What are you going to do when you get older?” This question can evoke significant anxiety in teens. Although some teens are unclear about their preferred direction in life, others have a dream, accompanied by many worries: “How do I do it?” “What if I fail?” “What if I succeed?” “What if I make the wrong choice?” These fears can be paralyzing and self-limiting, which can be more detrimental to the teen than if they actually attempted it.
Alternately, adults can inadvertently squelch a teen’s dream with their reaction. A teen may express a dream that seems completely unrealistic from an adult’s perspective. When the adult dismisses the idea, the teen may stop exploring options.
Whether or not a “dream job” is within grasp, satisfaction and success can be within reach when an individual focuses on the personal characteristics and skills that give him or her meaning, definition, and purpose. For example, if you have a passion for creating, you can pursue many different careers, like painting, writing, architecture, culinary arts, or advertising. There are many ways to be creative beyond the fine arts. If you love nature, you could become a scientist, conservationist, forester, or camp director.
Teens and adults can benefit when there is an awareness of the important talents within their “dream job.” If you love nature and want to be a conservationist, what skills are necessary for that career? It’s helpful for teenagers to investigate their dreams, to understand the path to get there and the skill set required. Remind teenagers that even the most successful adults had to work hard to develop the skills and talents they need to do their work.
Finally, stepping forward and trying out options is also important, whether the options include the “dream job” itself or a close approximation.
Wendy Cunningham, PsyD, is a Clinical Psychologist, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.