The Frustration of Helping Your Child Choose a Career

Mother always wants to help her son succeed.
Mother always wants to help her son succeed. | Source

Do you have a son or daughter who has difficulty deciding on a career? Or maybe it’s you who is undecided? This discussion offers some insight.

I recently tried to help a friend whose adult son didn’t know what to do for a career. He has a good education; he’s intelligent, well spoken and clever. She brought him up well.

But somewhere along the way he never found the area of interest that he wants to pursue for a lifetime career.

I can understand this situation because I wasted by first year of college back in the late ’60s…

I listened to someone who told me to major in mechanical engineering. That was not my interest. But lucky for me I discovered the vocation of my dreams in that first year and switched my major to Computer Science. I found an interest in being able to tell a machine what to do. I guess I was a control freak. Ha Ha. This ended up being my lifelong path.

Being that I almost didn’t discover my calling, I always felt a need to help others who had a similar dilemma. So the rest of this article is the exchange of emails I had with my friend while guiding her about her son.

His particular situation may not relate to yours or that of your son or daughter, but the context of the discussion generally applies to anything. Hopefully you’ll find some use out of our email exchange of ideas.

The Frustration of Searching for a Job

Exchange of Ideas

Me: How is your son doing with his new job?

Friend: He quit a couple of weeks ago. He discovered he didn’t like what he was doing. The job was too stressful for him.

Me: Sorry to hear that. What was the problem?

Friend: He didn’t feel comfortable with the way management required him to conduct business.

Me: How was it affecting him?

Friend: He was a complete mess. He was on the verge of a breakdown so I didn't say anything to him. It's terrible and very upsetting to me. So I have to ignore it and let him figure it out for himself.

Me: You're doing the right thing letting him figure it out. I can imagine how you are feeling. What's he doing? Is he looking for another job or taking a break?

Friend: As far as I know he is looking, but I don't ask him any questions. I will just get into an argument with him.

Me: I can understand that.

Friend: It's really hard for me to even talk about.

Me: Sorry to hear you are going through that. It must feel very discouraging.

Friend: Yes, very. And what's worse is I can't help him. Whenever I try, it just makes things worse.

Me: What does he need right now? What does he want to accomplish?

Friend: He wants a job that he likes and that is all he knows and when you give him ideas he says I don't want to do that. He thinks because he has a degree he should get a job that pays well, yet he doesn't want to do anything that I recommend, so it is very frustrating for me.

Me: What is his degree in?

Friend: His degree is in Human Resource Management.

Me: Did he take that subject because he found an interest in it? Or was it just to get a degree? What I’m getting at is this: My degrees are both in computer science because I found it the niche I wanted to be in. I could care less for the degrees themselves. It's the subject that counts.

Friend: He didn’t really have a focus while he was in college.

Me: But is he interested in the subject he pursued? If not, maybe he needs to forget about his degree and look for something else. Start with what he is interested in. Not from a job perspective, but in life in general.

Friend: The problem is that he isn't interested in anything!

Me: So I imagine that he would not want to be a consultant with Human Resource Management either? This would make use of his degree and give him the advantage of not having to answer to anyone. He'd have his own business. Not as secure, but maybe it's the path he may want to consider.

Friend: Nope. He doesn't want to do that.

Me: Thinking outside the box, what does he do now? I mean non-job related, other than sleeping and eating.

  • What are his passions?
  • What does he like to talk about with his friends?
  • What does he find himself doing when he's not thinking about work?
  • What have you noticed he does that could reinforce his self-esteem?

This could all be a clue to discovering where to turn. Point is: there's always something when one thinks outside the box.

Friend: He likes reading, writing, basket ball, drawing, healthy foods, movies, museums, and his smart phone apps, not in that order. I really do appreciate you trying to help me.

Yesterday he came by and made me dinner. He made several eggplant casseroles. I could only eat one, it was so filling that I didn't eat anything else the rest of the night.

Me: So he does have a lot of interests. Are these also his passions? Do any of these things reinforce his self-esteem? That might be the area to focus on.

You left out "cooking" and that seems to be the strongest based on the casseroles you just mentioned. Did he consider getting into that? - Maybe working in a restaurant. Or for wedding planners - you know, those types of places that help organize and arrange wedding parties with all the food and stuff.

As for the list of interests you just mentioned, putting a couple of things together could become a career path, especially if it's a passion too. For example, two of his interests: museums and movies. He might consider working in a museum with their movies and entertainment department.

Friend: I asked him several times about being a chef. But I was knocked down. Anyway this gives me a lot to think about.

Me: If that doesn't help, here are a couple of other thoughts:

He can make use of all the resources of the career office at the college where he got his degree. That option usually never expires.

