Recently, a stranger told me his grandson was about to graduate from high school. He said, “I told him he needs to go to college and he should definitely be an engineer. Being an engineer is a great profession. Don’t you think he should be an engineer?”

“I’ve never met your grandson, and without knowing who he is, what his strengths are, and what he’s passionate about, I can’t say what career he would enjoy. I think it’s great when people choose a career where their strengths and passions combine,” I said.

He cocked his head sideways at me. “Hmmmph,” he scoffed. “Passion. Nobody’s passionate about their job. A job is a job,” he ranted.

I smiled at him, and politely disagreed, telling him that it is possible to do work you absolutely love.

When it comes to choosing a career, people are given all kinds of awful advice, including:

“Choose the prestigious career.”

“Choose the career that will give you the most money.”

“Choose the safe path.”

“A job is just a job. Work isn’t meant to be fulfilling.”

“So-and-so likes her job, so you should do that too.” Or, the opposite: “So-and-so hates his job, so you should never do that.”

We spend many hours each week, decade after decade, doing work. Doing work you love makes life much more fulfilling. Therefore, it’s imperative we do a good job of guiding and encouraging our children in their quest to find and do work they love.

According to this article, 80 percent of college students in the United States change their major at least once. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that college students change their major at least three times on average during their college career. Choosing a major, and changing it multiple times, can be a stressful time for students.

When students are in college, they frequently don’t have the life experiences or self-knowledge yet to choose a career path that will best fit them.

Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help your child navigate these decisions.

Here are some tips to help your child choose a career.

1. Resist treating your child as an extension of you

Your child is a unique individual. They are not you. The things that might drive you absolutely crazy about a certain job might be the things they absolutely love doing. Resist the urge to tell your child to avoid a certain path just because it’s something that doesn’t interest you. Your child might not be interested in attending your alma mater or doing the work you do.

2. Help your child discover their strengths and passions

Encourage your child to visit with a career counselor to take aptitude tests. The Myers-Briggs test, Strong Inventory, and Holland Code were three of the tests I found beneficial when redesigning my career path. While I don’t recommend basing huge decisions off of one test, I do believe it’s very beneficial to take a variety of assessments and look for patterns among the results. If your child is interested in a career that doesn’t appear to line up with their natural strengths, that doesn’t mean you need to immediately rule out that option as a career. Instead, brainstorm how your child could bring their innate strengths to that field. Their uncommon perspective and strengths in that field could allow them to make a very unique, valuable contribution.

Have them take the strengths assessment in the book Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Pay attention to what comes easily to them that others seem to struggle with. Having a great understanding of their innate strengths will enable you to help them maximize these strengths. Also, help them figure out what lights them up. This is a free workbook to help people discover their passions. I encourage you to print it out and have each member of your family complete it.

3. Help find a mentor for your child

Seek a positive, encouraging role model for your child. If your child shows strong interest in a certain career path, help your child find an inspiring mentor in that field. Having a great mentor can fuel your child’s career aspirations.

4. Expose your child to a variety of activities to see what piques their interest

Give your child opportunities to try new activities. Expose them to nature, the arts, science, museums, animals, travel, people…there are so many opportunities to enjoy together. Pay attention to what piques their interest. If there is a subject they are curious about or they shows excitement toward, encourage them to learn more about that topic. Oftentimes, the decision to choose a certain line of work comes gradually, as people continue to explore their interests more deeply.

5. Find your tribe, and encourage your child to find theirs

As Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” As a parent, have you built a wonderful tribe of people around you? And, are you encouraging your child to find their tribe? Challenge your child to get out of their comfort zone and get involved. Whether it’s sports, a service organization, a business club, or any of the many other possibilities, encourage your child to spend time with inspiring peers. Who your child chooses to hang out with can greatly affect how big they dream, what they believe is possible, and the opportunities they seek. Having an amazing tribe of people in their life will help them grow into their full potential and can affect many decisions they make.

6. Set a great example

Your child watches your every move, so work on being a great example of doing work you enjoy. When your child sees you building a career you really love, they will know that it’s possible for them to also find and do work they love. You’re never too old to spend more time doing what you love, so seek what lights you up and do more of what you love and less of the unimportant junk.

7. Be patient and encouraging

Remind your child that the quest to do work they loves is often a long process of self-discovery and experimenting. They may change course as they navigate their career path. Be patient with your child during these difficult decisions, and encourage them to keep learning more about themselves so they can keep growing into the amazing person they are meant to be.

Featured photo credit: Southern Arkansas University/https://flickr.com via flickr.com

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