Vocation: What Will I Do With My Life?
"Whatever you do,
work at it with all your heart..."
In one of our "heart-to-heart" talks, my son Jud said, "Dad, I don't know what kind of work I should do. I think about it and try to weigh all the factors. Sometimes I want to know so badly that it hurts, like a pain right here in my chest."
Youth probably think a lot more about their future than we realize. They have to experience much of the thinking, and the hurting, themselves. Yet, at some point we may have gone through the same process.
Perhaps we still wonder whether we made the right decision. If we have recently changed to a new line of work, we may understand some of their pressures. Examining our own experience helps us respond when teens ask, "What will I do with my life? How do I decide? What do I need to know?"
Vocational Facts to Consider
* Choosing a career without giving it much thought can produce long-term unhappiness. Management experts estimate that nearly 80 percent of all Americans are dissatisfied with their work. Surveys have shown that many associate work with apathy, boredom, nervousness, shouting matches, and daily humiliation.
* Most high school students do not have realistic expectations about their careers according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
* People skills-being able to relate well-rather than technical skills top the list of what's needed for promotion in both technical and professional vocations.
* Work that draws upon one's interests, skills, and training can be immensely satisfying and rewarding.
* Overwork can be counterproductive. Surveys conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan suggest that long hours of part-time work by high school students are linked with weak school performance, low college aspirations, and higher drug use.
Vocational Values to Share
Vocational values help clear away the fog that surrounds a multitude of career choices. They make clear the path that leads to satisfying results. You may need to dig deeply into your own supply of values to mentor well. Here are some of my work values that may stimulate the development of your own.
* Happiness at work often results when people use their natural abilities.
* A sense of mission or "rightness" about a particular work can lift it out of meaningless routine.
* Aiming for excellence in work creates a sense of satisfaction and confidence.
* Working too long almost always causes stress, fatigue, impatience, and neglect of important relationships.
* Learning negotiation skills is valuable in every line of work.
Vocational Questions to Ask
Let us keep in mind that the decision process for youth may lead to dead ends, false starts, and impulse answers. It can be messy. That's why when you mentor youth, you provide the balance they need between stability and the risk of a new venture. You help youth when you ask questions like the following.
* What kinds of activities do you feel you are good at?
* What kind of people would you enjoy working with--thinkers, practitioners, craftsmen, decision makers, leaders, or a combination?
* What area of the country would you want to settle in--near or far away from home?
* What kind of work would you aspire to-administration, service related, research, data entry, public relations, work with your hands?
* What would make you feel good about yourself-excellent work habits, public approval, promotions, working by yourself, directing a team?
Avoid interrogating or judging youth. These questions require time for reflection and sensitivity on your part. Ask when would be the right time to listen to their ideas about future work. Think of their answers as ideas in the process of becoming clear rather than their final decisions. You might want to come back later to a thought and check its progress.
Adults kill enthusiasm by overreacting when a younger person's ideas seem senseless or impossible. Judgmental statements sap energy and drive: "You couldn't get a job in that field" or "You couldn't stand the pressure." If you've already given an insulting response, you can recover by saying, "Remember when I said `You couldn't stand the pressure'? This is what I wish I had asked, `How do you think you would handle the pressures that come with that work?'"
Testing vocational interest and aptitude can reveal new possibilities or confirm hunches. But actual experience on a variety of jobs provokes fresh insights. Arrange for your protégé to ask business owners or workers questions like these:
* What is a typical workday like for you?
* Why did you choose your line of work?
* If you could make your decision again, what would you do
* What are some problems you deal with at work?
* What do you like and dislike about your work?
Talk openly about your own work-what disappoints and what satisfies. If possible, ask the person you mentor if he or she would like to work with you for a day. Arrange for them to do activities that would help them understand the nature of your work.
Imagine the value of this approach to vocation. Do you see how it might have helped you in your own career choice? Taking the time to mentor youth along the best path suited for them could make a huge difference in the course of their lives. A vocation that fits their interests and abilities could be key to their happiness at work.
How can you help the person you mentor make wise vocational decisions?
Paul W. Swets
P.S. HAPPINESS BLOGS are excerpts from Finding Happiness: Building Stable Relationships in Turbulent Times. Please share the HAPPINESS BLOG with friends and on your Facebook page.