He has friends. He can use his connections to network and meet people working with any of the things you just mentioned to learn about opportunities in those fields.

Friend: That's a good thought. I'll find a way to get these ideas to him. Thank you so much.

Applying The Ideas

This was simply an exchange of ideas via email. Your situation probably doesn’t even come close. But if you take the idea of thinking outside the box and try to discuss options with an open mind, something may suddenly strike a chord.

It’s not easy, especially if one does not know what they like to do. But notice how at first her son had no interests, and then after further discussion it came out that he actually had a lot of interests.

Sometimes it takes a lot of back and forth conversation to find opportunities that can make a difference. In her case discussing it with her son was challenging. It was frustrating for both of them, but this needs to be overcome so that the dialogue can continue.

© 2016 Glenn Stok

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Comments 20 comments

kbdressman profile image

kbdressman 2 months ago from Provo, Utah

I think we forget that a college degree is supposed to be a means to an end in many ways. Many universities push students to pick a major and graduate ASAP. There needs to be a balance. Most of us can't afford to be a career student, but it should be okay to take 2-3 semesters and take a bunch of different classes to determine what we love enough to want to dedicate our lives to it. I had the opportunity to take a First Aid class in junior high. The teacher noticed I was really interested and was fairly good at what I was doing, so he provided extra training opportunities before and after school and then allowed me to be the first responder for the school. (Someone burned themselves in their kitchen class and I'd get called out of class to go help them.) I then took an EMT, CNA and EMT-I class when I was 18 to make sure I wanted to go into the medical field. I start medical school in 11 days. I was lucky because I fell in love with something young and that something was something I was good at and could make a career out of. For those that don't have that experience in high school, they need to have the opportunity to have it during college. (IMHO!)

CYong74 profile image

CYong74 2 months ago from Singapore

One of my lecturers in college used to insist that it's unimportant to decide one's career in school. Instead, he emphasised on learning critical skills that would empower any career. Skills like systematic approaches to problem solving, analysis, etc. Looking back, I believe his point was that people and industries change with time. What's important is to always have the skills that enable mobility.

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY Author

kbdressman - You're right Katie. A college degree should be considered a means to an end. That's a good way to explain it. Unfortunately some people just don't know what end result they want to achieve. You were lucky to have a teacher who noticed your passion while still in High School. That gave you a head start. Congratulations on starting medical school.

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY Author

CYong74 - That makes a lot of sense. Learning generalized critical skills can apply to many areas and having a well-rounded knowledge of them should be considered mandatory. Thanks for mentioning that.

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 months ago from Arkansas

Glen, I wonder if that woman is supporting her son while he "finds himself". It sounds like although he has many interests, he isn't interested in pursuing them. I hope things worked out for her because it sounds like the greatest thing that would help him is a little tough love.

Something even more difficult is when a child loses a career he or she loves. My sons, both in their 50s, have experienced this. One found a new job that pays well, but he hates it, and the other, who has some college but not a degree, is still trying. He has always been an artist, but can't handle the work to finish a degree in computer graphics. we've offered to set him up a website so he can sell his work. We've been supporting him for the last several years, and he could have either made it or given up by now. I'm beginning to think that he doesn't want to better himself. I would have used tough love on my son by now, but he is in poor health, and if he became homeless, it probably would kill him.

kbdressman profile image

kbdressman 2 months ago from Provo, Utah

Another unfortunate aspect of this problem is that many are graduating from college without a career path and with $30,000+ in debt. Interest compounds fast if you don't have a repayment plan!

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY Author

MizBejabbers - Using tough love is the way I try to help people too, even though some don't agree with it. But in my opinion it's a way of waking up the other person. I think your comment is very useful. I'm going to make sure she reads it.

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY Author

kbdressman - Student Loans are definitely a problem in America. But that's a subject for another article.

heidithorne profile image

heidithorne 2 months ago from Chicago Area

What a great topic!

I've had some friends and relatives whose kids start out in one degree area and then switch when they realize it's tougher than they imagined or not what they expected. I think that first year or two of college is THE time to experiment and find what you really want to do. Thank goodness there are community colleges where students can explore their options for less money.

I think an interesting study would be on whether younger or older students are more likely to stick with their field to graduation. Hmm...

Anyway, thanks for starting the conversation on a tricky topic for many parents!

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY Author

heidithorne - I never realized how common this problem is until I tried to help my friend and then did some research on it.

You have a good point Heidi, to allow students to explore their options while in college. I guess there is not enough focus on that. Colleges just teach what the students sign up for as a major, without emphases on opening their minds to other opportunities that might be a better match.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

It is so hard to watch your child struggle - especially when he is not a child any more. You make them do their own laundry. Pay for their own gas when they drive the car. Retake courses they fail in college at their own expense. And you think you are teaching them independence. Those things are easy. But watch them not able to make a living? Pay their own rent? Do the things you were doing so easily by 30? That hard. But at some point, you have to bow out and let them stand on their own. I hate that part.

