Career Guidance for Young Teens

The Need for Early Guidance

A few kids know from a very early age what they want to pursue as a career, and it turns out that their talents and interests match up perfectly. For them, career guidance is a non-issue, but for the vast majority of children, the opposite is true. My own experience was more typical.

By the time I turned 20, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, and I did not even have any clear understanding of the options available to me. I had a lot going for me – a good work ethic, a solid set of academic skills, no disabilities, no addictions, decent social skills, and some athletic and artistic talent. In addition, I was going to graduate from a respected university, free and clear of debt, thanks to my family. So, on paper, I had it all. But I was totally blind. I had no vision for my career. I was enrolled as a journalism major simply because I loved to write and keep up with current events, but I had just discovered that reporting was clearly not for me. My parents, for all their positive traits and overall support of me, provided no career guidance. I was on my own. So I went camping.

On a very hot day, I sat on a rock overlooking Inks Lake in central Texas, and I pondered all the things I should have already known. I asked myself: Continue reading “Career Guidance for Young Teens”

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I Wish You Failure

Once again, I offer an article from NPR’s This I Believe.  Jon Carroll started at the San Francisco Chronicle editing the crossword puzzle and writing TV listings. He has been a columnist for the paper since 1982.

Last week, my granddaughter started kindergarten, and, as is conventional, I wished her success. I was lying. What I actually wish for her is failure. I believe in the power of failure.

Success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time, which can often be a problematical victory. First-time success is usually a fluke. First-time failure, by contrast, is expected; it is the natural order of things.

Failure is how we learn. Continue reading “I Wish You Failure”

The Race to Nowhere

The Race to Nowhere is a film that will make you think deeply about what a good education looks like.  It will challenge your beliefs about the nature of homework, AP classes, and college preparation.  You will re-think what a “successful kid” should do in middle school, high school, and college because, in many ways, what we as a society think about that fundamental question is dead wrong.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or administrator, this is a must-see documentary because it points out some very powerful flaws in our educational system and offers some good solutions.  Unlike other recent films about American schools, it does not demand more from students, parents, and teachers; in many ways it asks for less.  It will get you thinking and talking.

There are more screenings popping up around the country, and it will eventually be a DVD to purchase.  Check it out.

If this trailer resonates with you, and you’d like a greater sense of what this movie is all about, here is what the filmmakers suggest parents do in response to their film:

Continue reading “The Race to Nowhere”

Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask

Here are some of the big questions kids (10-14) have, although they will rarely, if ever, vocalize them.  Understanding the questions is half the battle; having all the answers is not necessary, even if it were possible.

Who are my real friends?  Who really likes me?  In which group do I belong?

Who am I?  How am I like and different from others my age?

What will I do with my life?  Will I be important?

What sort of career and family will I have?

What will I look and act like when I am a grown up?

Am I cool?

Am I respected?

Continue reading “Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask”

Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis

If you are growing old well, then you are likely to help a child grow up well.

40 is not old, but it’s certainly not young either.  It’s the start of mid-life, and it has a well-earned, dangerous reputation.  It’s when so many people have an inner crisis, even if life is sailing along smoothly on the outside.  At some point disappointment, boredom, or depression accompany the person who has a career, a family, a home, a community, and all the subsequent stress of being responsible for so much.  In addition, health problems of all kinds begin to flare up by 40, which remind us that we are decaying in far more ways than we are growing.

Many 40-somethings have established their career, have gotten married, have had a few kids, and have bought all the things they need and most of the things they want.  They have arrived at their life destination, and they wonder, “This is it?”

For others, they are still building the best  life they can, and they feel the crushing weight of pressure from what they have constructed.  There are too many things to do, too many people to care for, too many problems to solve – just too many responsibilities in every area of life.  They are caring for children, spouses, friends, employees, and even aging parents.  They get to a point where they simply cannot balance it all anymore; it’s all just too much.  In frustration they cry out, “There just isn’t enough me to go around!”

It’s a tough time of life, indeed, and for some it’s just too much, so they pull the ripcord of life.  They give up on something big, like their marriage, their kids, or their career.  Sometimes they chuck it all at once.  Or they just give up trying very hard at anything, settling into a comfortably complacent lifestyle.  They fall prey to the consumer-centered suburban lifestyle, and they go out to pasture.

So what’s a mid-lifer to do?  Well, after spending four days in Colorado with some of my favorite 40-ish guys, I’m ready to convey a few suggestions based on our conversations.  I’m sorry if any of this seems trite; I realize that all of these things are a lot easier said than done.  But hopefully, it will help in some way – for your sake, and for your kids.

