used by high school, community college, and university career counselors and internship advisors to help students make career, internship, and educational decisions.


Chope, R. C. Influence of the family in Career Decision-Making: Identity Development, Career Path, and Life Planning. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal. Summer 2001. Pp. 54-64. Publisher: Richard L. Knowdell.

Cochran, L. (1997). Career Counseling: A Narrative Approach. Sage Publications.

Evans, K.M.; Rotter, J.C. and Gold, J.M. (2003). Synthesizing Family, Careers, and Culture: a Model for Counseling in the Twenty-First Century. Alexandria, VA: ACA Counseling.

Gelardin, S. (April 10, 2003). Keynote presentation to California Cooperative Education and Internship Association Conference. http://www.ca-co-op.org/member-conference.cfm.

Hinkle, J.S., and Wells, M.E. (1995). Family Counseling in Today's Schools. Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS

Jacobsen, M.H. (1999). Hand Me Down Dreams: How Families Influence Our Career Paths and How We Can Reclaim Them. New York: Harmony Books.

Savickas, M. (1997). The Spirit in Career Counseling: Fostering Self-Completion Through Work. In Bloch, D. & Richmond, L. (eds.). Connections Between Spirit & work in Career Development: New Approaches and Practical Perspectives (pp. 3-24). Palo Alto, CA . Davies-Black.

Sally Gelardin, Ed.D., offers family-related career consulting services through Gelardin Family Lifeworks. She is a Fellow in the University of San Francisco's Children's and Young Adult Multicultural Literature Institute and a frequent author of family and career-related issues for online and print publication. Dr. Gelardin teaches the Career Development Facilitator curriculum and serves as a Women's Studies Evaluator at USF. She is writing a book, scheduled to be published this year, on mother-daughter influences on lifework success. For more information on Family Lifework Activities, visit
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