Help Your Daughter Find Her Career "Sweet Spot"
Help your daughter choose a career path that will bring her happiness and success. (And, learn which mistakes to avoid!)
People are usually pretty surprised to hear this, but my original major was Aerospace Engineering. I was good at math and science and the school I went to had the best program in the country. But when I read the course catalogue, reality set in. I was looking at 6(!) semesters of Calculus and Analytical Geometry. With accompanying labs. My eyes glazed over. And then panic set in. Just because I was good at doing differential equations didn’t mean I wanted to do them for the rest of my life! So I flipped through the catalogue to find a major with classes I could actually get excited about. And I found Psychology. I am so glad I made that swap, because I LOVE my job. If I can’t sleep at night, it’s because I’m that excited about a presentation I’m preparing for. Do you want your daughter to have a successful career she’s that excited about? Then read on!
The truth is that the things we love don’t always overlap with the things we have a talent for. And that's an important concept to consider when teens make decisions about their future. If we combine those 2 factors of talent and passion, we get 4 categories:
Things We Are Terrible at and Hate
Things We Are Great at, but Hate
Things We Are Terrible at, but Love
Things We Are Great at and Love
Of course, there will be things that land between categories, but these 4 roughly cover it. Let’s look at each of these 4 categories to see how they can help guide your teen’s choices about her future.
1. The "Nope" zone: Things we are terrible at and hate
It’s not likely that anyone would pursue a career in this category. So give your daughter some grace here, but don’t completely let her off the hook! Especially if it’s a class or a skill she needs in order to achieve her long-term goals.
For example, I really struggled with writing in high school. I accepted that about myself. However, I had a college professor who was not willing to accept it. He returned my papers to rewrite until I earned an A, instead of just giving me a C. And guess what? I learned how to write! And then I actually started to like it! So, understand that this is a category your daughter will struggle with, but encourage her to keep trying.
2. Hobbies: Things we are terrible at but love
Most people won’t try to turn these into a career either (save for the occasional American Idol audition). But the mistake I see people make in this category is not allowing themselves to indulge. Who cares if your daughter is a terrible singer? If she loves singing, she should do it! (Maybe even take lessons to get better at it!) It’s important to have fun, so encourage your daughter to just have a good time with it. Even better, take her to karaoke to make fools of yourselves together. It will teach her not to be so afraid of failure that she misses out on things that she loves, which is an incredibly valuable lesson.
3. Snooze alert: Things we are great at but hate
Now this is important. This is the category many people turn into a career. And, in my opinion, it’s a mistake. Adults typically encourage teens to pursue careers that will give them prestige, stability, and a nice pay check. The problem with this advice is that it doesn’t account for passion. Yes, your daughter might land a job she is reasonably good at and earn a nice salary. But how far will she really go in her career if her heart just isn’t in it? How happy will she be if she's bored out of her brilliant mind for 40-60 hours per week? We want our kids to be successful, but I promise you, if it isn’t something she loves, it's not the right path for her.
4. The "Sweet Spot": Things we are great at and love
This is where we find our calling. These are the things we were put on this Earth to do. And sadly, this category usually gets demoted to hobbies. Now I warn you, this category may not contain the most practical ideas. But if your daughter follows her talent and passion, it will lead her somewhere amazing. We’re usually pretty good at coming up with reasons we can’t do things. So that isn't what your daughter needs from you. What she needs you to do is encourage her. Tell her to keep trying when Plans A-C fall through. Help her come up with solutions. But, please, do not discourage her or pressure her into a safe career she’ll just grow to resent. She can have a "safe" career or an exceptional career, but she can't have both!
Imagine your daughter says that instead of going to medical school, she wants to open an orphanage in Guatemala. Hold off listing the reasons that her idea is crazy (The distance! The danger! The language barrier!) and, instead, ask her what she needs to pursue it. Encourage her to contact the leaders of some existing non-profits for advice. Inspire her to volunteer for a similar program in your area (or even head abroad over the summer). You might even suggest that she combine ideas and consider opening a clinic in Guatemala. In this process, she might discover for herself that it’s not the right path, but let her be the judge of that. Trust your daughter. Trust in her ability and, most of all, trust in the results of your parenting. Think about it, if anyone can pull this off, it’s her, right?