Please Don’t Ask My Teen What He Wants To Be

We need to give our kids room to explore their interests before settling on a career path.

We need to give our kids room to explore their interests before they settle on a career path. My oldest is designing the logo for the T-Shirt company he’s going to start.

I met a real live rock star last week at my art studio. While he and his daughter worked on the project, we chatted about art, our kids, and some of the things he did before he became a professional musician.

“Isn’t it really hard for bands to make it?”
“So how’d you do it?”
“Once I chose to be a musician, I headed out to LA. My band experienced a ton of rejection but we didn’t give up. We were early users of social media which helped us a lot.”

This conversation was especially interesting to me because I have kids in middle, high school, and college, some who are trying to figure out what they want to do after they graduate. My husband and I tell them they just need to work at a lot of jobs until they find something they love. Apparently this is true whether you want to be a businessperson or a rock star.

Last week I attended the Lyons Township High School parent orientation for my eighth-grader. We were told that our children would be asked what they want to be when they grow up. I wish they wouldn’t. It is the rare fourteen-year-old who knows what he wants to be and asking the question is ridiculous and causes unnecessary stress. My husband and I spend a lot of energy counteracting this thinking in our kids.

Instead of asking my son what he wants to be, why not tell him to get a part-time job? Studies show that the earlier a kid starts working the more successful he will be in life. In addition, why not offer a semester program where kids can work in various places for a week, such as at a hospital, insurance company, animal shelter, bank, or architectural firm? Students interested in becoming teachers can already get classroom experience through a program at LT.

The presenter then laid out the necessary requirements for my son to graduate. After the required classes he would have five electives available to him. I got excited thinking about the small engines, furniture making, and photography classes he could take. Then came the caveat: if my kid is going to apply to a competitive college, he will need four years of math instead of three, four years of science instead of two, and three to four years of a foreign language. Where was he going to fit in the fun electives? It’s like sending your kid to the candy store with no money.

High school and college are a time of exploration. Kids should be taking lots of different classes that they enjoy and then start to get more focused by their junior year. Doing internships and information interviews with people in jobs they are interested in is a great way for them to learn more about potential careers.

Thankfully, there are resources out there to help everyone figure it out. I would highly recommend every high school and college student read Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans of Stanford University. They give great real life examples and exercises to help anyone, even people well into their careers, design a life and find a job they love.

I can’t say enough about how important it is for kids to work. When my eighth grader, Max, was nine he worked at his sister’s barn, walking horses and playing with the cats and dogs. After that, he got a volunteer position at a rescue, socializing animals. But instead of petting birds and rats, he ended up cleaning their cages. During the second week he got in trouble for texting.

On the ride home he said he didn’t want to go back. I helped him draft his letter of resignation. From this experience he learned that not all jobs will be what you think they are and not all bosses will be nice. At age thirteen he has continued to work with animals, taking care of our neighbor’s cat and dogs.

My husband, Frank, and I are always sharing our career paths with our kids and making sure they understand that the process of finding your vocation has not changed over the years. My husband’s story highlights how talking to people in the business you want to go into and “trying it on” can save you time and money.

While Frank was still in high school, he decided that he wanted to be a disc jockey and would major in communications in college. His dad arranged an information interview with Bob Reitman of WQFM in Milwaukee. When Frank got to college, he joined the radio station, and realized that he didn’t like being a disc jockey but loved managing the station. No harm no foul. After working different jobs, traveling to Europe, and going to business school, he has been a food and candy marketer for nearly thirty years.

As of now my eighth grader is going to be a You Tuber with millions of subscribers who will make him rich. He is buying computer equipment with the money he makes as a dog-walker to bring him closer to his dream. I am perfectly fine with this dream and all of the others he will have as he explores his world by taking cool classes, talking to interesting people, and working lots of jobs until he finds what he loves.