In the last post, we explored how to follow a child’s interests, develop important skill sets, and research potential careers. Today, let’s look at a very specific example of how my daughter found the perfect career fit.
From the age of seven, my daughter loved her violin. We were on a rabbit trail. We went to hear famous violinists, purchased violin concerto CDs, and started saving for a good instrument. By the time she was 12, she was practicing 4-5 hours a day just because she wanted to. Her teacher started talking about music conservatory. The trail had turned into a road. We started taking music theory lessons, spent time watching a teacher instruct younger students to learn the skill of music pedagogy, opened her own violin studio to teach others, started entering competitions, auditioned and got accepted into the top youth orchestra in the state, formed a quartet group, and went to summer music camp. We spent an entire day each week on music: a 4 hour commute, 2 hours spent in pedagogy instruction, an hour lesson, quartet rehearsal, then youth orchestra rehearsal. She began to job shadow. She hung out with a professional music couple and plied them with questions. She observed their lifestyle. She talked to anyone who would talk to her about music.
All in all we invested a great deal of time and money pursuing something she loved. All her friends who were that serious automatically went to conservatories or majored in music at college. But Natalie had earnestly explored the lifestyle and herself. She had asked a million questions. By the time she applied to college, she had decided that she wanted to keep music for love. However, all that effort was not wasted. Her fabulous musical skill set, coupled with stellar test scores and rigorous academics, landed her in a great college. She took violin lessons all four years at school and not only kept her skills up (most kids lose their skills once they leave home), but actually improved. Her violin was her de-stressor when her engineering classes were really frustrating. Now that she is a career woman, she has joined other professionals in a quartet group to play for pleasure. Music will be something that will enrich the rest of her life, thus I don’t regret any of the time or money we spent. Music; however, was not the only piece of life she tried on.
After taking an amazing AP Biology class her sophomore year, Natalie found she really loved genetics. That spring she approached a genetics professor at our local university to see if he would let her conduct genetics research over the summer. He agreed and soon discovered her competency. She was turned loose with a graduate level project and allowed to use ultra-expensive lab equipment. She found out that she was really, really good in a lab. She also found out that she did not want to spend her life waiting on things to grow in a petri dish.
Because she spent so many hours practicing her violin, we took her to a physical therapist at a fairly young age to avoid repetitive stress injuries. After many visits and getting to know this wonderful therapist, Natalie started exploring the possibilities of that profession. Her hands, made strong by years of practice, were perfect for manual therapy. She was smart enough to handle the rigors of PT school. She loved the idea of helping people. It would be a great mommy job in that she could work part time. She started studying anatomy. Then she began to job shadow. However, after spending time with multiple physical therapists in the hospital watching gruesome wound care and observing patients who did nothing to help themselves, she decided she did not have the patience or the stomach for the job. Plus, there would be a lot of debt from the three years of professional school and she was not willing to encumber herself.
After exploring many possible career fits, Natalie finally made a list of her priorities in a career and then went in search of a job that fit. Here was her list:
1. She did not want to go to graduate school. My daughter is a fairly traditional woman and wants to homeschool the multiple children she hopes to have. Thus, the extra years required, the opportunity cost, and the debt often produced by graduate school did not resonate with her goals.
2. She wanted a well-paying job that would allow her to save quickly for the future.
3. She wanted a life. Translated that means a regular 8-hour work day with evenings and weekends to pursue her music and ministry commitments. She did not want to travel in her work.
4. She wanted something that would utilize her skill set. Natalie’s AP classes showed her that she had great skill in detail work. Math gave her an adrenaline rush. Science was a joy. Economics was fascinating.
5. She wanted something that would honor the way God hard-wired her personality (check out Do What You Are by Paul and Barbara Tieger).
After laying down these rules for her search, she found herself in engineering. Once again, she started talking to engineers. She did start college without knowing exactly what kind of engineering she would major in, but she knew she was headed that direction. Once she found her area, Operations Research and Financial Engineering, she still applied the above rules. Thus, the usual job for this type of major (found on Wall Street) was out of the question because of the crazy hours. Today, she is extremely happy working as an actuary. The job meets all her requirements and more!
Students need to try life on in high school in order to make a wise next step. The type of major they want will determine the school they choose. Not all universities are created equal, nor are all the programs at any one university at the same level.
Once they get to college, indecision can be ultra expensive. Mike McCormack of People Right Careers estimates that every time your student changes their major, it costs you $10,000. The average students changes majors 2-3 times in the college career. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have an extra $30,000 sitting around.
I’ve seen students get through a complete four-year degree and then not have job options because they majored in something stupid. I’ve also seen kids with new diplomas hate the field they are in or realize for the first time that the salary of the job they thought they wanted won’t support a family.
When you help your teens try out different careers, you add a rich dimension to their world so that high school becomes a meaningful time filled with discovery. College is purposeful and professional life is rewarding. Time spent early on prevents a great deal of pain later.
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