“Mommy is half of so many things!” interrupted my son as I chatted with someone I've just met. Obviously, the question was, “So, what do you do?” My conversation partner, smitten by my kid’s social skills, forgot to raise an eyebrow. The topic quickly turned to: “Oh, what a great boy you've got!”
“Thank you, my sweet child,” I thought, “now I don’t need to describe my complicated career choices to someone who might have preferred a simple one word answer."
I studied architecture in college and worked as a designer for several years. Then, testing my organizational skills, I co-created a children’s language program with three dear friends. Now, as I climb deeper into my thirties, I've allowed myself to explore that other passion that has always been pushed to the side. The one I’d discovered when I was 12-years-old but one that I’d never dared to consider “a profession.”
I like to write. There, I've said it.
But I can say it, because I have the maturity and the means to do what I like. Our kids, however, when they approach the time to choose a career path, are not as lucky. While they are able to explore a variety of interests during school, as college time nears we, as parents, are forced to think about their financial future. The idea that they should be able to stand on their own two feet begins to conflict with the notion of letting them do what they enjoy. We appreciate their pursuits, but we are careful to edge them toward choices that can bring financial independence. Because, as my co-writer Valerie said, “It’s great that you want to be an artist. But how do you get there and not starve?!”
Since I look at everything in life from a design point of view, I believe that our kids’ professional future is also something that can be designed. Design, by definition, is a plan -- a rendering of what the idea will look like before it’s brought to life. And this plan is something we can come up with following a two-step process.
First, we can pay attention to our kids’ intellectual and personality strengths. If we recognize what they’re naturally good at, we can help them to find activities that could, one day, lead to the right career choice. It might mean that they won’t always be doing what’s popular among their peers. But they’ll be fostering their unique talents and abilities.
Second, we can foresee the type of professional fields that our children’s interests might lead them to. If we happen to be parents of future lawyers and bankers, we might want to double check that our kids truly want the kind of life that these professions entail. People often have booming careers that they can’t wait to be retired or vacationing from because they are desperate to find time to be doing what they actually like to do. Hopefully, they will choose these paths if they’re genuinely interested, and not only because these seem like financially savvy options. And if we happen to be parents of future artists, writers, or musicians, we can explain to our children the concept of joy vs need. What if that which gives them joy won’t be that which can support their needs? This question should define their search. If their true calling is to be an actor, that’s a passion that needs to be supported for years before it yields any financial results, if ever. Kids should understand that there may be a difficult road ahead and should still choose an interesting and rewarding day job -- one that allows them the time to attend auditions and pays their rent.
This sort of long-term planning might help prevent college students from graduating without the slightest clue about how to apply themselves or without the slightest desire to apply themselves in the field that they've chosen. If we help kids take their interests into serious consideration as they think about their professional future, perhaps a balance between the work that pays the bills and that which feeds the soul can be discovered?