Friday, May 16, 2014

If I were a high school guidance counselor

This kid thinks nothing of getting his hands dirty, so why should you?

This week I read an article rehashing a Facebook interaction between Mike Rowe and a fan. What Rowe said reminded me of something I've been telling people for the past few months. IN the interaction he wrote:
Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. 
Returning to the US without a job was difficult. Returning to the US knowing that jobs I could look forward to in the US (using my background, skills, and interests) would make breadwinning much more difficult than in China made it even more difficult.

I've since found a job teaching. I'll some be back to teaching ELLs and doing what I love to do, but my wife and I have to watch our spending very closely, much more closely than when doing the same job in China.

When I arrived in the States, I considered a career change. Some options were on the more administrative side of education. The most intriguing, however, were more "blue collar". I love working with my body, and careers like CSA farmer, welder, electrician, HVAC tech and others really began to stand out.

So why didn't I opt for those? Were they "beneath me"? Not at all! Did I think they'd be boring? I never thought about that (and no). Simply put, I didn't pursue one of those careers because I have a family to take care of and didn't/don't have the money or time to re-skill.

This experience led me to rethink how I've led my life. In turn, this experience got me thinking a lot about how I would counsel young adults, high school students specifically, considering their futures.

"Follow your dreams!" "Follow your passions!" "Do something you like." That's what we tell people. That's what young students hear. I think we do our young people a disservice when we talk like that. If someone can follow dreams and passions, of course that is wonderful, but people that really do have dreams and deep passions will follow them whether we tell them to or not. It's the voice of reason and rationality that students need.

If I were a counselor today, how would I counsel young people? First, I would ask, "Do you have a calling? Do you have something you think you were born to do?" If the answer is yes, I'd keep asking questions to make sure they really do, not just think they do. If no, I would tell them to find something they can do (i.e. ability), something they can bear (i.e. not suicide inducing), and something that makes money. Then I'd tell them to save their money well.

Am I a materialist? Am I just out for money? By no means. Here's how I see things as a 35-year-old man: In the absence of a profound calling to a vocation, in the absence of a deep driving passion, go for the money. If you can do it in a white collar job, do that. If you can do in in a blue collar job, do that. Save that money. Why? So that when and if you discover what you really want to do, when and if a passion arises, you will have the financial resources to support yourself (and a possible family) while you re-skilling or doing whatever needs to be done to get that new career off the ground.

I'm glad I'm a teacher. It's in my blood. I'm not sure I would actually enjoy doing anything more than I enjoy teaching. I'm glad teaching found me. It pays the bills. But if I would want to leave it, there are few avenues open. Give yourself options.

Follow me on Twitter @MatthewTShowman.

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