I still remember getting into my mom’s car in third grade after school one day and being so excited to announce my career plans: I would become an elementary school teacher, just like my hero, Mr. Bailey. My mom quickly responded, “Oh honey, that’s such a good idea, but something you need to consider is that teachers don’t make very much money. Look at your dad, working hard in business. He’s able to provide for a family in a way he couldn’t if he were a teacher.”
Truth delivered? Maybe. Dreams dashed? Certainly.
My mom is not the enemy in this story. Every good parent would do the same. I’ve given the same perspective and advice to my three kids. One of them said they wanted to live at the beach when they grew up and surf every day. I was super quick to inform him about oceanfront home prices and the type of career he would need to afford to live there in the future.
Helping our kids develop a plan to become self-sufficient is part of our job.
But in so doing, is it possible that we might steer them too far away from their dreams? Out of our own anxiety, it’s too easy to beat the drum of responsibility, the burden of paying for your own way, and deny yourself anything close to a fulfilling career. After all, effective parenting is difficult to evaluate—but if a parent can successfully launch their kids to pay their own bills, that’s easy to spot as a failure.
That’s why it’s crucial to learn the art of the both / and when it comes to future conversations with kids. Pursuing a passion is rarely mutually exclusive with being responsible and earning a good living. It’s usually a problem of our awareness and imagination.
We want to encourage kids to identify and pursue areas of interest and passion, even if it doesn’t seem like a conventional career path or something we’re familiar with. But we also want to help them think wisely about earnings potential and the realities of what it costs to live in this world. We don’t need to have that conversation at the same time. In fact, it’s much more helpful to pendulate between those conversations over time. Ask them questions about what they think it costs to live in certain places. Then give them the sobering news.
The more they learn to think on both sides of the discussion, from passion and interests on one side and the practical realities of required education, costs of living, and earnings potential on the other.
Lastly, they might not need to narrow down their career path just yet. They may need to explore more until they find something that lights them up. Don’t panic. Turn that anxious energy into exposing them to more career opportunities, starting with your friends, family, and neighborhood connections and going from there.
In the meantime, take some time to reflect: What’s your ultimate goal for your kids? Is it happiness or wealth? Is it fulfillment or security? What about both?
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).