When my daughter Emma was eight years old, she participated in her first gymnastics competition. Her maiden event was her floor routine. Like a pro, she saluted to the judges and waited for her music to come on. But when the music started, she stood there like a deer in the headlights. She had forgotten her entire routine.
Elementary School: Olympic Gymnast
After an inauspicious start, Emma somehow held it together throughout all the following events—beam, vault, and the uneven bars—but as soon as she got in the car, she broke down in tears, gasping and choking out a question between breaths, “If I can’t be an Olympic gymnast when I grow up, what can I be?”
I was alarmed at her question. First problem, Olympic gymnasts are not adults. Second, she had lots of women professional role models (I had worked full-time until a year before, her teachers and her doctor are all women). And perhaps the most disconcerting, she was a very bright girl but didn’t realize that she had a world of opportunities before her. At eight years old, she could only relate to teen athletes and pop stars as her role models. It’s not that I wanted her to pick a career at her young age, but to rest assured that she had a bright future ahead.
[Search for summer sports camps for your teen.]
High School: Doctor or Scientist
Fast forward to high school. Fortunately, Emma recognizes she has infinitely more options than pop star and Olympic athlete. She is well aware that her interests, native talents, and values should drive her career direction. But, like most seventeen year olds, she is aware of only the “big” name careers such as doctor, medical researcher, lawyer, and teacher…And she isn’t even quite sure what medical researchers do. Neither am I.
College and Beyond
So, as a parent, I am encouraging and helping Emma investigate internship opportunities and talk to people who are in careers that would leverage her love of science and math. She is not only talking to them about their careers, but also about their course of study in college, so when she starts college next school year, she enters with her eyes open to some of the possibilities ahead of her.
I also know that career counselors and aptitude tests could be a helpful next step. In fact, years ago right after graduating from college I worked at General Electric in their two-year on-the-job marketing training program and GE had all trainees take personality and aptitude type tests to help us refine our career direction and to understand how personality types influence our interactions in the workplace. I remember the Johnson O’Connor aptitude test and the Myers & Briggs Personality Type test, both of which are available today through career consultants and online, and I remember learning “aha” insights that still ring true today.
[Find an independent career counselor for your teen.]
So while Olympic gymnast is no longer in Emma’s future, she is starting to get excited about investigating the many ways she can earn a living in a career that fits who she is and what she values. That’s better than winning the gold.