Monday, September 27, 2010

Preparing Our Kids for Life: Part Two

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.


joannezipan said...

I find it amazing that you need to spell these things out. When I decided on my university course I went for Engineering as it was the most vocational degree I could find with a consistent deficit in the number of graduates (i.e. highest chance of finding a job). While at Uni in addition to my full time course (and I mean full time - 30+ hours a week not 4 to 8 hours of English lectures) I worked 20 or more hours in the campus bar and was involved in running events for 2 societies. At the time my friend thought I was mad as it equated to less time in the bar drinking or going to night clubs. But when we left uni I had things to write on my CV to show I was responsible, innovative and driven and I walked into a good, secure, well paid job and they spent a year scrabbling around looking. I think the difference in view point was that I saw university as the beginning of my career not a glorified holiday park! But I have to point out that almost 10 years down the line that head start has now diminished and in the long run it probably didn’t make any difference to earnings (but hey you don’t meet that many engineers with porches right, but accountants on the other hand…). So in conclusion – it’s not just about what you love but also the objectives you want to achieve in life which ever side of the pond you live on!

hoopty doopty said...

I have to say I enjoyed part one and in general I think I am on the same page with your thinking, for the most part.
I don't agree that it's a must to have had a job before you get to uni but there isn't a single formula that works for each person.
I was a good student, in honours classes and also quite involved with sport and other extra curricular activities. I was focused on two things: coursework and sport. I literally did not have time to get a job and it wasn't that I was rushed around involved with too many things. I was dedicated to sport and competing at a level that required a lot of training. The coursework paved the way for some scholarship funds and the sport opened the door to other opportunities.
I did work summers during uni and also did some part time work during semesters where it was possible.
I agree that learning to make a decision and stick with it or see it through is very valuable and a life skill we all need.
Looking forward to the rest of the series.

Linds said...

You have said it well - and working through holidays is an excellent way to add experience to the CV. I am a firm believer in my kids learning how hard it is to earn money. They know it does not grow on trees!

The other thing which is very important is to show you are willing to help out. Volunteering is a hugely positve thing to add to the CV, and now that there is such competition for jobs everywhere, it adds a dimension which makes a good impression to the potential employer. Or university, come to that. Grades are not enough any more. It is all about the person, and qualities of character too.

I also believe that kids need to know the fiscal commitments involved in training or university, and need to look beyond the graduation day. Loans need to be repaid. I am constantly amazed when I hear of young people starting out on degrees which will not prepare them for a job in the real world. When I ask what they intend doing after they graduate, I hear - well I will see what I feel like doing later. What???

Excellent series, Michele.

Kayris said...

BLAH! I typed a big comment and Blogger ate it. I guess I took too long!

Anyway. I do not believe that teens should have anything they want handed to them and I do not believe that teens should have too much idle time. Around here, a lot of the kids that get into drugs are not the ones from broken homes, but are kids that have been raised to think they are the center of the universe, the kids with the BMW in the student parking lot.

However, I agree with a previous commenter that being able to work in high school depends very much on the kid and it's not a requirement for having a wellrounded and responsible child.

I frequently tell my husband that the reason I didn't get into trouble in HS was because I didn't have time. I took AP classes, was in the marching band (after school practice every day, games and tournaments on weekends) and played sports. I worked summers starting at 15 (rode my bike to work!) but my schedule during most of the school year made working out of the question. I think I got more out of the significant time committment from band and sports than I would have flipping burgers. In fact, I didn't get my driver's license until after most of my friends because I did not have the time to take driver's ed.

In college, I chose one of the hardest disciplines my school offered, and also worked FT. It meant I didn't have the time to party like some of my classmates, but surviving on 4 hours of sleep a night meant I was constantly exhausted, constantly sick, never at the top of my game. In addition to both my work and grades suffering, I feel a little cheated that i didn't get to experience campus community, because I was too busy being an adult.

In this economy, college grads are sometimes competing for jobs waiting tables, so teens might not be able to find a job anyway. But I feel there are lots of ways to produce a well rounded and responsible kid without them being on the clock.

Finally, I'd point out that so many years into a career, I feel like employers stop looking at where you went to school and instead focus on what you have accomplished since then, so I would never encourage my kids to attend a college because it "looks good on a resume."

owlfan said...

I don't necessarily think a student needs to know exactly what they want to major in when they start college. You do need to know the general area, but often the first year or two are the same core classes. I knew I wanted to major in the sciences, so I took the core classes which were the same for multiple majors. After I had a year plus of classes under my belt, I could choose the exact major.

I wonder what some kids are thinking when they choose a major that has slim/low-paying job prospects, but chooses to go to a high price school while needing lots of loans. If you can afford that high price school or have scholarships, great! If not, then they are going to be handicapping themselves from the start (if they aren't going to have good job prospects).

Judi said...

"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."

Interesting thought as my husband is currently struggling with his current job. Is it the job or the actual career? This is what we need to figure out!

Food for thought! Thank you.

Headless Mom said...

*nodding in agreement*

Scribbit said...

Judi- My dad always has said that in a career there are nearly infinite number of possibilities for jobs and among those possibilities there will be some you love, some you hate. I think it's because of the variety in situation, personnel and benefits. If he generally likes his area of work then it probably is the job and not the career. Just a guess anyway. I tend to think--that like a wife--if he loved it at one time, chances are he still loves it, just not the situation :) Though I don't know that that metaphor suits very well

Krista said...

This is where I think that even if you have a love of history/writing/English, you find something else to major in just so you can get a job! I mean seriously people, unless you are beyond brilliant there are only so many political historians out there! And a very limited number of history teaching positions as well! (personal pet peeve!).

