After writing part 1 of the series of articles on college: College Part 1 - Helping your child choose a degree, I received several comments both verbally and emailed saying it was unrealistic to expect a 16 or 17 year old to know what they want to do with the rest of their life. I agree that it is unusual. But that is the point isn't it? We all believe our kids are unique and special and will be superstars. Why settle for "usual". When the recruiter is screening 50 kids for one open position, he is not likely to choose the 49 typical new grads who are still trying to figure out what they want to do. He is going to choose the one who made a choice early and therefore shows his or her commitment to that job.
Nobody, not even our own amazing and talented kids can do everything and do it well. As is often the case in sports, the 10 year old that spends all his time playing soccer is more likely to get onto the high school soccer team (and therefore college, and maybe even pro) than the other kids who are splitting their days up with other sports and activities. The same goes for academic and career choices. It is worth the effort for both our kids and for us to start earlier with decisions on the future.
I clearly remember a friend of mine in college telling me freshman year that he was going to get his degree in English Literature, go to law school, get a job in the local personal injury firm in his hometown and eventually buy out the owner. He is now running the firm just like he said he would. For me, it was "something in business... maybe". I am happy with where I ended up but it took a lot longer for me to get here.
Keeping one's options open is not always a good thing. According to Dan Ariely in Predictably Irrational, The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions humans are wired to keep their options open even when it is not such a great idea to do so. As parents, we need to stop saying to our kids that they have lots of time to decide and we should start encouraging them to explore their options now. Freshman year in high school is probably a good place to start. 4 years is enough time to come up with some idea about the future. This forward thinking and goal setting is a valuable habit to get into.
One candidate I met obviously did not have this habit. He was 38 with a background in sales and very presentable however he fumbled when I asked him what his career goals were for 10 years from now. His answer was that he "guesses" he will be doing sales in a similar company and industry. This was not a goal, this was a prediction based on inertia and a lack of thought. The thing is, he was probably right! 10 years from now he will be doing the same thing he is doing now. A dead end job with a company going nowhere selling a dying product and making no money.
The hard part for our kids is that they don't know what jobs are possible. We parents, with out infinite wisdom and experience can step in here to fill in these pesky gaps of knowledge. Imagine talking about one different career choice per night at dinner for one month. By the end of the month you will have shared 30 different career options with your son or daughter. Kids will remember the ones that interested them and will come back asking for more information. Try to answer as much as you can yourself and when you run out of information, look to your friends for help.
The Internet is also an endless source of details on jobs. There are countless free online tests our kids can take to point them towards certain careers. Here is one I just took at Students.net. It says I should be a Scientist...