I’ve been watching a couple of squirrels terrorize each other as well as the peaceful doves who usually congregate in my backyard. The rascally critters have broken my bird feeder and spread seeds all over the grass. When I commented to my husband that I was angry that they had taken over my usually scenic area, he noted that they were just being what they were born to be.
It’s interesting that we allow members of the animal kingdom to follow their instincts but we so often want to push humans into being someone or something that just doesn’t feel right for them. We have this idea that everyone should go to college but the fact is that there are many wonderful jobs that require some training but not a degree. Someone who is a master electrician or plumber can have a comfortable and enjoyable life but we tend to freak out if our kids suggest that this is something that they would like to do.
I will never forget a long conversation that I had with one my students whose goal in life was to be a welder. His uncle was training him even before he had completed eighth grade. He had no desire to prepare for college. He loved the work that he was already doing.
I’ve known other young people who knew how to build custom wood floors and lay tile like it was going to be featured in the Taj Mahal. They were skilled in carpentry and able to fix cars. They had little desire to major in history of psychology. They wanted to work at refineries or in oil fields. They dreamed of becoming ranchers or farmers. They understood that they would make enough money to live rather well and it irritated them that instead of helping them to learn a viable trade those of us in the education biz were constantly attempting to wedge them into a collegiate box.
The same is true when it comes to choosing majors. There are those who honestly believe that if we just make science, mathematics and engineering seem exciting enough that more and more students will study for jobs in those fields. The truth is that some people simply are not interested in any way whatsoever in pursuing such technical careers just as my brother, the rocket scientist, would have been appalled at the idea of studying literature or poetry. Instead of insisting that every single high school student be required to build a college bound resume maybe it’s time for us to be more realistic and actually take the time to find out where each individual’s interests and talents lie.
One of the best classes that I ever took was one that I initially dreaded. It was a futures course entitled “Careers.” It seemed to be a total waste of time but once I had completed all of its requirements I understood myself so much more. It was far easier to outline work goals and to have an idea of where I might go in life. It identified my altruistic nature and the fact that I needed to feel as though I was making a difference in people’s lives to be truly happy in a job. It noted my creative bent, my diplomatic skills and my need for human interactions. Suddenly I realized that education was the perfect avenue in which I might use my talents. Indeed I found great happiness in my work, if not a fortune in earnings, something that was never that important to me.
Perhaps the gravest mistake that we make with our young is in placing more importance on certain lines of work than others, giving the impression that some occupations are not particularly worthwhile. We groan if our children suggest that they want to be writers and often redirect their interests before they have even had the opportunity to test the waters. I was told over and over again in high school that my desire to be a journalist was a silly pipe dream, a waste of my valuable time. My mentors wanted me to be a doctor, an engineer or a certified public accountant, none of which sounded like something that I wanted to do day in and day out. The adults in my life felt that I had the intellect to enter a career that would bring wealth to me but I was of a different mind. In the end happiness is as important in deciding such things as monetary gain.
I suspect that the entire educational system would greatly improve if we were to spend more time listening to our students and attempting to help them to find out how to use their abilities and interests to build a career. We need to be honest with them in admitting that a college degree alone does not insure a productive and happy life. We need to provide them with more choices than just a STEM or Liberal Arts degree. We need to particularly work with students who may not have any idea of the many possibilities for satisfactory work.
I was one of those kids who was quite limited in my knowledge of the world. My isolated point of view had little idea of many careers that I might actually have enjoyed. It would have been wonderful to have more guidance from my teachers and counselors than how to fill out a college application. I got lucky when I took that Careers class in college and found my way on my own but not everyone is so fortunate. Far too many young people today graduate with enormous amounts of debt and no idea of how to transform the knowledge that they have gained into a real position that they will enjoy. Many times they fall into majors without much information as to how to use them in real world settings. There is a certain immorality in the ways that we so often mislead our students into believing that any kind of college degree will bring them the success that they seek. It’s time that we begin to rethink the way we help them so that they might find out what they were born to be.
Each of us have special aptitudes, talents and characteristics which if channeled properly lead to incredibly happy and secure lives. It should not be as difficult to find out what those things are as it presently is. We have the tools for unlocking the essence of each person. We need to use that information more effectively. If we can let squirrels be squirrels then we should be willing to celebrate the incredible variety that is who each of us might be.