I never remember writing my goals down, ever. But I'm such a Type A personality that I had what I was "going to do next" planned out at least a year in advance. Yeah, I had a few bumps and direction changes along the way. I do look back and in some ways regret doing junior college rather than the 4 year just because of some missed opportunities. On the other hand I had no debt from those first two years which allowed me to have an awesome summer job in Yellowstone for two summers that didn't pay much because I didn't need the money.
Pros and cons both ways, but I agree, you have to actually DO something!
I think this series should be required reading for today's junior high parents...
And don't even get me started on no jobs... I worked every summer starting when I was in 7th grade (and had a paper route before that, during school no less) and then during school my senior year of high school and continued ever since. It is a bit weird to say I'm "not working" now that I have 2 boys at home, but I'm really not sitting on the couch eating bon bons! ;) But I'm sure I don't need to justify that to you!

Jan said...

I'm having this challenge session with my teenage son right now - he seems to be so vague about it all. When I was his age, I was already multi-tasking toward my various goals without the benefit of any structure or rigid guidance. I'm seeing teens these days easily distracted. Maybe it's a sign of the times but it seems to be taking people a lot longer to "grow up". Of course, my kid would rationalize it that I just grew up too fast.

bigguysmama said...

This is sooo true. I am 41 yrs old and had no clue what I wanted to do by the end of high school. There were a lot of life factors that went into that mess, but here I sit at my age still adrift.

There aren't enough words to describe how hard I am on myself for not having made a decision early on in life.

If you're a parent and your child is struggling, please, get them help! I didn't get it and here I sit. It's a horrible place to be.


LG said...

I agree with what you said in part 1 and now in part 2.Kids have it much easier I imagine today than in our time, except for things such as peer pressure and perhaps some school pressure. I know it is difficult to figure out what you really want to study, but then take a year off, do your homework re your options, find a job or volunteer to keep you busy, the point is do something except waffling time and money at College. I actually studied my accounting degree and Honours part time through what we call long-distance-university (ie we did the degree through the mail) as I had family financial responsibilities and I got a job while I studied. It all turned out pretty well and probably cost half to a third what going to a full time college costs and you can do it one year longer if you have to. (I took 4 years for degree and 2 years for honours). I am now doing my BA (major school psychology) also via distance education (and nowadays with the internet-wow! Studies are pretty amazing compared to 20 years ago!) and I also intend to do Honours in special education also via long distance education. My eldets is pretty responsible and choosing her gr 10-12 subjects didn't take too much effort plus she has taken all the subjects that can allow her to do any degree - from BScience to BA to B Com.The problem is even such a relatively top performer wants to do some nice career that one day there might not even be jobs for. Always something wishy washy. So we have 3 years for her and 4 for youngest and we'll see how it goes, but my kids also know, I pay once for studies and once for each year. I believe a parent must set some boundaries. And I don't even know if we can afford College in 3-4 years time (with 2 kids) so to me long distance studying is really a good's just not 'fashionable'..


Wait to read next week's article and apologies for the long comment, I just couldn't abbreviate it


Mirien said...

In our area, there are so many more opportunities in high school than I had. So many classes are offered: AP credits, concurrent enrollment (college and high school credit both), and 1/2 day tech schools, that I'm realizing my kids almost need to know their college major before enrolling for 9th grade! I was feeling like this is too much pressure, too soon, but after reading your post, maybe that's not a bad thing. This year Alyssa was accepted into an "early college high school" in our district--just for juniors and seniors. It's a small school, located on the community college campus but in its own building. There are only 200 kids in the whole school, so the classes are small and the teachers know each student. She will graduate with her high school diploma as well as an associate's degree--for free!! Not the right decision for everyone, but she is loving it and I am thankful for so many great options.

Fawn said...

The only part I must disagree with is, "Surely, after 12 years of education and studying one has at least a smidgen of an idea of what area would suit."

At the end of my high school career I had no idea what to study at university, not because I didn't have interests, but because I was practical enough to want to have a job at the end of it. I loved writing but didn't know what the heck I'd do with an English degree. Ditto music. Journalism didn't seem right and I no way in heck wanted to be a teacher, seeing the BS my teachers had to put up with (not from me, of course, heh heh).

Turns out a year abroad (going to school and living with my grandparents) was enough to settle me on business which was at least practical.

My thinking these days is that there are so many jobs out there that you'll never know even exist, that you might as well study something you truly enjoy and see where it takes you, if you dare. Or, you know, practical is still good.

The Petersen Family said...

I grew up in a family where we were expected to work. We owned a family business and I started helping by the age of 5. Later we cleaned peoples homes, babysat, shoveled snow, taught music lessons, etc. We were expected to work. So many kids don't know how and won't work. What kind of adults will they become. Working like this taught us skills so that we can make money no matter what the economy at least in some way.
I'm loving your posts on this. Keep it coming.

[Stacia] said...

Funny, I always thought you worked your way through whatever you did. And then I graduated and found that many of my friends' parents were paying for ALL of their schooling while they skipped class, did nothing, got into trouble, and eventually, couldn't get a job. It's sad really.
I'm still in my twenties and realize I have plenty to learn still but it seems the real problem with this generation is that we tend to have a hard time owning up to our choices and responsibilities as citizens. I think that's why it's so rare that people make goals and big decisions.
It's early so please forgive my simplified and rather unintelligent writing. :)

Stephanie said...

I know when I graduated high school, I had no idea what I really wanted to do. I ended up picking a major that I though was what I "should" do not necessarily what I was suited to and I had no clue that one day I'd really just want to be a wife and a mom.

I think another option to just picking a field if you have many that are interesting is to work for a few years before college. If possible work at an entry level position in the fields that interest you. It gives you time to experience what is really out there and time to grow up a little bit too.