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY Author

Kathleen Cochran - My friend who I exchanged these emails with feels exactly the same way. I just spoke with her about it today. You described it well Kathleen. The bowing out part is tough love.

denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 2 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

I remember how I felt my first year of college. I changed may major three different times, and still ended up with just a general ed degree. It wasn't until after I had a family that I realized what I wanted to do with my life! Now, my own children struggle with the same issues. One of our daughters quit school to start a business, but it went belly up. We had to put a deadline at which time we would no longer continue giving her living expenses. Eventually she moved home and after working a year, decided to go back to school for a different degree. You are right in that we have to give tough love tempered with love and support.

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY Author

denise.w.anderson - It's becoming more obvious to me that this is a very common problem and your experiences you described are testament to that. It's sad that some people will end up going through an entire college curriculum to get a degree, only start all over again with another major. Thanks for sharing your struggles and that of your children. I hope things eventually turn out for the better.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 months ago from The Caribbean

Interesting how what the child is good at does not make the prospect list. Might it have helped if the parent noticed this strength earlier and encouraged the child to pursue it? Sometimes what the child really wants to do does not seem significant because he or she is not taught the significance. This share is very helpful. Thank you.

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 months ago from Long Island, NY Author

MsDora - You brought up an interesting question. But I wouldn't be able to judge. So much is at stake when a child is growing up. It's not easy to know if a strong interest in something is just a passing fad or not.

mchllhwgt profile image

mchllhwgt 7 weeks ago from England

My two children.are still small but already they have ideas. One wants to go into animal welfare and he other into medicine. I will encourage both of them to do the best they can for their futures and go with their heart. A life can be fulfilled when we're happy... Money helps to smoother things over in terms of easiness but real happiness comes from contentment in my eyes.

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 7 weeks ago from Long Island, NY Author

mchllhwgt - Yes, it's good to start early. They'll have more time to contemplate the idea of what they are really interested in doing later in life.

cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 3 weeks ago from Western NC

You know, this is a lifetime struggle I've dealt with. I myself am a job hopper. I thought there was something wrong with me until I took a personality test and found out that I am an INFP.

It changed my world. INFPs often hop from job to job because while we want to change the world, being around other people is simultaneously exhausting. Open office floorplans have caused me to leave a job. While I care deeply for helping others, I am honestly deeply affected by my environment AND I give 100% to the point where I get burnt out.

Even though I've been in the education world since 2006, I have had four jobs in those ten years. It's awful starting over and I'm in my second year of my current job and itching to leave already. It's not the job itself. Part of it is boredom and the stress.

I've learned to leverage that, though. I've researched and researched and there's something called the "slasher" career (I'm going to write a hub about it soon, actually). It's basically finding different part time jobs to satisfy all the needs that someone with my personality type has: the need to make a difference, the need to be creative and the need to have autonomy. One piece of the puzzle is writing. It's a creative outlet and here at HP, for example, I can write about my zillions of interests (another personality trait). Another part is that I may stay in education (even with a Master's degree) or I may not: it depends on what I can find that will sustain me without completely taking over my life. But, staving off boredom is a challenge. Thus, ideally, I create a "slasher" career by writing, doing some teaching, and perhaps doing something active, like teaching yoga.

Your article definitely piqued my interest because I'm in my upper 30's and still don't know what I want to do when I "grow up" - haha. And with your friend, it might not be a "lack of interest" and could be an element of "overwhelm" and exhaustion from trying to find that perfect thing.

Thinking about your friend, maybe he could do a bit of cooking, and built smartphone apps while indulging his desire to learn. It sounds like he loves to learn. School was probably hard, too, in the sense that there's an almost overpowering desire to learn whatever's interesting at the moment. When I was getting my Master's in Spanish, it took me a long time: I loved the subject matter, but I also wanted to write books, paint, and I was working, too. I had to prioritize for sure and indulged my desire to write early in the mornings when it wouldn't interfere with anything else.

You're a great friend to this kiddo who's searching. And I so know what it is to spend your life searching and always feeling like you've missed your calling. I can empathize for sure!

Great write up and thanks for sharing this. :)

Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 3 weeks ago from Long Island, NY Author

cclitgirl - Gee, you really shared a lot of personal stuff about yourself Cynthia. I am sure there are others who can relate to your personality issue as you explained. Thank you for adding this detailed description of your experience with being a INFP personality type, which for those who don't know, is considered the mediator. You are among creative people. William Shakespere was an INFP and so is Johnny Depp, the actor.

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