Continued from Preparing Our Kids for Life: Part One from September 21, 2010.
So if college isn't the way to guarantee a job, riches and success that it might once have been and if the cost-benefit ratio has faded I'm very open to the idea of learning good trades and skills that are more concrete and (sometimes) more in demand. But college or tech school, whatever path one chooses, getting that certificate of completion isn't enough anymore--there needs to be something else, something much more important than a slip of paper and most people nowadays are missing it because it's so elusive. We need goals.
Set Those Goals
Too many people use college as a way to "find themselves" while lost in wasted semesters, sabbaticals and aimless travel. The funny thing is, of all the people that have told me that they're taking time off to find themselves I've never heard anyone who later claimed to have been successful at the endeavor. They're often as lost after as they were before because all they were doing was putting off the difficult and painful requirement of making a decision and moving forward.
The fact is, college is too darn expensive to waste it by wandering--people plan road trips with greater assiduity than they plan their college years. The hunt-and-peck method of education has never been efficient and while it might have be adequate fifty years ago such casual and accidental attempts at the target are risky endeavors.
No one should go to college undeclared. Surely, after 12 years of education and studying one has at least a smidgen of an idea of what area would suit (and there are ways to promote this which I'll describe next week) and if, after high school, you still have too many interests, all the better. That just means that you have a better-than-average chance of enjoying one of those many, many interests in an actual career. So pick one.
Get some goals and stick to them, for goodness sake. Spend a lot of time thinking about what you want to accomplish and aim high (people often underestimate their abilities) because ultimately that's what will most influence success or failure. But what your goals are isn't so important as the fact that you have them.
But the problem is: people usually don't set goals. They don't set them, they don't write them down, they don't think about them or keep them in mind and consequently they drift wherever life takes them. Drifting isn't immoral, it's isn't unethical, it's just dangerous because when you drift you run aground or get blown out to sea or get swamped and sunk. Pardon my extended metaphor but life is full of problems and disappointments and setbacks that have the potential to sink your boat but making it through life's storms is 150% easier with goals to guide you.
And most people don't have them.
Close Some Doors
Decisions are funny things because once you've said yes to one thing you automatically say no to an infinite number of other possibilities and, as human beings, that's incredibly difficult to accept. We will do practically anything to keep all our options open, thinking I suppose that options are the way to happiness when, in fact, options merely keep us from anchoring, directing and succeeding. One only needs one option--ONE--to be successful but vacillating between two ensures failure. How many times have I heard someone say, "I can't decide what to do! I have so many interests! I just can't settle on one thing." It makes me want to shake them and say, "You HAVE settled on one thing--you've settled on doing nothing which is the only thing that guarantees failure." The worst decision is making no decision. That's what my dad always says and he's right.
People are able to decide what to eat for breakfast, what to wear to school, whether or not to do their homework, what car to buy, what book to read, what class to take and while I'm not insinuating that the decision of a career should be taken as lightly as Fruit Loops v. Cocoa Puffs, it bears many similarities, making it nearly as easy to decide.
Both Fruit Loops and Cocoa Puffs are tasty, both have the same nutritional value (or lack thereof), both have the same ability to fill one's gut, both have about the same price and benefits. Barring a vicious allergy to fake chocolate flavoring I don't know that it would matter to anyone which cereal one chose. Careers can often be like this. If you have two that are equally interesting, have equal potential in the job market, have similar lengths on course requirements and cost to achieve then it really doesn't matter much which you choose. Just pick one and get on with it. It's more important that you pick one than forever wavering between the two. Don't kid yourself that there's magic involved and one leads to happiness and bliss while the other leads to unfulfilled dreams and suffering. Being happy in one's career usually is more contingent on the situation of a particular job rather than a career itself. Don't get the two confused.
And then, once you're nearly done and are four months from graduation don't get freaked out and think about jilting your major at the altar. Everyone gets that far and wonders if they've made the right decision. But who cares? Maybe it's the perfect choice, maybe it's a good choice, but the point is . . . you made it! Going back to square one is a waste of time and money. At least finish things out and then if you insist on rethinking everything you have a way of providing for yourself while you go back on through the system a second time.
So forget the idea that one needs to find one's passion as if a career is a soul mate. Instead, find something that interests you (if you have lots of things, all the better, it'll be easier to come up with something) and consider if you can expect to make money from it. Then consider whether you can expect to make enough money to fit the lifestyle you'd like to have (i.e. will you be a single income family? Will you need your spouse to work as well? Will you be flying home to Australia every year to visit family? Will you require a mansion on the hill?) Once you've been able to answer these three questions satisfactorily you're on your way and have accomplished something huge . . . but you're not yet done.
Get Some Experience
Too many kids finish college with a degree and nothing more. No experience, no job record, no letters of recommendation, no skills and no proof to a future employer that they are employable. Whether or not you feel a college degree is worth the price it's hard to disagree that a degree without experience is in a different league than a degree with solid skills and training.
I think this may be because many parents think that teenagers shouldn't work. Personally? I think that's insane but I've heard enough otherwise rational adults say, "It's just more important that they focus on their grades and not be distracted by having a job" or (my personal favorite) "They're only a kid once and they need to be able to enjoy this time." The same parents who insist on ballet, violin, soccer and drama lessons suddenly balk at the thought of little Mary working the drive-through at Taco Bell though when it comes to whether ballet or Taco Bell will influence her future ability to provide for herself it seems pretty obvious which is the more valuable. I'm not sure if they feel it's beneath them or what but I've seen enough people head into college never having held a job in their life only to find that employers have problems with blank resumes.
College is not the place to get your first job, it's the place to train for your career, you should be well past the Taco Bell phase, and never has it been more important that young adults face the world armed with active experience beyond the classroom.
So how does one get that experience and set those goals? And how can you help your children do it?
To be concluded next week.