Once, during the question and answer session following a keynote speech of mine, a rather dignified and well-dressed gentleman vigorously raised his hand. His body language seemed uncomfortable and angry. Of course, he was my first pick.
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The man asked, "What do you have to tell these young people who want to pursue a 'feel good' degree like environmental science?" I paused for quite a long time, allowing the question to sink into the audience.
Then, I answered: "Well, actually, I was thinking that environmental science is a rather courageous and vital career choice."
Continuing, I said that since today's college graduates are likely to change careers a few times in their lives, we need an entirely new approach to preparing students for the future of work. Many of the jobs our children will pursue have yet to be invented. In a world of constant change, we ought to be helping young people identify what they love and what is meaningful to them.
For those of us who grew up in the shadow of the Second Industrial Revolution, this must sound like pig latin. However, I'd insist that finding work you love is important to everyone, at every stage of their career. Successful change requires wakefulness, learning, engagement, and new skills. And while change requires courage, we ought to be far more frightened of living with ambivalence or even hatred for our work. Without love and passion, we're unlikely to succeed in our careers.
After the event came to an end, the well-dressed man quickly walked over. He brought up the possibility of my coming to speak at an organization he serves. As it turned out, the man ran two career development programs for one of the most prominent charter schools in America.
I thought of this well-meaning man railing against "feel good" degrees in one of the country's more sophisticated communities. Such advice is all too common. For many, it is an automatic response to the world today. Unfortunately, it can perpetuate mistruths for young people regarding how they should pursue meaningful futures.
Today, we need to change the way we go about planning careers. We need to learn how to derive security from growth. The four-year or graduate degree is no longer an endpoint, but a license to learn. It is an introductory course to active learning. This is what healthy, vital, and coveted employers look for in new hires first and foremost. As active learners can attest, becoming one introduces you to a world of growth unlike anything you've ever seen before.
If you are a parent, make sure your children are getting healthy, realistic career development support at school and at home. Tomorrow's talent pool will be full of entrepreneurs, disruptors, problem-solvers, and teachers tackling jobs that have not even been invented yet. Creativity will be in demand. In fact, an MFA is far more salable today than an MBA. Empathy is another trait whose importance will only grow in the business world going forward.
More importantly, we need to teach our children to sell – to draw healthy attention to themselves, to connect with others skillfully, and to build communities tailored to their unique mission, vision, and purpose.
Quite frankly, the country's entire educational system is turning away from these skills, as are many parents! If the world is rapidly changing every day, how on earth will our children thrive without these skills?
Kevin Kelly, author of The Inevitable, tells us the rate of change has sped up to the point that there is no longer a destination. We are "becoming." In other words, we are learning and moving so quickly that we are always growing into someone new. In front of us is a world that few parents recognize, especially if they were hammered into shape by their elders' career advice.
Telling our children to take careers they didn't really want or care about was always a good way to kill their souls; today, it's a good way to kill their careers.
Once, while interviewing the author and corporate trainer Jack Canfield, and I asked him what he did to prepare his two sons for work. He responded: "I always told them to do whatever made them happy. Then, I centered all of my attention and energy on instilling in them the confidence they could deal with anything life dished out to them."
Jack intuitively helped his sons become good at sales, communications, asking for help, and engaging with others. Success and happiness came their way.
Our children need new voices, and our parents need a new language and mindset. At Inspired Work, we are studying children these days and have found they have far more wisdom than we give them credit for. In fact, I've come to the conclusion they are already ahead of us.
Within every child is a mission, vision, and purpose that is probably beyond our understanding. What is going to happen when we apply our energy and love in helping them discover that purpose? What kind of world will we live in when we teach them the life skills to thrive and succeed as unique human beings?
Life will certainly become more interesting.
David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.