Monday, June 11, 2007

Thinking About Careers

I'm doing a number of radio interviews in the coming weeks in correlation with my book on the rise in self-employment among young people, Grindhopping. We're talking about the graduation theme of "You Don't Have to Hate Your First Job" (based on a USA Today column I wrote with the same name).

While it's fun to spin the topic this way, career choice is a source of considerable angst for most young people, and for gifted young people -- who have so many options -- in particular. My advice to graduates is to, first, realize that all that education is leading somewhere, so they should spend as much time thinking about what they want to do after school as they do studying for any given exam. And second, ask yourself some key questions, namely 1) what do I love to do so much I'd do it for free and 2) how can I get someone to pay me to do that.

There's no reason this process has to start in college. In fact, I think there's a good case to be made for asking gifted teens to really start thinking about the real world as soon as possible, even though they won't really be living in it, fully, for a long time (See the "Trashing Teens" post, below).

This was driven home to me this weekend, when I had the good fortune to make my Lincoln Center choral debut on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall. I was singing as a ringer with a few high school choruses who were performing Beethoven's Ninth. During rehearsal on Saturday, I was singing next to a young lady from a Long Island high school who asked me how old I was. I told her. "Wow," she says. "You're 28?" "Is that old?" I asked, defensive. "No, she said. It's just crazy. I'm singing next to a 28 year old!" That's when it struck me that this girl had probably never engaged in collaborative projects with adults. At school, she's working with other 16 year olds. If she goes to church, she's in a youth group and Sunday School with other people her age. My guess is she doesn't have a job during the school year, so she doesn't have exposure through the workplace to non-parent and teacher adults (who are authority figures, and have their own ways of interacting with teens). What a strange universe. The real world features peer relationships across age groups.

One of the reasons the Cristo Rey school model (see the When School Works post) works so well is that it brings teens into adult workplaces, gives them responsibilities, and lets them see that there is something beyond lockers and homeroom. I don't think many schools will adopt that model soon, but parents can use summer vacation to get kids thinking about these same things. One option is to have the kids start a business. The other is to have them work at a corporation or at a university. Volunteer projects that involve people of all ages can also expose them to different ideas about what people "do" with their lives. The point is to get the kids thinking about what they would like to do once their formal education is mostly completed. Because eventually they will have to answer this question. If you just start thinking about the question when your college's career counseling center holds a job fair, you will wind up at one of those companies that sponsors booths at such things. While those may be fine jobs, I don't think many people grew up dreaming about working for Avis or Georgia Pacific. It's hard to land a dream job if you don't think about what that dream job might be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Many of our local "brighter" high school kids are in a program working for six weeks at a time with Physical Therpapy and other Medical Professions. I spoke to one student when I was at PT one day. She was looking into various Science fields and was about to spend her next six weeks at an OB office. She said that there were many variants and this was for the advanced kids. She learned quite a bit and my Physical Therapist spoke to her quite a bit about what we were doing - just like a teacher.