Unleash Your Dreams: The Importance of the Big Question in Career Development

By Rhonda Priest

The scope of many career centers is a focus primarily on the job seeking components related to career development, specifically evaluating existing skills and interests, searching job postings, creating a resume, and developing interview skills. While each of these activities is essential in the pursuit of a job, the career must be driven by the individual’s answer to the Big Question -- “What do you want out of life?” Answers vary, but the responses usually fall within two distinct areas. Individuals respond with a vague “I don’t know” or state a specific job or career path. Neither is a satisfactory answer, but should guide continuing dialog. The answer, although very specific to each individual, should reveal his or her life goals. Only then can a plan be developed to move from the present toward future goals. It is important to encourage the individual to dream out loud by asking questions to stimulate their responses. Too many students have not allowed themselves to envision the life they desire. The answers to these questions begin to paint a picture for both the student and the career coach. While recognizing that an individual’s life goals evolve over one’s lifetime, it is important to begin defining them in tandem with career development. How else can we ensure, to the best of our ability, that they will align? Once a person is able to articulate and visualize their ideal life, they can strategically create a plan that will support that vision. The Big Question should be asked of every career exploration client. The answer to the Big Question is essential to successful career development.


The Climate of the 21st Century Workplace


Success is defined in Dictionary.com as “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.” By incorporating the Big Question into the initial interview, career exploration can be built on a solid foundation where an individual’s definition of success is in parallel with the world in which they will live. In addition to knowledge of self, this requires an understanding of the ever-changing economic climate and workforce needs that will impact their ability to achieve both their personal and professional goals. Without awareness of how personal pursuits must correspond to the 21st century workplace, a student is likely to struggle with unfulfilled dreams and goals. Unattained goals impact an individual’s success and their contribution to society, making this an essential element in modern career exploration. An essential conversation is needed for most students to conceptualize their future life. On one end of the spectrum, some students have unrealistic expectations assuming they will easily step into a career earning a salary that is customary for an experienced employee who has “paid their dues.” Other misconceptions include when the students are dangerously unaware of typical industry salaries, the cost of living, and the employer’s expectations needed to achieve success.


Dreaming Big vs. Reality

For a Career Coach, the challenge lies in helping individuals to dream big, while also establishing goals within the scope of reality. Workplace turbulence, pervasive life style choices and questions about, “What kind of person do I want to be?”, “What am I doing with my life?”, and “Am I living the way I want to live?”, demand considerable reflection. They are best facilitated with advisors committed to constantly scanning the employment and learning environment, valuing the implications of changing career opportunities , and believing that it is more important to help students find a cause rather than settle for a career. (The Handbook of Career Advising)


This dialog requires knowledge of both the local and world economy, so it becomes relevant to anyone who utilizes career services. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, over a lifetime a Bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million in earnings compared to $1.3 million for a high school diploma for average earnings. In basic terms, future success is dependent on building a life that is financially stable enough to support their dreams, which can most easily be achieved when we are pragmatic in our approach to career development. Failure to generate this conversation in the early stages of working with students is a disservice. Too often, students are hyper-focused on selecting a career with little regard to the essential skills and the education/training required for long-term success and little understanding of the personal investment required. Next, they may not have considered if the job will support their dreams and life goals. A student is often at risk of setting their sights on a job that will not support the lifestyle they have envisioned for themselves, creating a significant disconnect. Several gaps may exist, including:

  • Under-developed skills
  • Requirements of the competitive workplace environment
  • Knowledge of employer expectations
  • Self-awareness
  • Basic economic principles


Unchecked, failure to investigate these vital areas can be devastating. Without proper consideration, students may proceed in their career development without the appropriate foundation to guide future decisions.


Success Comes from Asking the Big Question

With the information gathered through this process, a student can begin creating their best life by aligning their career with the life goals they have designed for themselves. As they learn to prioritize their needs, they can modify their ideal life and/or career path so one supports the other. This is where real career development begins. The importance of timely and intentional examination of a student’s life goals, beyond their educational and occupational pursuits, is critical to their overall success.




Carnevale, A. P., Rose, S. J., & Cheah, B.(2011). The College Payoff: Education, Occupation and Lifetime Earnings. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: Washington D.C.


Feller, R., & O’Bruba, B. (2009). The Handbook of Career Advising. National Association of Academic Advising, pg. 22.




Rhonda PriestRhonda Priest, BBA, CPM, CCMC, CDF,  is the Lead Career Coach at Laramie County Community College. She recently transferred from the Career Pathways Hub, an innovative career service partnership within Workforce and Community Development at Laramie County Community College, and has completed the CDF training. She is an adjunct instructor with a focus on leadership, professionalism and job seeking skills. Rhonda has a special interest in helping non-traditional and first generation college students achieve success. You can reach her at rpriest@lccc.wy.edu.


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Cathy Cassinos-Carr   on Friday 11/01/2013 at 07:21 PM

Bravo, Rhonda! Very insightful and instructive piece.

Kirby Logan, MCC, CDFI, Retired   on Saturday 11/02/2013 at 08:16 AM

Right on Rhonda! This is an excellent essay on, "Firsrt Things First," for career practioners.

Rick Halpern, CDF   on Monday 11/04/2013 at 12:09 PM

Rhonda: What an amazingly articulate and on-target piece. A definite "keeper" in my file of great articles.

Garth Mouland   on Wednesday 11/13/2013 at 12:35 PM

Fantastic article. I have been a career adviser in high schools for fifteen years and in the last ten years I have noticed a lack of ability for students and their parents to connect the questions "who do I want to be' with "what occupation can I do ". You propose the relevant context allowing students to consider both questions as factors in the Big Question.
Thank you

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