Book by: Barbara Sher with Barbara Smith
Review by: Stefanie Janes
Coordinator of Undergraduate and Graduate Student Services
Lawrence Technological University
Students often present themselves to academic advisors with varying levels of uncertainty and inability to commit to a major for a myriad of reasons. Reluctance, fear, apathy, lack of confidence, and giving up are all feelings that hinder students from making a decision about their future career. Barbara Sher addresses these career-searching concerns and more in her book, “I Could do Anything if I Only Knew What it Was”.
Sher outlines fourteen topics, or chapters to be exact, each focusing on an issue that career-seekers might face. While the author does not specifically target college students, she addresses an ever-changing population of students from traditional young adults to those contemplating a career change after many years of work. In many cases one’s career path can be compared to a student’s choice in a major. The author addresses reasons why people may be indecisive about choosing a career path. Sher urges readers to confront their backgrounds; to extract deeper meaning from past life occurrences which may have led them to a point of unhappiness in their career path. An overarching theme is that making a decision today does not mean that one must follow that decision for the rest of their lives. Readers are presented with the idea that choosing the wrong path can help them experience what they don’t want, leading them make a better choice.
Not only does Sher provide inspiration, each chapter contains multiple exercises to help readers gain concrete practice on the advice given. Readers are asked to write lists about their dream job, journal about activities they enjoy, and set aside time each week to spend time on updating their resume and networking, for example. A practical aspect of this book is that each chapter can be read separately without needing to read all of the other chapters. This feature allows advisors to provide a student with homework on career exploration on a topic specifically pertaining to the individual’s situation.
Whether intentional or not, Sher roughly follows an appreciative advising model of Disarm, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver and Don’t Settle. Readers are continuously asked to participate in exercises to help them learn about what they are good at, think about their hopes for the future, create a concrete plan of action, and work toward these goals. An important theme throughout the text is that one should not settle for a career that does not fit the parameters set out, and most importantly that those parameters can be changed.
While Sher outlines many important topics and provides valuable exercises, there are limitations to be considered. The book was written in 1994 and no updates have been published, making some references to job search strategies and types of jobs out of date. Additionally, this book seems to be aimed toward adults who have had at least some work experience in order to compare their goals with what they don’t want. The targeted audience is certainly not a college freshman who can’t decide on a major, but could be appropriate for juniors or seniors.
Overall, Sher presents an inspirational and practical writing that can be used by advisors to help people who are struggling in many aspects of career development. When first reviewed by advisors and using carefully selected chapters, students can benefit from the advice and exercises presented in this book.
I Could do Anything if I Only Knew What it Was: How to discover what you really want and how to get it. (1994). Book by Barbara Sher, Barbara Smith. Review by Stefanie Janes. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. 322 pp., $19.95, (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0440505006