Five Tools to Help Your Teen Choose Their Career Direction

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Guest Post by Paula Grieco

You’re never too young to start dreaming big. -Unknown

Recently, I was speaking to a high school senior who was looking forward to experiencing college life, but also described herself as “completely lost” about what to study. This is no surprise because she’s just getting started. (Although given the current price tag of college, her parents may prefer if she narrowed down her direction sometime soon.) BUT it is also not surprising because our primary educational system spends little time helping students figure out a vocational path. The long-term impact of finding meaningful work is significant and one indicator of overall happiness and sense of purpose, with some surveys indicating as many as 90 percent of the workforce is unhappy at their jobs.

There are no magic solutions, though parents and school communities could do much more to help teens begin to gain clarity on what direction is right for them. Being open and exploring during high school and college is one obvious one, but there are many tools and processes that can help significantly - and in some cases save years of wandering whether you’re 18 or 48 years old - including the following:

1.    Go beyond the career fair. You can be what you can see. Provide children and teens with opportunities for repeated exposure to a variety of inspirational role models and vocations who are following both unique and common work paths  - yes even online.  But don’t stop there. Get  into the habit of noting (as in literally writing down) when and why a particular career direction or person is inspiring or interesting to them. They will more than likely see patterns over time. Here are a couple of examples to get started: Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, now known for her work linking long-term health with childhood stress and Amanda Steinberg is a computer programmer turned entrepreneur. Her current venture is DailyWorth which provides a fresh perspective on becoming a financially independent, savvy investor

2.    Teach the power of structured self-reflection through journaling. One invaluable tool that’s rarely used in our busy culture is self-reflection. I’ll go out on a limb and say most teens (people) know more than think they do RIGHT NOW about what career direction is right for them. Teens need time, space and the right questions to consider what issues they care about, what types of activities they enjoy, whether they prefer to work alone or with others, or what types of problems they like to solve. All based on their experiences in life so far. This isn’t about creating a 10 year career plan at 12 years old, but rather listening to yourself and seeing patterns and opportunities over time based on values and interests.

3.    Embrace curious action. Encourage your teen to be continually curious and expectant about their options, but without pressure to have immediate answers or to worry about being wrong. Remind them that one class, one conversation, the next volunteer opportunity or internship can ignite a new sense of purpose or provide an unexpected insight.

4.    Don’t downsize your child’s dream before she starts. Once in a conversation, a parent mentioned that a particular profession would be good for another parent’s daughter because the hours would be flexible when she has a family. Um, your 15 year old should be dreaming big not considering whether or not she’ll be able to work part-time in the future. Here is one better option for starters: invest in your education and career so as to be sought after... and you’ll have many options for flexibility if and when you want it.

5.    Money is a consideration. Passion for work and taking care of oneself financially do not have to be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the topic is often a loaded one for adults based on their own experiences. Despite societal messages to the contrary, money in itself is neither good nor evil; it should neither dominant or be ignored in conversations about career. Focus on how making money can be used to make a positive difference in the world and as a mechanism to provide freedom and choices. For example...When looking at two good options, why not choose the path that is more likely to be financially lucrative? Or...With the right plan, you can both take care of yourself financially and be working on the next great novel.

As for my young friend who felt “clueless” about “what to do with her life”, just a short conversation revealed that she wasn’t as “lost” as she thought and as it turned out did have some clear preferences and interests to explore further.

Take 5

Write down 1-2 values you want to intentionally impart to your child about work. As you talk to your child about their dreams, consider how your own childhood experiences influence your values and perspective.


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Paula Grieco is a former start-up tech executive turned social entrepreneur, writer, and business/goal coach. She is the founder and owner of The Brave Core and has released two guidebooks on goal setting, Take 5 for Your Dreams for teens and Reclaim Your Dreams Workbook for busy women. Her work has been featured in: The Boston GlobeOnline Christian Science MonitorTinybuddhaThe Good Men ProjectSheHeros, and She Can’t What. It matters deeply to her that every person has an opportunity to live their best life with a particular commitment to gender equity through career and economic empowerment for women and girls of all backgrounds. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two teenagers, and dog, Henry. For more about Paula's coaching, visit paulagrieco.com or she'd love to hear from you: paula@paulagrieco.com 


PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.