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When I Grow Up…

Kids And Career Paths

My mother tried desperately – for my own good – to force me into a teaching career that the very thought of gave me migraines. That experience compelled me to say to my own two sons: Whatever you want, I’ll help you get there. You choose the path.

In college, one of my boys decided he would major in philosophy. My then husband remarked with all sincerity, “What will he do when he graduates – sell philosophy?” Fortunately, that child also taught himself programming and wound up landing a plum tech job, with Google no less. Boy, was I surprised. Mr. Philosophy is now making a six-digit salary, can go to work any hours he wants, and eats catered food all day long. The other son decided on video game design, another questionable career choice. A four-year, liberal arts degree, plus three additional years of specific game design studies and he, with a lot of intense job hunting and changing, did wind up in Silicon Valley and has worked as a game designer for five years. His salary will never equal Google boy’s but he is in a job he loves, in an industry where he can shine.

These days, if you identify more with the tiger mom, you push your child relentlessly on a path of achievement, a path that might end in a six-figure career in some practical and high-paying industry. But, as I found out, you don’t have to be a tiger mom to have your kids wind up in successful careers. In fact, people meant to be entrepreneurs typically are too impatient to finish school; they want to get out and Do it on their own. Think Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerman, Debbi Fields, and Steve Jobs. All sidestepped their college courses to do their own thing and were wildly successful. These folks knew what they wanted to do.

While it is true that some kids know early on what they want to be, even at ages 5, 7, or 10, there are many more who don’t have a clue, even after college. Some spend their college days changing majors, then change jobs and may never really figure out what they want to be when they grow up. So how much help should we give our children with this incredibly important decision?

Suzanne Hanky, parent and family educator, believes that while you want your child to choose his own career field, if you’re paying for it, you have the right to request that your child major in something there is demand for, and something that’s a fit for his talents and interests, yet marketable. Hanky says, “The job market today has changed radically. You have to take into account that kids graduating today are not going to find one company, climb the corporate ladder, and retire 35 years later.” Employers now often think of positions as temporary, specific to a particular project they need to handle. So, she feels education should be geared to specific marketable skills and specialized information that can transfer from job to job. Subjects such as engineering, medicine, technology, education, and law have Transferable skills. So far as philosophy or video games are concerned, your son or daughter can always pay for additional courses or minor in one of his interest areas. According to Hanky, once he graduates he can choose his own direction, but successful parenting means providing kids with realistic tools to make a living.

For those who are not natural entrepreneurs and have no obvious early strong interests in a specific area, career counseling can help find that fit. Bonnie Miller, LPC, with BrownMiller Group in Richmond, has been a career counselor for more than 20 years and has worked in career development at Duke University, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and University of Richmond.

Now in private practice, working with both teens and adults, she uses tests like the Strong Interests Inventory and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to determine an individual’s interests and personality style looking for a match with certain careers.

She says there are people who change majors in college and later, frequently change careers. “They like it all. I always ask, ‘What did you love when you were ten years old?’ Parents need to be observant. What are their kids’ interests? Let them follow those interests.” She adds that off-hand comments, negative or positive, from parents can change lives.

She also suggests, for those people who do not have a sense of who they are, that school is just one way to prepare for a career. Exposure to part-time jobs, activities, and volunteer and service work, can help a young person get a more realistic Picture of the working world.

So what’s a parent to do? Just the best you can. Educate your children to the highest degree they are willing to go, get career testing early, so they have some idea of where their skills lie, encourage after-school activities, part time jobs, and community service that gives them a variety of real world experience, and perhaps most of all, build confidence to give kids the best chance of success in whatever endeavors they attempt. While helping your child choose a career is important, choice of direction is ultimately theirs.

If Steve Buscemi, star of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire and the movie Fargo, had listened to others growing up, who said he did not have the looks to be an actor, he never would have attempted a stage career. Yet obviously, that is what he was meant to do. Ultimately, the degree of success and happiness found in a career someone is meant for is always going to be greater than the success found in a practical career your child was never really suited for.

Diane York is a Richmond-based freelancer, mother, and grandmother and regular contributor to RFM. She writes about lifestyle and wellness issues.
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