Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Teenagers: Don't blindly follow your parents' career choices

Parents: Don't blindly expect your teenager to follow your career choices


Back in the last century, I worked with a consultant fluent with SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Software, Ravi Joshi. Ravi was born and raised in India, where his father worked for the railroad. But Ravi didn't go work for the railroad; he ended up being a highly-paid SAP consultant working in the United States. This is unusual for people in India as many families have a built-in career path: If your father worked for the railroad, it's likely that you will, too. The same thing applies if your father works at a steel mill.

That's not usually the case in the United States, although there are cases of multiple generations of police officers, firefighters and Kentucky coal miners. In the United States, teenagers do have a lot more flexibility in their career choices. This is especially good since many of their parents' careers, like mining coal in Kentucky, are quickly disappearing as well as being dangerous and causing long-term health problems.

A coworker of mine from many years ago wanted to go into the U.S. Army at 17. He lived in Kentucky with his family whom didn't put much emphasis in education. The Army requires a parent's consent to join at 17. This coworker's parents were against it. "Why don't you just work at your uncle's body shop?" his father asked. The body shop had been struggling for years and the future wasn't bright. "There's no need to go anywhere." His parents refused to sign the consent. The coworker ran away from home and never looked back. When he told me this story, he was in his early 30s, working full time and finishing up his bachelor's degree.

So, if you are a teenager, what does this mean to you? You need to look out for your long-term interests, not your parents'. Your parents shouldn't encourage or request that you join the family business, or even the same business that they are working for, right out of high school. Do you have the desire and financial means to get a bachelor's degree or at least an associate's degree? Are there other fields of work that you are interested in? If possible, you should go to college or at least get away from home for a few years. After at least five years of work experience, post college, you (now definitely an adult) can come back to the family business with a wealth of new knowledge to share and a clearer idea of what your goals are in life.

If you are a parent with a teenager, what does this mean to you? You need to look out for the teenager's long-term interests, not yours. Don't encourage or request that the teenager join the family business, or even the same business that you are working for, right out of high school. Does the teenager have the desire and financial means to get a bachelor's degree or at least an associate's degree? Are there other fields of work that the teenager is interested in? If possible, the teenager should go to college or at least get away from home for a few years. After at least five years of work experience, post college, the teenager (now definitely an adult) can come back to the family business with a wealth of new knowledge to share and a clearer idea of what his or her goals are in life.

My personal situation fits this post, although I didn't follow the advice I just gave. After high school, I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Then, instead of talking to recruiters at the university, I went back home and started working full time for my father, Richard Hobbs, for $100 per month plus room and board. I still think that was a good decision for me as I was not ready to go out in the big world. I did contribute to my father's company and I took over ownership five years later. But I do wonder how my life would have gone if I had interviewed with IBM for a position in Rochester, Minnesota (I still have the telegram they sent me). In retrospect, I would have thrived in Minnesota.

If you know me, you are suspicious of the timing of this. I know a situation that this addresses. I am gently hoping that someone reads this post and that it gives them something to discuss with their parents, spouse and teenager, who is rapidly becoming an adult.

--------------------

Footnote: I normally don't mention people by name in my blog posts, but I would like to get reconnected to Ravi Joshi. The last I heard, he was working in the Detroit, Michigan area. I tried to contact him after Sept. 11, 2001 but found that there were too many people with that name in India.

No comments: