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Steering Clear of Bias: How to Guide Your Kids to Smarter Career Choices


Sure, it might feel like your kid’s primary aim in life is to avoid listening to you. Bring a jacket? Ha. Bring the dishes from their room to the sink? Yeah right. Put your phone down at the dinner table? Not today!

However, they hang on to your every word regarding their future career choices. Why? Because there’s so much at stake. They feel the stress and pressure to earn a living, which is heavy at any age. 

But they also feel the added pressure to be “happy” about their job. We’ve put that on them—our generation moved away from seeing work as a means to an end, but many of us ended up taking a path of less resistance to meet our parent’s expectations. In short, we’re not all that happy with our choices, so we double-downed on our advice to our kids: whatever you do, make sure it lights you up

*  For a deeper dive, don’t tell your kids to be happy in their careers. Read the article here or watch the episode

So yeah, we want our kids to be happy, and we have a certain nuanced definition of what that means. Entering stage left: biased thinking

We all have unconscious biases about what ‘good’ or ‘happy’ people do (or don’t do) regarding their careers. Without realizing it, we make mental shortcuts and inadvertently steer our kids toward or away from options that are actually worth considering. 

For example, I remember sharing with my parents at a young age that I would like to become an elementary school teacher when I get older. They quickly shared how hard it would be for me to provide for my family. I immediately shut that option down, in addition to pursuing any career in education. (Ironically, thirty years later, I was fully in the field of education, providing for my family.) 

Daniel Kahneman, who recently passed away, was a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and pioneer in the field of behavioral economics. He helped popularize the notion of bias in our decision-making process, especially related to investing in the stock market. People perceive their own behavior as logical and rational rather than emotional. Still, he proved that hardly anyone operates that way through a series of simple research studies over decades. His theories extend to the decisions we make regarding our careers, as well. Two biases jump out at me that I want to avoid when I set out to guide my kids well:

The availability bias: what you’ve heard recently or often must be true. For example, you saw a news report about big tech companies laying off thousands of workers due to the implications of AI technology. When you hear your kid mention being interested in the tech industry, your knee-jerk reaction is to caution them about the unavailability of jobs and the instability of the entire industry. 

The anchoring bias: what comes to mind first is what must be true. For example, when you hear your kid consider a career in finance, the first thing you recall is hearing a story about a neighbor on your street where you grew up going bankrupt. He worked in finance, so you inherently assume it’s too risky. Your counsel to your kid is tainted; they feel your intensity and fear for their wellbeing and shut that option down.

Years ago, a mom was upset with me, assuming that I would steer her daughter towards a career in the arts, where, in her mind, she would be “broke for life.” She had heard me talk about helping students discover and define their own autonomous selves and carve out a unique path for themselves. Despite her big emotions, another parent jumped in and shared about her career in graphic design. She had started out as a “starving artist” when she was just out of college, making her parents worry about her welfare. But she stuck with her talents, interests, and ambitions and now ran a successful design agency employing a dozen others. I watched this wonderful exchange between two caring, involved parents and was impressed with the original upset mom who confessed her anxiety and biases. Fast forward a decade, and one of her daughters is a product designer in a creative agency. Who knew?

Here’s the TL;DR of this article: Your kids will look to you for career advice. Don’t make the mistake of passing along your biases to them. Your role is to broaden their thinking and guide them through a process that will help them make better, wiser decisions for themselves that will set them up well for the long term. Of course, you don’t know everything, but you know more than they do. They trust your input. So take stock of your emotional responses as they share their ideas, and deal with them appropriately (like deep breathing, prayer, journaling, telling your therapist, or meditation). Don’t allow your fears or assumptions to taint the advice and guidance you give. Assume there’s more to discover and help them explore their options.


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For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

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