High school is the time to think about your career, but not to decide it
When I was going to high school — back in the Dark Ages of the 1970’s — teachers and counselors would talk about possible careers, but unless you were moving into a vocational education program, no one expected you to decide on a career right then. College was meant to the be place where you ‘found yourself’. Today, though, we have magnet schools — for junior high aged children — dedicated to zoology, journalism, science, arts, performing arts, math, engineering and more. It seems to me that, more and more, we are asking children to decide on their carers earlier and earlier. As someone who has yet to decide “What I want to be when I grow up”, I find this a bit troubling. For me, childhood is about discovering what you might want to do with the rest of your life, not deciding.
This topic came to mind as I have more and more discussions with my now high school-aged son about what he might want to study in college and perhaps what he might like to do as a career. Despite my unease with an overly specific study focus, he is a part of the “Tech” program at his school. That said, the best thing about this program is it still fairly general within the overall “tech” focus. They talk about programming, but also about technology’s wide ranging possibilities. They spend time on 2D/3D game design, but still dig into the nuts and bolts of hardware and software and even work in robotics and accounting.
Obviously, my son had an interest in technology, so getting a bit more specific in high school was certainly a good idea. It can help him dig a little deeper into the career possibilities of technology and perhaps even dissuade him from pursuing a technology career if he finds it doesn’t meet his wants and needs. Over several recent discussions with him, though, I have reinforced that he needs not DECIDE right now. What he studies now is not what he is destined to study later. Heck, I graduated college with a theater degree as a lighting specialist, but now spend my days immersed in the technology world. I had no way of knowing, even in college, where my career was going to lead me.
It has always been my belief that, as a parent, it is my role to expose my son to as many different ideas and possibilities as I can, so that he can make more of an informed decision on his own career. Sure, he sees me working in technology and that has developed an interest in him that is only natural. Like most teenage boys, he has also developed a deep interest in gaming. In that regard, I have talked with him about the art and logic design, writing and the overall storytelling aspects of gaming as well. It is my guess that he will probably find his career in some combination of technology and another field. This is something I am seeing more and more these days. I think it is at the intersection of technology and other career fields that we will see the most amazing developments in the coming years. He needs to be free — in his thinking and his actions — to pursue career ideas that reside at these intersections.
Throughout all our discussions though, I always remind him that he need not decide right now what he wants to do for the rest of his life. For me, high school (and even college) are still times for exploration and experimentation in your career. It is through this exploration that you come to the best decision about the work that is the most interesting and the most “right” for you. Trying to decide this too soon can limit your thinking and your possibilities. Even worse, it might lead you down the wrong track, from which you will have to backtrack and start again.
Whenever you can, help the young people around you investigate, try out, try on and play with a variety of career ideas. Expose them to as many possibilities as possible so that they can make the best decision for themselves when the time comes. It is in these experimentations that they will unlock their life’s work and truly develop the career they deserve.