Career Gifts

December 23rd, 2010

Every day we read stories about career challenges, career passion, career desires and derailment. In my profession, my clients include a broad variety of people: some feel “lucky” to be in work they love, others are frustrated that they are blocked professionally, terrified that they will not be able to continue on their career track which they kind of fell into and now question, or who believe that they lost an opportunity to do what they really want.

And, increasingly, I am asked by parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents, how children can be brought up so that they have a good sense of what the “right” career might be; so that they can be productive and happy (and avoid career pain). Thus, for the holiday season, when gifts are selected carefully and given generously, I thought it might be interesting to share my thoughts on how to help the next generation become “world of work savvy” early on.

In my view, the best thing we can do for children and teenagers is to expose them to as many career ideas as possible through discussion, meeting different people of various backgrounds and interests, sharing stories about what makes for a satisfying and successful career, and even inviting the child into the workplace to see what happens. Encourage volunteer work, internships, community involvement and curiosity.

I also think that we can use non-judgmental observation and follow up with  children to “catch” them being interested. If drawn to animals, for example, have a child spend a day with a veterinarian. If they love sports, art, music, math….encourage these leanings without attaching specific career expectations.

Keep it open.

It is important to temper the tendency to translate every interest or talent into a career option precipitously. After all, by the time today’s 8th grader is an adult, there will be career options we have not even thought about now!

As a very little child, I was encouraged to develop my interest in singing. While I eventually chose a different profession, my experiences in performing, working with managers, learning how to engage audiences, and the sheer discipline of being a musician have carried over into my work life even today. I believe that career development is an experiential and iterative process that, nurtured and reinforced, leads to a sense of choice, flexibility and resilience. And, in my case, a joyful avocation.

Above all, social skills and an abiding interest in other people, leadership and collaborative thinking will be critical for any future career success. Expose children to many different kinds of people and situations where they need to observe, adapt, connect, engage, negotiate and “sell” through real life situations. Discuss civility, collaboration and managing conflict as these situations arise.

And most important: show children that you enjoy being with them.

Children who are treasured will keep that gift all of their lives.

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