I remember Mary walking into my office. She appeared calm and relaxed, while her son, Michael, was visibly stressed. Mary shared her goals for her son with many specific details: top three colleges to which he should apply, the major he should study, the type of career he should plan for, and the list of pressing items to be handled so everything else could fall into place. I understood her desire to ensure her son had all of the opportunities he deserved or wanted. I appreciated that she had researched schools and the college application process. But, I also felt concerned for Michael’s immediate future.
Throughout the conversation with his mother, I noticed him slump further and further in the chair, the web of his hand cradling his forehead as he gazed into his lap. I see this often, as parents wanting the best and imagining their children living a better life than they did, become the directors while children are merely actors.
We often wish our kids showed more initiative, were more motivated to plan their future, and feel the only way to make sure our children don’t miss out is to “help” with the process. Unfortunately, teens often view help as an indication that you feel they are not capable. It is in direct conflict with their need to stretch their independence and taken as a personal insult. It really puts parents in a tough, no-win, situation. Parents want to help, but are being pushed away. No parent wants to spend the last year or two of their child living with them in confrontation.
When we consider what is really at stake and take a 30,000 foot view, there is a simple way for parents and children to work through the entire college process seamlessly. However, Simple does not always mean easy.
First, parents may need to really consider there are two components to what they are trying to achieve. We all want our kids to have opportunities, do well in life, and achieve their goals. If you wanted to summarize all of your hopes, dreams, and goals for your child, it would likely come down to two things: happiness and self-sufficiency (making enough money to live comfortably).
Self-sufficiency may be a little easier to plan by helping your child understand budgeting, typical salaries of the careers they are considering, how taxes affect the salary, how net pay really affects their life and potentially factoring in student loans if they are part of the financial plan.
Too often parents fall victim to the trap of trying to make things easier. In an attempt to make your child’s life easier, you may suggest careers that have great earning potential, careers where they have shown some ability, for example, being good in math turns into ‘you should be an engineer,’ being a great student becomes, ‘be a doctor.’ The problem with this ‘help’ is that it limits your child. It keeps them from imagining how they want their life to look and instead encourages them to focus on the salary.
In a Harvard Business Review article by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and George Ward, they report that studies have shown that while higher income often contributes to reported happiness, numerous aspects affect one’s job satisfaction and overall life happiness. Factors such as sense of accomplishment, autonomy, work life balance, social capital, and ever more important is contribution.
In the Ask a Manager column, a newly employed college graduate wrote in with the following concerns:
“It’s extremely difficult for me to be productive at work – I just am not passionate about our product and marketing for it is boring. … I’m also really not learning anything new, which is really what I wanted the most out of my first few jobs out of college. I’m desperate for more interesting work ….”
Today’s graduates want to feel a sense of purpose and need more than a good paying job that they are proficient in. Combine their wants for satisfaction and the lack of information they receive regarding possible career options, many college students end up changing majors, feeling lost and overwhelmed with anxiety trying to figure out their future while the clock is ticking and student loan debt is mounting. This is a reality too many are facing and is quite opposite the vision their parents had for them while in high school.
So how do we provide the necessary tools to allow young adults to realize the options they have before them and truly understand what a person in each profession does throughout the day?
The best way is to provide in depth career exploration.
Students are often given personality tests to determine what they should “be” when they grow up, But these results are misleading at best. A much more effective path is to introduce an Interest Inventory to help a student discover their passion. After years of studying math, science, English, and history, students are often surprised at the vast number of career opportunities and the fact many careers do not require excellence or even interest in the classroom subjects they have been required to take. Great career exploration is interactive and really broadens one’s perspective on selecting a career. Discussions regarding job growth, salary, education requirements, and viewing actual current job postings helps a student really begin to imagine life in the career they are interested in.
Once a student has their career choices narrowed, the best next step is to take part in a shadow with a professional. Having the benefit of asking a professional questions about their likes and dislikes in their career is incredibly meaningful for anyone selecting a career path.