This is the challenge. You are at a social event with your kids. People are milling around chatting. Nothing serious, it’s a light-hearted community event. Your teenager is standing beside you, and someone you don’t know well comes up, and you introduce them.
My daughter is 17. For some reason, the adults around us feel that it is their right to ask a lot of career questions. It feels like an interrogation. It goes like this:
What grade are you in?
What are you doing next year?
> A victory lap.
Then what are you going to do?
What are you going to do there?
> Social work.
They smile, stop talking to her, and turn their attention back to me. I flash an “it’s ok look” to her, and she moves away as fast as she can.
For the record, she is still in the exploration stage. I am encouraging her to check into all areas of interest. To be clear, she is under no pressure to decide from me!
My 12-year-old daughter comes home from school, and she’s upset. I ask what’s going on. She says it’s because she doesn’t know what she wants to ‘be’ when she grows up. To start, I calm her down and reassure her. Then I ask why you are so upset about this? She tells me there’s pressure at school; kids and adults are talking about it.
Honest, I am shocked that adults still behave like this with young people. They keep asking kids “what they want to be when they grow up?”
The irony is that none of them ever knew what they wanted, period. I have spoken in front of thousands of people for decades. I ask a series of questions like this:
Question: How many of you knew that you would be doing this kind of work when you were a teenager?
Answer: No one puts up their hand. (Sometimes I will get one hand in a crowd of 100+)
Question: Consider the type of job you currently do. Did this exist when you were a teenager?
Answer: Everyone yells “no”!
So why do we put so much pressure on teenagers (and children)?
I sense that it is a psychological projection. I hear from so many adults that they never knew what they were doing. They want to pressure young people to make better choices.
They are confusing personal identity (who am I) with career choices (what do I want to do). We need to take the pressure off, careers are a journey, not a destination.
Let’s encourage our kids to learn how to explore the world and not feel so pressured to ‘be’ something.
What do you think?
Drop me a line, I would love to hear from you!
Rob is a career development professional, husband, and father of three girls. When he is not chasing his kids around, he also likes to run on trails.
Photo teenage confusion courtesy of Pabak Sarkar