Recipes and equations for career satisfaction

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Sometimes parents start worrying about their children's career options before their children's births. After they've arrived and as they grow, the drumbeat of concern may intensify. "My daughter is so bossy and argumentative, how will she ever survive in the real world where she actually has to work peacefully with other humans?"

Or, "My son isn't very good at school. I'm afraid he'll end up stuck in a low-paying job, never earning a decent income." To deal with these worries, it helps to understand what leads to career satisfaction and how to help your children with career planning.

Read the following statement and notice your reaction:

In order to help your children find the right careers, you must understand and utilize an important mathematical equation proven to predict career success.

How did this statement make you feel and which best describes your reaction?

  • Nooooo! Please, no! I'm inadequate at math. I'll never be able to help my child.
  • Oh, boy! This will be great. Finally, a clear equation.
  • This sounds so boring, I'd rather get poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

Let's take a minute to analyze your reactions. If you felt chilling fear, it might mean you don't believe you have much talent or aptitude for understanding mathematical equations. Consequently, the thought of a complex equation raises hairs on the back of your neck.

If you felt eager anticipation, it could be that mathematical concepts are interesting and rewarding for you. Perhaps you love numbers and the way they simplify communication.

Finally, if you felt a need to yawn, it may be that dealing with equations is not a good fit for your personality. Maybe you like a little more drama or physical stimulation in your life.

We use this example to help you see the experience the equation many experts use to guide career choice and eventual success. The three main variables predicting career satisfaction are exactly the ones that may contribute to your reaction to mathematical equations, namely talent or aptitude, interest and personality, or temperament. In other words, well-matched Aptitude + Interest + Personality = Career Success. This model has some scientific basis and it's consistent with common sense, but there's more to the story.

When our daughter was 6 she made this declaration: "Boys are doctors and girls are nurses!" Now, 20 years later, she's completing her second year of medical school. Children are bombarded with sex-role messages throughout childhood and depending on your input and values, these messages may or may not restrict career choices. Our belief is that it's best to encourage children to discover and follow their own interests, personality and talents/skills. Sometimes they need our help to see past social and gender-based pressures.

As adults, we all struggle with what we should or might have been. We have regrets and unfulfilled dreams. As parents, we need to pay careful attention to ourselves when we help our children make educational and career decisions. Our children aren't in this world to live out our dreams. Our job is to help them find their own unique paths toward success and fulfillment.

Recipe for career success

For those of you who don't like equations, here's a career success recipe best followed loosely, with lots of tasting and stirring along the way.

  • Take one part family legacy (maybe your family has deep roots, genetically-derived giftedness, a lot of land or something that shapes family and thus career identity);
  • Toss in a cup or two of talent or skill (be sure this is the real thing; simmer over low heat for a few years of lessons or adventures);
  • Separate the personality from the interests and whip up the interests until stiff and set them aside (they may be better as hobbies rather than full-blown careers, but they don't have to go away);
  • Stir in the personality (this can be a pivotal ingredient; handle with approval and care);
  • Take a pinch or two of parental wishes and keep adding it to the mixture until the mixture seems to want to pinch you back;
  • Add in whatever resources and opportunities you have lying around your kitchen, house, yard or workplace;
  • Fold in the whipped-up interests;
  • At the last minute (or as soon as you notice it), stir in anywhere from one to 10 cups of uncertainty, mystery, spirituality, cultural calling or whatever else seems to percolate up from inside your child;
  • Let the whole thing sit for a while, or let it move around; it may need to stay home and do odd jobs, go to vocational school, college, Europe, Job Corps or somewhere else before it's really a discernable dish.

In the end, your children's career decisions are more than any equation or recipe can capture. We wish you the best in this complex task - and don't forget to check in with your child's school counselor.