Would I Do This Even if I Didn't Get Paid?
I had the privilege recently of having a high school junior as a single passenger in my car as we made a two-hour drive from Atlanta to Anniston. Her father, a surgeon and my close friend, had just undergone cancer surgery, and after an all-clear report, I was taking his daughter back to school. Ryleigh, my passenger, is a highly motivated and very intelligent 16-year old, and she has already researched and discarded several career options, including medicine. Her current focus is on an upcoming re-take of the ACT, then on finding the right college that will prepare her for her newest love interest-a political science major, then law school and a career as an attorney. She also wanted to take "Theatre", which, oddly, seems to fit her career goal.
My purpose in engaging this forward-thinking young learner was to find the source of her motivation. Forty years as an educator taught me that only a small percentage of high school seniors (much less juniors) actually research career options. So many students change majors more than once, and never fully go into a career field with eyes wide open. Yet here was this rare student, recognizing her chance-of-a-lifetime teenage opportunity to plow headlong into the real world knowing which road to travel, and which dream to pursue. I wanted to to know what motivated her to have such confidence in her career choices.
She was not surprised when I told her that many college graduates return to a technical college, at an average age of 28, to be retrained. Not her, she vowed, for that was a waste of years she could already be doing what she loved. Ryleigh considers herself a life-long learner (although she did not word it that way), "testing" each real-world job-related experience to see if she could picture herself doing this ten years down the road. (With the medicine thing, she shadowed her dad in surgery, and while she was very comfortable working in the hospital, she was just not sure it was for her, so she keeps searching.)
I think this life-long learning is a real key to researching job interests. Kids do summer work. They sell ads to the school newspaper. They sell candles to help the Thespian Club. They serve as officers in the Recycling Club. A life-long learner examines these experiences in light of the question: "Do my talents and interests get utilized here?" and "Can I imagine myself doing this type of work everyday?" Ryleigh examined experiences as a candy-striper ("Volunteen" Program at the local hospital), a babysitter, a retail salesperson, and a customer service representative (selling tickets at a seasonal corn maze). In each case, I am sure she asked herself those questions and others, mentally filing away the answers.
Another lesson I got from Ryleigh was the way she viewed her high school experiences. I noticed she had taken a variety of courses beyond the core curriculum. For example, she took a Pre-engineering course as a 10th grader. She said she enjoyed the course, but, looking at it from the critical eye of career research, she knew she did not want to do those type of experiences for a lifetime. She fell in love with a course entitled "Law and Society" and wanted to know more. (That is also where she found "Theatre", I am sure.)
Students like Ryleigh are going to have some help from other high school courses soon. The Alabama State Department of Education has organized the Alabama Career Information Network (ACIN) to help students ponder their future at an earlier age. They are rolling out a program called SUCCESS (The Supporting Career and Cluster Education for Students System) and it includes a "Success Guide" career planner that lists and provides information on sixteen career clusters. Information is available through a website, www.altechprep.org, explaining the program. I understand it will be taught in the ninth grade in every high school in the state.
Ryleigh's final lesson to me was that she just loves life. She tries to find the fun, the enjoyment, in every experience. She says "I try to find the learning aspect to everything I do. Even if I do not like it, I can learn from it." She tests the experiences of life, and asks the critical question: "Would I do this evem if I did not get paid, just because I like doing it so much?" Soon, students will have more help in career planning. Just do not be surprised if some, like Ryleigh, figure it out for themselves.