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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