Choosing a Path, Choosing a Major

ChoosingaPathLots of parents and teachers ask teenagers, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is a terrible question – not because of what is asked, but because of how it gets answered.  Ask any teen this question, and they’ll probably not give you a straight answer.  They’ll tell you what their friends have told them they should do, or their guidance counselor, or a teacher, or a grandparent… or what you’ve said they should do.  Choosing what someone else would have you do is no way to go about choosing a major, much less choose a path in life.

How do you get your kids to think about – and choose – their own path in life?  How do you help them choose a path, without choosing one for them?

Here’s a great exercise:  Find a bit of quiet time with your teen, and start this conversation:

“Imagine you’re 28 years old.”  (This is ANCIENT to a teenager.)  “It’s your birthday.  You have some money, no debt, and no kids – and today you’re going to go do something fun on your birthday.  Today is your day.  What do you want to do today?”

What is your teen going to say?  What will it mean?  “I would go SCUBA diving.”  “I would go horseback riding.”  “I would fly a plane.”  Whatever he says, take a pause, and point out that THIS is what he might want to “be” when he grows up.  Pick an activity or interest, and there’s an opportunity to make a career out of it.  Of course, this might mean working for yourself, rather than for someone else.

Do you enjoy going in to work every morning?  How would life be different if what  you looked forward to most was a day at work?  Many people spend a lot of time working a job (a J. O. B.) that they don’t enjoy – to earn the money to spend on what they really want to do.  What if you started with what you really wanted to do, and figured out how to make that a job?

I’ve had a lot of different jobs on my career path.  They’ve all circled around a central theme – I love math.  Math is fun and interesting, and I get paid to perform mathematical analysis.  I look forward to going to work, and solving new problems each day.  I hope that my kids get an opportunity to truly love their career path – and I intend to help them discover it.  It all starts with a simple question:

“What do you want to do today?”


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