I don’t remember being commanded in high school (late 1980’s)to find my “dream job.” I remember having a few subjects I really liked: Home Economics (cooking) and Biology (genetics). However, after many years of taking aptitude and ability test, my guidance counselors pushed me into cooking over biology (they were right). Still, no one asked me if cooking was my “dream.” In fact, if you ask me today about my dream or passion, my career is only a small piece of the picture. In fact, as a middle-aged adult, my career aspirations are merely tools to support and facilitate my real dreams.
Today, our young teens are blasted with what I call “dream propaganda” from a very young age. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be a dream crusher. If your teen has a dream job goal, research suggests they’ll have high job satisfaction if they land their dream job.
Researchers have found that workers who feel a higher calling to their jobs are among the most content. Take zookeepers, for example. Though more than eight in 10 zookeepers have college degrees, their average annual income is less than $25,000. The typical job description involves scrubbing enclosures, scooping waste and spending time in the elements. There’s little room for advancement and zookeepers tend not to be held in high regard, says Stuart Bunderson, Ph.D., a professor of organizational behavior at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis (Administrative Science Quarterly, 2009).
Modern dream propaganda assumes:
- There is such a thing as a dream job.
- You must identify it in the first 25% of your life if you are to achieve it on time.
- You must begin a dedicated and formal pursuit of it immediately.
- It will be built on a 4-year degree.
- It will provide a good living for you and your family.
- You will live happily ever after. The end.
What if your teen ended up working at an average company, earning an average living, with average job satisfaction? What if your daughter ended up as a homeschooling mother instead of an employee? <gasp> Would that be terrible? Are our children homeschooling failures if they aren’t chasing a dream job?
This post is meant to prompt you to consider your role as your teen’s guidance counselor. We, as homeschooling parents, have the luxury of not only parenting our teens through this very important transitionary time in life, but we get to help them navigate the educational landscape too.
It’s easy to get lost in the propaganda of our time, and if you don’t think you’re influenced by it, consider the other extreme: coal miners of the 1700’s. Clearly, no one believes that this type of work was anyone’s dream job! It was dangerous, dirty, hot, rough, and physically hard! Still, I don’t believe that the lives of the men in this photo were empty. I don’t believe that they never felt the satisfaction of a job well done, or didn’t appreciate the opportunity to provide for their families. I don’t believe that they didn’t have fun with their co-workers, telling jokes and stories. What did career guidance look like in the 1700’s? Clearly, in 2021, we want more for our teens than working in a dangerous coal mine. But, are we taking it to the opposite extreme by insisting that they chase a dream at the expense of all else? At the expense of common sense? Are we asking them to go deeply into debt to finance the pursuit of a dream? (Even though we know 50% of those who start college won’t finish).
Modern dream propaganda promotes to our teens a very scary notion: that a dream is out there, and it’s up to them to “find” it immediately. If they don’t, then there is something wrong with them! If we take a moment to think about the modern “dream job” message before we support it, the message is very damaging. The message tells our children that “everyone else” has this great personal insight revealed to them by the time they are in high school, and that if you’re late gaining this insight, you’re doomed to a life of poverty and unfulfilling work! Wow. Talk about pressure.
I’ve been guilty of applying that pressure to my teens, most notably with my oldest (the guinea pig) when we started career exploration in middle school. I handed my son a book called College Majors, which explored majors in Anthropology, Biotechnology, Dermatology, Human Resources, etc. Who wants to guess how many 8th graders know what any of those words mean? It’s about zero. Yet, onward.
In an effort to make an efficient and resourceful high school plan (one that injects college credit) it’s easy to become too narrow too soon. For those rare teens with an early and clear passion, having a resourceful parent will make all the difference in the world. But for teens developing at a normal rate of emotional and cognitive (mind) development, it would be unusual to have such a strong sense of identity and purpose at an early age – especially at the exclusion of everything else.
When I look back on a conversation I had with my Home Economics teacher, a special mentor to me, I remember telling her that I wanted to work on a cruise ship. Later, after actually working as a chef, I knew that working on a cruise ship would be a terrible job for me! The job was in conflict with my dream– my imagination of what that job might be life.
It’s easy to have a dream job when its crafted in our imagination.
As an adult, we have a better understanding of the world than our teens. When we consider a decision, we base it on our life’s experiences and our understanding of the world. Our teens aren’t broken, they just don’t have the life experience we do! A teen can’t know what it really means to work on a cruise ship from inside the profession (sleeping in a public bunk, working 12 hours on/off, leaving family and friends for months at a time, being one of a thousand insignificant employees, working in very hot- or very cold kitchens, having large stock pots of boiling soup slide off the stove during a storm, etc.) but a teen can imagine it from books, tv, or being a guest (beautiful and elaborate food buffets decorated with fruit and vegetable platters displayed perfectly, ice carvings, and the most elegant and delicious food imaginable). See the gap? When we look at dream jobs, they are just that: dreams. We are looking from the outside, and the reality can be very different from what we imagine.
If you ask adults about their dream job, you’ll notice something very interesting. You’ll get answers like this:
“having autonomy over my schedule.”
“helping people accomplish their goals.”
“watching the joy in my patient’s eyes.”
“having enough time off to take vacations with my family.”
What did you notice? These dreams are all based on a quality of life and contribution to society! They aren’t about tasks or being an employee. If I look at those answers through the lens of my trade (culinary arts), I could identify specific jobs where someone with my training could pursue their dream. Want autonomy? Write cookbooks. Helping people accomplish their goal? Teach culinary arts. Watch joy in your patient’s eyes? Meals on Wheels. Having time off? Corporate dining. As you can see, nearly any occupation can be made into a dream job, but it’s unlikely that your teen will have the insight and life experience to pull that together as a very young person.
You are your teen’s best guidance counselor!
As your teen’s guidance counselor, you may want to consider helping them see the converse side of modern propaganda:
- There may not be such a thing as a dream job. But we all have dreams.
- You may not be able to understand your dreams and gifts until you’ve had more life experiences.
- Dreams and passions can be practiced through volunteer work, ministries, activities, clubs, sports, hobbies, and other informal activities right now! They can also exist alongside our careers- with our families, not just at work.
- One’s dreams and passions will likely change, evolve, and morph over time as we experience various stages of life (marriage, parenthood, retirement) and the unexpected events of adulthood (death of a loved one, a spouse’s deployment)
- Pursuing a 4-year degree may be separate and apart from a dream job!
- Advising your teen to secure a good living means your grandchildren will have food on the table and a roof over their head…it may not include a fancy sports car.
- Life is short, live it well.