Existentialism, Mars Bars and Your Career.

Satre Mars Bar

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I read the existentialists in my undergraduate years.

If I am honest it was a bit a pose, reading Sartre with a French cigarette resting on a sardonic lip. Probably not a bad look for a Parisian café, not for a callow fresher in a run-down pub in Bristol. I do not remember all of it. What I do, still resonates; that we define ourselves by the decisions we make. And with that comes an awful responsibility; we are condemned to be free, as Sartre wrote. We live with the decisions we make. That can result in what are called existentialist dilemmas. This can apply to many things in life and also career choice.

Some careers advisers portray this as the “sweet shop” dilemma.  You enter a newsagent and the confectionary counter lays out its wares in front of you. Should you go for the Mars Bar? You have the money for one item. If you choose the Mars Bar then you will no longer be able to choose another item. That Bounty looks appetising but if you choose that, you will not be able to choose anything else. And you have not even started to consider the minstrels. This can leave you there, standing, staring at the sweets, lost in thought. You may hear an extended sigh from the shopkeeper. There may be a polite cough behind you, the distant cry of a child. You are oblivious, frozen.

As a university careers adviser, you can see similar paralysis in students and graduates. They are overwhelmed by the choices open to them and freeze. One of the greatest pleasures of our roles is to help people in that state of decision-making paralysis. By listening sympathetically, by probing, by reflecting back thoughts. On a good day you can almost see the ideas and decisions start to flow. On rarer days, on a very good day, you can see the “Eureka!” moment; the same moment that I once experienced after seeing a career adviser a couple of years after I had graduated.

All this theorising has made me hungry. I need a snack. I am going to pop round the corner to the Guild shop (other retail outlets are available in the Forum). I am not going for the obvious choice of the Mars bar, I love coconut; it has to be a Bounty. The dark chocolate one. I love the way the sweet soft succulence of the coconut melts and gives way to the slightly bitter taste of the dark chocolate. The best part is when you have eaten one, you still have another bar to enjoy.

But what about you? What’s your decision?

Tom McAndrew, 
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter

Andy Morgan

Web Marketing Officer

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