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Choosing A Career Path: Using Teenagers’ Interests as a Starting Point

“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 about choosing a career path can be paralyzing and self-limiting.

At the same time, adults can inadvertently squelch a teen’s dream with their negative or skeptical reactions. 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.

Here Are 3 Ways to Help Teens Explore Careers:

1. Brainstorm options that connect to personal passions.

Whether or not the “dream job” is within grasp, developing skills and passions that are personally meaningful can and do lead to satisfaction and success. For example, if your teen has a passion for creating, they 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 they love nature, they could become a scientist, conservationist, forester, or camp director.

2. Identify the skill set needed for these “dream jobs.”

Furthermore, exploring these “dream jobs” helps teens become aware of the path they need to follow. Teens can benefit when there is an awareness of the important skills required for their “dream job”. If they are a nature-lover 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.

3. Try it out!

Finally, stepping forward and trying out options is also important, whether the options include the dream job itself or a close approximation. Shadowing, volunteering for or interning with someone in a job that sounds dreamy could go a long way to help understand what your teen might be interested in pursuing as well as what they need to do to get there.

Wendy Cunningham, PsyD

Wendy Cunningham is a Clinical Psychologist, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.