| Works for Me |

“My Daughter Thinks a Degree Is a Waste of Time”

My personal mission was: “Prevent other 18-year-olds from spending a decade figuring it out”

My daughter is coming back from seminary this week, and she is very stressed about what to do when she gets back. So are we. I see lots of help wanted ads looking to hire post-seminary girls, but wonder how I can know which of these jobs can develop into a real career and which are dead-end jobs. I feel like getting a degree is the first responsible thing to do, but my daughter keeps saying that it’s a waste of time and she doesn’t know what she wants to go to school for. How do we go about making this choice?

Would you like to know the real inspiration behind my own career?

Some ill-advised, unadvised, and peer-advised life choices that I made as an 18-year-old. When I finally got the dream job in my “chosen” career, I’d sit on the train heading home from work, and the clickety-clack of the wheels on the tracks seemed to sing to me mournfully: “Quit your job, quit your job, quit your job….” The chorus in my head went: “But what else should I do, what else, what else?” (And then the high part — “But you have student loans…” really made me freeze up in fear.)

When I finally figured it out, my personal mission was: “Prevent other 18-year-olds from spending a decade figuring it out.” Quite inspiring, I know. With that background, your question is quite meaningful to me. If I can help your daughter make a choice that her future self will appreciate, I will have fulfilled my mission.

The good news is that you’re both right. College may or may not be a good idea, just like a gluten-free diet may or may not be a good idea. It’s useful for some, and a serious waste of time, money, and brainpower for others. A job that is chosen because of a good ad is a real winner — for the person who placed the ad. As for the employee? Not quite, probably about 75 percent of the time.

Instead, I’d like to suggest an effective antidote to flipping pages in a magazine — the ultimate catalyst for complete career confusion. It’s called: Look Inside. Tune out the jobs, the economy, the ads, the friends, the friends’ mothers, and what people at shul will say (shadchanim included!) Take the time to have an adult discussion with her about what she really wants in life. Besides obvious areas, such as talents and interests, talk about money, schedule, and structure.

A discussion about finances is one of the most important conversations you can have with your daughter. When I ask young adult women how much money they are looking to earn, the top three responses I get are: 1. A blank stare, 2. “A lot”, or 3. “I have no idea — how much should I be looking to earn?” Very few have a specific number in mind. You may want to show them a credit card statement of your own, your mortgage/rent, car payments, and other such things. If you haven’t done so until now, she likely has no idea what her current life costs. At the minimum, provide a baseline for what she will need.

Studies (backed up by the hundreds of families I’ve met) show that girls are more likely to choose their careers based on what their mothers do. Girls who grew up either unhappy having a working mother, or seeing a bored and unfulfilled stay-at-home mom, will often choose the exact opposite of what they were raised with. Girls who are satisfied with the model they saw often choose a career path that is similar their mother’s.

I’ve seen children of business owners say they can’t imagine doing anything else, and others who say that although their friends think it’s glam, they were often providing behind the scenes support, such as making supper, and they don’t want their children to have that experience. Ask your daughter what kind of schedule and lifestyle she has in mind. Share your own schedule and lifestyle, and those of others that you both know, as examples. You (and she) may not know what she thinks about that until you have this conversation.

Once you’ve defined what she has in mind in terms of financial goals, schedules, and lifestyle, making these choices becomes a whole lot simpler. For example, a young woman who recognizes that she wants to be the one to pick her children up from daycare at 3 p.m. probably shouldn’t consider medical school, which may be a great choice for one who is comfortable hiring a nanny. Yes, natural talents and skills are very important, but being a pastry chef who leaves the house at 4 a.m. for 12-hour shifts is more likely to result in unemployment than satisfaction when the realities of family life kick in. Considering all parts of life ultimately results in a smarter long-term career choice.

Shaina Keren is a career consultant who helps people discover and create careers that fit their best talents, interests, and life goals. She also advises businesses on hiring and keeping “the right people in the right seat,” in a win-win approach to growing businesses and careers.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1016)

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