  1. Focus. Identify your top four or five priorities in life and focus on them — to the detriment of all else.  Set your sights on just a few things that you are passionate about and that you have valued for a long time.  For me (at this point in my life) it’s family, faith, teaching, and writing.  If I can do those things well, then I am on the right track.  But that may mean that I am not going to keep up with all my friends very well.  It means that I am not going to be able to play golf, read a novel a month, or hone my guitar skills anytime soon.  I have to face facts: I can only do so much.  Trying to do it all is living in a fantasy world (see #4 below).  Learn to accept mediocrity in the less important areas of your life. Continue reading “Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis”

Youth Sports is a Means to a Greater End

Every parent of an athletic child wonders if their kid has a shot at the big time.  Well, let’s look at some hard facts related to this question. Just 2 percent of varsity high school athletes will play their sport in college, and only 1 percent will get a scholarship to do so.  Let’s take basketball as an example.  Roughly 1 basketball player from all the athletes from 8 high school teams will get a scholarship.  How many high school basketball players make it to the professional level?  0.03% Yes, that is 3 in 10,000 who make an income playing basketball.  Far less will make the big money in the NBA.  And very few of them play for very long.  The truth of the matter is brutal.  9,997 varsity high school players don’t ever make any money playing basketball; 3 do.  Of those three, two will earn about $40,000 a year in a foreign league until younger players replace them in about five years.  1 in 10,000 will gain some fame and fortune playing ball.

So kids may dream of playing pro ball, but it’s a fantasy for all but a very, very, very few who are extraordinarily talented, extremely hardworking, and exceedingly fortunate to avoid injuries and be seen by the right people at the right time.

So, is it foolish to pursue excellence in sports in high school?  Absolutely not!  But it’s essential that student athletes understand that sports is a great teacher, but it’s a lousy employer (because it isn’t hiring).  Athletics is a means, not an end.  It can teach young people valuable lessons and instill noble character traits that are extremely useful in their careers and in their relationships.

But too many kids and parents are burdened with the belief that they can do it.  They will be the next LeBron James, Roger Federer, or Albert Pujols.  I say “burdened” because the overwhelming evidence says that they will not achieve anywhere near that level of success.  And the result is a young life that is very often ultra-competitive, over-scheduled, and hyper-stressed.   Burnout is common.  Injuries can be severe (torn ACL’s and rotator cuffs among preteens are not unusual now).  Resentment often looms ahead.

Stephen Durant is an expert in youth sports, and his book Whose Game Is It, Anyway? has some excellent advice for parents and coaches of great young athletes.

1.  “Emphasize the development of virtue and character over scoreboard outcome. The development of a good character — the ability to control passion, emotion, and behavior — will always stand children in good stead on and off the playing field… Children, at any talent level, can only be truly successful in life if they possess good character.  Becoming an emotionally balanced person of courage, fairness, self-discipline, and strong ability to work as a member of a team, sets up a person for success in any endeavor, in any place” (Durant).

Continue reading “Youth Sports is a Means to a Greater End”

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

Chess Builds Brains

Chess is one of the best educational games of all time.  Even the most casual player will admit that the game forces you to think critically —  just to stay alive and not look like a fool.  There is no way to simply stroll through even a single move in chess.  You must think creatively and carefully before each move.  And while some may say that kids today are not capable of sitting still for an hour to play a game that has no electric power source, there are millions of kids today proving that assumption wrong.  Kids who play chess will tell you that it’s fun and challenging and they wish more kids would join in with them.

Now, there are other games which require similar thinking skills, but there may not be a better game for sheer educational value.  The number of thoughts per minute is staggering.  Offensive options, defensive trouble-shooting, cause-effect relationships, spatial awareness, calculating numbers, imagination, and creative thinking are just a few of the thought processes that are involved in every move.

Continue reading “Chess Builds Brains”

The Great Abigail Adams

John Adams was a man of tremendous intellect and inner strength.  With the aid of Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers, he set the legal and political foundations of the United States of America.

As a rebel, he was the intellectual force of the revolution against England.  His words in support of reason and law were the balancing force to the raw anger and violent ways of his cousin Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty.  Without him, the revolution would not have taken root in the solid ground of law.

As a writer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, he put his whole life (career, family, friendships…) on the line.  Using his intellect, his pen, and his voice, he helped defeat the most powerful force in the world, the King of England, for the freedom of American people and their descendants.

Continue reading “The Great Abigail Adams”

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