Selecting a career might well be one of the most frightening—and frustrating—decisions young people face today. The broad range of career choices available, and recognition that the career they choose has a great impact on their future, often makes the decision seem so difficult that some young people simply drift into jobs that are neither personally satisfying nor financially rewarding. More than ever before, young men and women need advice and direction in preparing for their life’s work.
Few youths have the maturity, knowledge, and experience to make an intelligent career choice alone, and most recognize that fact. They appreciate the mature guidance of parents and others and will respond to suggestions given in a context of love.
One of the first things parents can do is to assure their children that choosing a career doesn’t mean they will be locked into that choice for life. Both people and conditions change, and a job chosen by a young man or woman may prove unsuitable later on. Indeed, advances in technology may bring new, unimagined opportunities that will revise even the best career plans and most certain expectations.
About the importance of any given career, Elder Hartman Rector, Jr., has said:
“Generally speaking, I’m not sure that the Lord really cares what we choose as a vocation—whether we are a plumber or a librarian—so long as we keep the commandments of God. Of course, it is sometimes easier to keep the commandments when we are happy in our professions, and to that extent it is important that we do something we enjoy.” (Ensign, July 1973, p. 58.)
During a child’s early years, therefore, it is more important that he learn how to learn than it is to worry about making a specific career choice. For this reason, you should monitor a child’s progress in school, specifically how well he is learning language and mathematics skills. The ability to read and write well and to perform basic math is fundamental not only to education but to most careers as well. Because children who have learned to read and write well have learned how to use their minds, they are prepared to adapt to a wide variety of career possibilities later in life.
If these skills aren’t mastered early, the home is the natural environment in which to correct these deficiencies. If you have children weak in reading or math, you may only need to practice reading with them or help them work through their math problems. If problems persist, however, you may need to seek professional help.
There are other, more general, skills that children should master early. Among these, few are as important as learning how to work. By example and precept, children should be taught the value of finishing a job once it is begun and doing it well. They can learn the value of integrity and responsibility by having chores to do in and around the home. And older children can gain respect for money earned and experience the satisfaction that comes from a job well done by working at summer and appropriate part-time jobs. Honesty and thrift can be learned as children pay tithing and are guided to manage their earnings wisely.
Self-esteem is another important career asset a parent can help a child obtain. A confident child with a good self-image is much more capable of making wise choices and succeeding in a career than a child who believes himself a failure. These feelings of self-worth come as a child feels loved, appreciated, and successful.
“So what are you going to do when you grow up?” Most children are asked that question while growing up, and most don’t really know, at least specifically. Especially when children are young, their answers seem to change daily. And that is as it should be. Early in life, a child is still learning about himself and what his talents and interests are; trying to push a child too early into a career choice can be almost as disastrous as failing to guide him into a choice when the time comes.
Wise parents of young children will help them explore their interests and acquaint them with the wide variety of careers available today. Family home evenings and periodic parental interviews are excellent times to talk about what the children are going to do when they grow up and what they can do to prepare for vocations. These discussions allow you to set facts straight for children, helping them see choices through the clarifying lens of the gospel rather than the distorted lens of the world.
Some careers, for example, are often depicted on television, but not always accurately. Many careers like law enforcement or social work are glamorized and fail to show a true picture of the real work entailed. When you see a career portrayed on television that interests your child, use the opportunity to discuss it with him. Then, if the child continues to daydream about becoming a police officer, fire fighter, doctor, pilot, or whatever, he or she can pursue that goal with a more realistic picture of what the career offers.
One way to help children determine potential career interests is to ask what they would like to do if they could be anyone in the world. If a child dreams of becoming a surgeon, movie star, or head of state, don’t ridicule the idea. Instead, sit down and explore the values, aptitudes, and interests involved in becoming such a person.
Another thing you can do to help children explore their career options is to expose them to the work you do. A visit to your workplace can open their eyes not only to the kind of work you do but to the kinds of skills necessary to succeed at any job. It is also important, if the work you do is in the home, that you explain your responsibilities and emphasize their value. Many youngsters will grow up to be homemakers. They need to understand the important role homemakers play in our society and what they need to do to prepare for that role.
In helping your children explore the world of work, be careful not to push them into the career you chose or wish you had chosen. Some parents attempt to live their lives vicariously through their children and guide them into vocational paths the parents now wish they had taken. Respect for a child’s individuality means letting a child choose his own career.
How else can young people learn about the careers open to them? Many children find attractive careers in the materials they read or through the acquaintance of adult friends in the neighborhood. School counseling offices and local libraries have a great deal of information that can be used to explore aptitudes, interests, and career possibilities, and many high schools offer career counseling as part of their regular program.
Programs like Scouting and 4-H and lessons in various arts, crafts, and skills can also acquaint young men and women with various careers. The Scouting program, for example, offers young men tremendous opportunities for exploring career choices. Through Scouting, they also learn a variety of interpersonal skills and grow in the confidence that comes from achievement.
For young men in the Church, activity in the Aaronic Priesthood quorums offers them the opportunity to grow in ways that will help them enjoy an abundant life. Young women in the Church are given a similar range of opportunities in the Young Women Program. The Personal Progress program specifically encourages a girl to broaden her experiences in ways that challenge her and prepare her for life.
As children get older, their career choices tend to become more realistic and limited to certain areas of interest and aptitude. As this occurs, there is much that parents can do to help them choose among their options and prepare for a specific career.
When the time finally comes for your children to make a career choice, help them determine, realistically but optimistically, what it would take to prepare for that career. Although some careers may be out of reach because of financial or other considerations, others can be achieved by a capable child who truly desires and honestly strives toward it in spite of obstacles. Limitations should be squarely faced, but don’t try too hard to discourage a child from a difficult path. Encouragement, along with a realistic picture of what the child must accomplish to achieve his or her dream, can produce surprising results.
If the career chosen requires advanced education, the child should prepare himself to receive that education. If a desired career requires formal education beyond high school, the student should be prepared for an extended education and plan accordingly. A savings plan should be initiated as early as possible. If finances are a potential problem, begin exploring the possibilities for scholarships or other financial aid. Counseling or admissions offices for the school or program desired are good sources for such information.
Whatever else you do to help your children prepare for the world of work, do not fail to teach them the power of prayer and the guidance available through father’s and patriarchal blessings. Our Father in Heaven is concerned for our happiness and will help us make wise choices. We can rest assured that choices made under the guidance of his Spirit will be for our good here in mortality and throughout eternity.