The Importance of Setting Up Our Young People for Success…Early
So I was thinking the other day; why do so many smart, driven, perfectly capable people seem to be stuck in a state of perpetual almost there? It seems like there’s something of a disconnect between what we expect from our young people and what we are doing to help them get there. I’m not even talking about troubled or disadvantaged youths, who by the way deserve our time and guidance as well; I’m talking young people who are bright and motivated but lack direction. We can’t assume that just because they are doing the “right things” that they are going in the right direction. There is a small, but critical window of time from your last two years in high school through your first two years in college where most people decide what career path that they want to follow. It is said that your first job out of college is the most important of all. While that is a true statement, it is also an incomplete one. If there was one message that I could deliver to future generations of college hopefuls it would be this: figure out what you love; what you’re good at, and stick with it. It will pay off if you give it time. Do NOT chase money and do NOT just accept whichever job falls in your lap because then that’s all it will ever be, a job.
So what can we, as parents/adults, do to help? The average high school senior/college student doesn’t necessarily lack initiative; more like, they lack a true sense of self. Ask about what’s ahead for them and inevitably they’ll describe, through a pretense of confidence, their latest job prospects or that they plan to start taking classes for such-and-such. They all have aspirations for great things. The problem is that they don’t really know what they want. As a result, they set themselves up for a life that is all journey and no destination.
Remember that thing we used say when we are kids? “When I grow up I want to be a doctor/lawyer/astronaut.” That’s great and all but how did we come to that decision? How many of us actually knew somebody that was one of those things? I personally grew up in one of those small, blue-collar towns where most people graduated high school and went to work at the railroad, in construction, or at the nearest factory. I certainly didn’t know many professional types. All I knew was that I wanted to be an animator at Pixar because I thought Toy Story was cool. Not once did I take the time to consider the intermediary steps necessary to make such a lofty career goal happen. Instead I made a decision based on this romantic notion that my name would be attached to their next big animated feature.
As it turns out, animation wasn’t really my thing and I loathed all things code/script related. I’ve since come to realize that life-decisions require life-experience which in turn requires actual hands-on exposure. That is to say, that we should challenge our young people and their decisions about this kind of thing. I realize that it probably sounds absurd thinking that you can tell a know-it-all teenager anything but we really need to try. If somebody had questioned my decision, I’m sure that conversation would have went something like, “Why do you want to be an animator? What about that job is appealing to you? What will your daily work day look like?” To which, I would have responded, “___.” That’s right. My response would have been blank. Not blank as in, insert well thought out response here, blank as in, “I don’t know.” It absolutely is not enough that you ask them about their future. By the time you start asking they’ll likely already have a canned response because all of their friends and most of their school counselors would have already posed that same question to them ad nauseam.
We need to ask “Why?” Why do you want to be this or that? What is your motivation for pursuing this career path? If they can answer those questions competently and confidently, then immediately start looking for job a shadowing program that will allow them to spend a few hours getting hands-on with somebody in that field. And by all means, start this process in High-School, whether they like it or not. The way I see it, one of two things will happen; they will come away from that experience even more enthusiastic and pumped about their career choice or they’ll hate it and be glad that they didn’t waste four years studying to get that job. If they can nail this down before they start college then they are ahead of the curve. The last thing they want is to get caught up taking a bunch of redundant classes because they’re switching majors every other semester.
Somebody once said to me, “30 years is a long time to not like something.” Although that person was staring pretty hard at her husband when she said it, I’m pretty sure that it was in response to me asking her what she thought about me accepting a more enjoyable job for less pay. Either way, the message holds true. Our young people may think they have it all figured out, and yes, they do need to live their own lives, make their own mistakes, all of that good stuff, but let us not lose sight of the fact that just because we won’t always be a driving force in their lives, doesn’t mean that we can’t at least be a guiding force.