Are Parents Giving Their Children Good Career Advice?

Steam Shovel
My son is entering high school next year. Not long ago he asked me if that was when he should start thinking about a career and it led to a long and interesting discussion.

We talked about what sort of work he might find interesting and discussed how interests sometimes change over time. He asked a few questions about how I figured out what I wanted to do and segued into his mom and grandparents and then he fell asleep.

One of the things he asked me about was whether the job you get is one you like and if it pays enough to make it worthwhile.

It got me thinking about a letter Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs posted on his Facebook page regarding work and passion and how it applies to parenting.  I copied a section for you to see, any section in bold was added by me.

“Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though it’s wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”

Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”

Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

There are many examples – including those you mention – of passionate people with big dreams who stayed the course, worked hard, overcame adversity, and changed the world though sheer pluck and determination. We love stories that begin with a dream, and culminate when that dream comes true. And to your question, we would surely be worse off without the likes of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and all the other innovators and Captains of Industry. But from my perspective, I don’t see a shortage of people who are willing to dream big. I see people struggling because their reach has exceeded their grasp.”

I haven’t done any research so I can’t tell you if is accurate to say millions of jobs are unfilled or how much those jobs pay.

Are Parents Giving Their Children Good Career Advice?

Most of my friends come from middle or upper middle class backgrounds and had parents who were in your typical white collar jobs. My guess is quite a few of us were told to study hard so we would get into good colleges and graduate to get good jobs.

My parents didn’t speak poorly or teach me to look down at blue collar workers but I do remember my father suggesting I might prefer to strive for a position where strong hands and a strong back weren’t requirements.

We worked on enough projects around the house for me to believe it was good advice and with relatively few exceptions the work I have done since has fallen into the white collar province and not blue.

However in the years that have passed since I graduated college I have wondered from time to time if maybe I should have become a plumber or electrician because from the outside looking in it seemed like they offered better job security.

People seem less likely to hire the cheapest plumber/electrician. Again, I don’t have any stats so my perspective may be flawed.

Anyhoo, when I think about what sort of advice to give my children I am torn between wanting to push them to chase their dreams and follow their passion versus going after jobs that are less likely to be downsized not to mention lend themselves to putting them in the position to be their own boss.

It is also fair to say I have seen some of those that Rowe says have over reached and that some of that can be attributed to parents who didn’t allow themselves or their children to recognize their limitations.

Is It Fair?

Is it fair for me to say these things?

Maybe yes and maybe no.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter because my children are free to ignore any advice I choose to dispense as is anyone else who reads this.  It is up to people to determine whether it makes sense or not.

If Rowe’s assertion that millions of positions go unfilled is accurate it definitely makes sense to take a harder look at them. It might make far more sense for people to avoid taking out thousands of dollars in school loans and start making some cash sooner than later. Invest it well and you might find yourself living a nicer life and or retiring sooner than the people who chase after passion.

But then again how much does regret cost?

There is no single right answer, just the joy of the journey.

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  1. Sital Thomas June 4, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Things have gone a little far as earlier. Today the career approach is on high demand as it was couple of days earlier. End of the day, the result has to be fruitful. parents no doubt are exclusively concerned about their children career. But due to lack of knowledge in the current scene, most of the cases the the path shown by parents go in the opposite direction. And this goes on and on with generation after generation. For a profitable end result, I believe leaving children to take their own decisions which they are passionate about. Any guidance over that should be extended for more fruitful output.

  2. Carolyn Nicander Mohr October 9, 2014 at 5:20 am

    Hi Josh, Yes, I have read that the difference between our kids’ generation and ours is that our kids’ generation expect that their job will be in their passion and they don’t want to take jobs they’re not passionate about, no matter what the pay. They figure that so long as they do something they love then they won’t have to worry about being successful.

    My husband asked our twins if they would be willing to work at a job that they didn’t enjoy but paid well versus a job they liked but didn’t pay well. One twin said she only wanted to work at a job she enjoyed but figured she would be successful at it and do well because she enjoyed it.

    The other twin said she would take a job that she didn’t enjoy but that paid well so that she could do the things she enjoyed with the money she earned from her job.

    You’re right, there is no correct answer but I do expect there will be a lot of disappointed adults who are desperately seeking their passion in their careers.

    • Josh October 9, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      @wonderoftech:disqus Your twins gave similar answers to comments I have heard from other kids. I have some acquaintances that are attorneys but haven’t enjoyed practicing for years now but they gutted it out because of the pay and the plan to retire early.

      I am not necessarily a big fan of doing that sort of thing either, but if you don’t have to worry about paying your bills and the job isn’t making you sick or killing your soul…

  3. Lori Gosselin October 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Hi Josh,
    This made me think of the post I just put in the Mastermind Group. I agree with you – the advice to follow your passion is incomplete. I think what we really mean (when we say this to our children) is that they should follow a passion they have more than half a chance of being good at and one that pays well 🙂

    • Josh October 9, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      @lorigosselin:disqus I wrestle with this. I don’t want to kill their dreams with cold water nor do I want to see them struggle endlessly chasing after a star that may forever be out of reach. Maybe you have the balance there.

  4. Steve Rice October 8, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    This is interesting…The analogy you give of the celebrities giving “follow your passion” advice is right on…however what most of those people leave out in a 90-second Oscar acceptance speech is the hard work they had to go through. The number of horrible movies they worked in or plays they performed in dodgy theaters. They leave out the luck factor–that conspiracy of the Universe that happens once in a while when it finds you working your ass off and never giving up.

    So to say “don’t give up” without also saying “you’ll need to do a lot of things that suck or that you don’t want to do” is misleading at best and disingenuous at worst.

    We’re all here just trying to figure it out and following one’s passion is only a part or one step in uncovering a life well-lived.

    • Josh October 9, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      @Steve_Rice:disqus That is actually Mike Rowe’s analogy and not mine but I agree with much of what he said. I hear what you are saying about not knowing how much crap the actors went through on their way to the ‘top.’ I think luck has a lot more to do with life than some people realize.

      Julia Louis Dreyfus is very talented but she also comes from enormous wealth. That provides her with the ability to take chances others don’t always have. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve the accolades but when you have a safety net it enables you to do other stuff.

      I do believe good things come from working your ass off, but the question is what sort of reward/benefit do you get and how long does it take.

      Your point about making sure people understand you’ll probably need to do things that suck and that you don’t want to is spot on.

      • Steve Rice October 10, 2014 at 11:26 am

        @TheJoshuaWilner:disqus – you’re right. Good point about the role that financial stability/security and privilege play into the ability to take risks.

        Everyone’s got their path, but I’m acutely aware of that difference for example you and I. In a two person household, we can take far more “risk” bets than you can with children and outside obligations to weigh.

        That’s not to say that either of us is busting ass any less/more than the other. It’s just that the sacrifices you make are different than the ones I make. For example, we have chosen not to settle over the past 4-ish years so that we can be free to follow Jason’s career opportunities. I have put my career literally on hold for a couple of years for the most part, working odd jobs or menial work to allow us to strike while the iron’s hot in Jason’s world.

        Now, I’m getting a chance to make my own way, but I have a total different “safety net” that we’ve built which allows me to make moves differently than someone else would or could.

        Your original point about teaching children about career and life is daunting. How do you teach risk management, asset production and allocation and a strong work ethic when every path in life is so unique?

        I think you have to do what you’re doing. Give em the best damn example you can. Face your own demons and teach them the foundational values that will support them on their own journey. I don’t know if I could do it. My hat is off to you, sir. 🙂

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