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Medicine or modelling? Journalism or engineering? Sports or sciences? Teenagers today are faced with a multitude of choices when choosing a career. As parents and teachers, we are often faced with the difficult task to help them navigate and come up with the 'right' choice. But do we really know what's right for them? And if we know that a certain not-so-lucrative career is right for them in terms of leveraging their strengths and interests, should we advise them away from it towards more financially secure and stable choices?
Studies show that people who have pursued careers in their areas of passion are thrice more likely to be happy and successful than their peers who have made career choices on extrinsic factors like money and status alone. According to the Hedgehog Principle, satisfying careers are those where people have found the intersection between their passions, skills and marketability. In the absence of the first two, we parents generally end up pushing our children towards what we feel are highly marketable or high paying jobs. We then try sending them to the best schools in the hope that they will pick up the skills to perform those jobs well, and hope and pray that they will eventually find the passion to do those jobs.
But is there a different way to approach this? In conversation with a number of parents who have navigated this journey successfully, here are 5 things I found to be common amongst all of them:
1. Have Conversations: The only way to do this is thru constant, and non-judgmental conversations. Parents and teachers are the two most significant adults in a teenager's life (whether they show it or not). In the rush of syllabi yet to complete and classes yet to attend, we tend to forget how crucial it is to connect with a child. Our interactions with children tend to remain at a functional level and go no deeper than knowing that they have just fought with their best friend. But in times when teenagers need a constant reassuring and non-dominating presence in their lives, having open conversations is invaluable both to the teen and the adult.
2. Gift them the Power of Choice: Children often believe that they don't really have a say in matters relating to choice of subjects or choice of career. Even if parents appear supportive, the stress of scores and high cut-offs for entrances make them question their judgment, and they eventually give in to extrinsic pressures. This is turn gets translated to how the child views the gamut of choices (or lack thereof). Change gears a bit - try having an inside out conversation instead of an outside in one. Instead of discussing career choices based on marks the child has obtained, try talking about what your child wants to pursue as a career, and thus what efforts will be needed (including, but not limited to, marks) for your child to get there. This naturally will necessitate the need for my next point, i.e.
3. Start Early On: As aware parents and teachers, we need to start discussing our child's areas of interest in early teenage years. Don't wait for them to reach 9th or 10th grade to start having these conversations, as they are already too far gone into preparing for high scores in all subjects, and that ubiquitous race for marks that will qualify them for 'science' streams. An early start to a conversation with your child on his/her areas of passion and interests will not only give you more preparation time to understand your teenager and their choices better, but also give them ample opportunity and time to prepare for subjects that truly interest them.
4. Get them to Start Thinking: Every young person, by virtue of their intrinsic value system and extrinsic experiences, develops a certain set of professional values. These may not be demonstrated at this stage since they are not in a professional set up, but chances are that as they grow into their professional lives, they will hold this set of values as guiding lights to their adult decisions. As adults, we can help them recognise and hone (or question) some of these values. Try having dinner table discussions around real life situations and gauge their reactions. If your teenager is a cricket fan, try talking to him about what he thought the captain could have done differently in the last game and why. If she is studying the Indian independence struggle in history, ask her opinion about the pros and cons of British rule beyond what's written in her text books.
5. Listen: This sounds basic, but is the singularly most important skill while dealing with teenagers from whacky to sweet to calm to irritable. The more you listen, the more you'll find out about those amazing (and sometimes baffling) things going on in their minds. Kids need someone non-judgmental to speak to. So if you won't do it, they'll go find someone else.
As per a study released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Higher Education, 6 of the top 10 jobs today didn't even exist 5 years ago. There is a high likelihood that jobs that we haven't even heard of or imagined today, will become mainstream tomorrow. In this fast-paced world, it is foolhardy to imagine that we will be able to predict what careers our kids will be successful in tomorrow; it is in fact a lost race even before it has started. Instead, let's arm them with the insight and knowledge about what they are truly good at, and give them the confidence to follow through with their dreams.