Can your career advice help your children? And should you even try?
Some time ago, Author Lauren Kim wrote about a dilemma she faced as her child wanted to become a writer. She points out that writing is a hazardous career. Journalists are endangered species. Should she discourage her daughter?
Recently a friend was musing over his son’s interest in becoming a lawyer. “I know so many unhappy lawyers,” he said. “How can I, in good conscience, encourage him?”
I’m not a parent, but I’ve worked mostly with midlife career changers. They’re the ones who live with decisions they made a long time ago. Here’s what I’ve learned from my clients as well as my own work experience.
First, in my experience, kids won’t accept career advice from their parents – at least not right away. You can be a strong role model and share your own experience without giving advice. They won’t accept career advice from ANYone unless they’ve initiated the request.
Second, the best career advice you have to give isn’t about specifics, such as whether to be a writer. It’s about being alert to change. It’s about realizing that your child can’t look forward to job security or a “secure” career field.
When I was a child, we used to say that librarians, teachers and nurses had the ultimate job security. We also said that if you can type and be a secretary you’ll always have a job. As teens today would say, “yeah, right!”
Third, parents often try so hard to be supportive they create unrealistic expectations. They don’t always understand the ins and outs of educational offerings. For instance, one college student wanted to combine her interest in culinary arts with her love of writing – and find a way to make a living. She heard about a program to teach students to become food critics. (I’m disguising the exact details.) Her mother thought the idea was good: “If they have a program there are probably jobs.”
The truth is, many universities create programs that hold out the promise of guiding students to their dream careers. You’ll find programs for people who want to be music journalists or art buyers.
Sometimes these programs really lead to dream careers. Sometimes the student ends up with a big tuition bill and a loss of time that could be spent looking for a more meaningful career. Universities design programs that attract students who will pay tuition. It’s up to you to evaluate all possible outcomes and they make no bones about it.
In an earlier generation, “Go to school” was the best career advice you could get – the surest path to a stable career. Today a university program may not be the most helpful way to navigate these transitions.
When a child says, “What will I be when I grow up?” your best advice might be the answer, “Something that hasn’t been invented yet.” Your child will learn to seek career advice from her environment, from watching and from developing today’s most critical skill – flexibility and openness to change.
Check out my Report: Back To School For a Mid-Life Career. Some of the content is appropriate for all ages.