Been reading about new programs to guide incoming Iowa high school freshman students toward career planning, with funding from a large company that is admittedly out to get itself a future pre-trained workforce. Schools are all over it.
It is practical, I suppose. But is also makes me a little bit sad.
I've known 15 year olds who know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, and have mapped out every step they plan to take on a career ladder and what to name their 2.5 children. Good for them, but the little overachievers make me nervous. Those aren't kids, they are automatons, or perhaps 42-year-old junior corporate executives in disguise. Why aren't they confused, lazy and noncommittal, like the rest of us?
Has it really come to the point where a kid has missed the boat if they graduate from middle school without a clear and concise career plan laid out?
At 15, a kid is supposed to know what graduate school will best leverage them a foot inside the corporate management door, be concerned with resume building, and be engaged in studying which line of BMW's they want to shop from when they make their first million?
I haven't decided what I want to be when I grow up... so I'm not going to expect children to know.
For one thing, the world is changing fast today. Careers that are here today, won't necessarily be in four, eight, ten years when they are entering the adult workforce in earnest - at least not as we know them now. New ones will exist that we may not have imagined yet. Be flexible, or be in trouble.
For another, human beings often change their minds. I suppose that's why we have them. What you think you want to be when you are 8 isn't necessarily what you want to be when you are 15, and what you think you want at 15 isn't necessarily the same as what you want to 22, or 32, or 62. And that's okay. My 8-year-old self would be playing shortstop for the Reds now. My 15 year-old self would be playing a Stratocaster in a metal band. My 22-year-old self would be backpacking across France. And my current self, if it had its way, would probably be doing all of those things plus living on a sailboat. Things change, and change isn't necessarily bad, depending what you make of it.
Think you've got it all figured out?
As many as 70 percent of college students who thought that will switch their majors at least once, and some estimates say that up to half of adults won't stay in their jobs or at their company for more than two years. It's not so much what we will DO that we need to set early, but who we will BE. Careers change, but our central beliefs and goals are taking shape by our teens and should survive the shifting winds of the working world. A job need not define a person.
At 15, there is enough on a kid's plate. How to survive high school without having your head stuffed into a toilet by a sadistic upperclassman. Which Clearasil product will work on zits on parts of the body that those commercials never mentioned would get zits. How to hit the breaking ball. How to speak to members of the opposite sex without getting your tongue tied in knots. How to get homework done for seven different teachers who all think you have nothing to do but busy work for their class. A driver's Ed teacher who refers to a clutch pedal as "that one thingie." The minimum age for working at the slushie stand. Which t-shirt doesn't make you look like a goon. What in the heck is that Health teacher talking about? How many people saw that ill-advised latenight Facebook post before you got it down.
Practicality is all well and good, but life doesn't run on the stuff.
At 15, there should be time to explore, to find your passions, and your experience in school should be more than just prepping yourself for a job to hold for 40 years, then go home with a potted plant and a knock-off gold watch to wonder what to do with the rest of your life.
At 15, life should be music, and art. Even if you aren't good at it, try it. Lots of people can do most jobs. But music and art you make is one of a kind, it can only come from you. At 15, there is time to learn something - to fish, or dance, act, or customize motorcycles, to build something or volunteer to help people. It doesn't matter so much what you learn, but that you learn how to learn, because you're always going to need that.
At 15, you don't need to be locked into anything. Life will probably do that to you soon enough, anyway. You don't have to be the property of one boyfriend, or one girlfriend, you should meet as many people as you can, and learn what makes them tick. You should learn who you are, before you commit to spending a lifetime with someone else.
At 15, you shouldn't be worried primarily about what your salary and benefits are going to be 10 or 20 years from now. Realize that your parents have gone through some scary and uncertain economic times, and we've become a little neurotic about money. At 15, its time to think about where your passions are, not what pays you the most. You can live without a lot of money, but it's not easy to live without doing something you love.
Practicality should be taken for what it is worth. It is smart, safe and organized. It does important things. But so does imagination, and daring and ideas and exploration. Life requires some of both to be full.
The fact that adults are trying to help you look to the future is a great thing, and I hope kids will take advantage of it, for what it is worth.
At the same time, I hope the adults are aware that 15 year olds are kids, with a lot of room and time to find their way. There is more to them than future bodies to fill out the workforce for our plants and corporate offices.
If you don't know exactly what you want and where life will take you - be it at 15 or 75 - do you know what that makes you?