Think of all the career choices available to a person today, and you will begin to understand why deciding on a career is getting tougher for the children under your wing. You could argue that children today are more fortunate because they have a lot more options to choose from, they could even work from home, run an online business, and still earn.
The fact is, having more career choices does not necessarily make choosing a career any easier. On the contrary, having too many options can be overwhelming for anyone.
Even by the time a teenager is ready for college, he or she might have little inkling which course to take, despite knowing that opting for a suitable course is one of the most important things he must do.
I know at least a few parents whose children switched courses more than once within one or two years of stepping into college.
You could contend that it is a waste of neither time nor resources; it is time and money well-spent learning something useful. You could be right, but there are also cases where moving from one course to another, and earning lower and lower grades with each passing semester makes a child lose more and more confidence in his ability to excel. A child who feels uncertain for too long may have quite a lot to lose. Such a painful experience could be sidestepped with a bit more thought, better planning in the beginning.
1. Talk about career options early. Early exposure means a lot. It’s never too early to begin. You can start planting ideas and introducing different types of careers to a child as young as four. This is an ongoing discussion which may continue right up to the time when he needs to sign-up for a course in college.
2. Increase the options. Do not limit career options to the ones you are familiar. Or those that are traditionally considered prestigious or safe. Modern farming, for example, is sorely needed everywhere in the world. Your child needs to learn that food does not come from supermarkets. Those piles of rubbish by the roadside does not disappear by themselves, neither does waste water. Your child might be the next up-and-coming modern farmer the nation needs, or the owner of an advanced waste management company that keeps the city clean.
3. Help your child understand the nature of the job. By this I mean, introduce your child to different professionals. Use your past and present colleagues, primary and secondary classmates. Track them down, ask for a favour. Make appointments. Get them to sit with your child and explain the nature of their respective jobs.
Even better, bring your child to your friend’s workplace, so your child could have a clearer idea, a more realistic feel, how the job is done. Being a doctor is different from being a medical student in first year. It’s not only about memorising facts, you need to learn how to be empathetic with patients. Winning a patient over with respect and bedside manners is a big part of the job. A significant number of medical students quit once they started dealing with patients, when they realised it’s not something they handled well. If they had known about it from the beginning, they could have opted for a different career.
4. What you learn in school is a far cry from real life. School is different from college, which is not similar to professional life. Chemistry in secondary or high school is a stark contrast to Chemical Engineering in college. The environment in a college laboratory is not the same as in a school lab. In a school, a student spends time in a Physics lab with teachers and classmates. In university, you might be the only one standing for several hours doing a test. Help your child understand this.
5. Ownership is important. No matter what he chooses, your child is far more likely to brave the ups and downs of college life if he has a better understanding right from the beginning what he is in for. If you are the one making that decision, or if your child has little idea what she would be learning, what the course entails, what she would be doing with the qualification she would be earning, the chances of him or her having regrets later is greater.
6. Liking a job is not enough. Teenagers typically say they want to be somebody, a writer, an artist, an engineer, because they like the job. We often read and hear about highly successful people who, when interviewed, emphasised how much they love their job. But liking and loving a job is only part of the story. No matter how much you love a job, there will always be parts of the job that you dislike.
A job is not just about money, paying the bills. A job can bring happiness or misery to your child’s life, a possible source of fulfilment, both pleasure and pain, no matter how much you like it. In the long run, you could only stick to a job if it brings meaning to your life.
In many cases, meaning comes when you see the benefit, the good that your work brings to people. Bring this up early in your discussion with your child. Ask: How will this career choice benefit others? How will being an accountant, an architect, an engineer help your parents, your family, your community? This is human nature. When you know what you do makes a real difference to people’s lives, you know why you are doing the job, you are clear on the value of what you are doing, you are more likely to be able to withstand the challenges thrown your way.