how to guide teens toward career goals, coworker sent a dramatic all-team email after I asked for my chair back, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. How can I help my teenagers figure out career goals?

I have twin 10th graders, both intelligent and hard working. One has an idea of the field they want to go into and the other has no clue. I don’t know how to guide them at this point in their life in regards to future careers and education. I want them to find a career that more than pays the bills — enough to live comfortably, have some fun, and retire at a decent age. I’ve had several jobs and no clear career path or upward mobility. My spouse and I live comfortably due to his job and I’ve filled the role of providing modest income and being the caretaker of everything else. How do I guide them into figuring out career goals and what to do with the rest of their life? To find a career that is satisfying to them? I’m not even sure how I’d define a satisfying career at this point in my life. I just don’t want them to go to a four year college and end up without job prospects and a career path.

Very few people are equipped to pick a career at 15 or 16 years old. They don’t know yet who they’re going to grow into, and they don’t have — can’t have — any realistic idea of what different jobs are like to be day-to-day. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of us ended up in jobs we didn’t even know existed when we were 15. It’s just too early.

But what you can do is talk to them about work in general — what types of jobs you’ve had and what’s been hard about them and what you’ve enjoyed, what jobs your friends have, what those are like day-to-day, how much different types of jobs pay, and what type of education and skills various jobs take. Ask about the kinds of lives they think they want, and talk about what it would take to achieve that.

Also, ensure that they’re exposed to a wide range of possible interests, from law to writing to tech to mechanics to science to investing (my mom used to make us pick stocks to fake-invest in) to gardening to environmental science and on and on. That could just mean talking about an article in the news and seeing if it sparks an interest, or showing them how your car engine works, or asking them to create a plan for how your family could start composting. See if something clicks.

All of this is about giving them a good grounding to make decisions later, rather than making decisions now.

2. Interviewer asked, “If I talked to the person who likes you the least, what would they say about you?”

I applied for a role in a department adjacent to my current position, and during an interview with one of the other managers in this department her last question was, “If I talked to the person who likes you the least, what would they say about you?”

In the moment, I was a bit taken aback and said something like, “Wow, what an intriguing question!” And then tried not to get too personal since the first thing that came to mind was my ex spouse. Like, I get that they are probably trying to have you share a weakness, but … seems like kind of a weird place to put someone in a professional setting? What are your thoughts — good or bad use of interview question?

Terrible interview question. Few people are likely to answer that honestly, it’s highly likely to make most people/everyone uncomfortable, and it makes the interviewer look oblivious to normal human dynamics. It’s not even framed in a work-specific way.

There are ways of probing into people’s relationships with others that don’t come with those serious drawbacks. For example, I used to ask candidates for management roles, “Taking it as a given that every manager has things they do that frustrate their employees, what do you think frustrates your employees about you?” That’s more about their own self-awareness and thoughtfulness (have they even thought about it before?) and it was relevant to the work they were applying to do (manage people).

Because your interview was an internal one, I do wonder if the question was rooted in internal politics of some sort. But it’s a bad question regardless.

3. My coworker sent an upset all-team email after I asked for my chair back

My workplace recently moved spaces (within the same building). I was out of town for some of the move but coordinated most of it. As such, I was later than the rest of my colleagues in getting to the new space. When I got there, one of my coworkers had taken a chair that I’d reserved for myself (but hadn’t been using at the old location as it didn’t fit under the desk). When I came into the office, I told him that was my chair and explained that I’d specifically pulled it from surplus a few weeks earlier to have in our new space. He gave up the chair with minimal fuss, and I thought that was the end of it. However, a few hours later, he sent the following email to the entire team (my name replaced with “Jane”):

“I think you will agree with me when I say that no one in the office has any intentions to claim somebody’s stuff in their absence. As part of the move, we were told to take whatever was needed from the original office space. I took an additional chair from the office thinking no one is using it. Today Jane asked me to leave the chair that I was using, mentioning it belongs to her. I first apologized and then put away the chair and said I didn’t know it was hers. I didn’t mind that I had to apologize or had to leave the chair but what bothered me the most was that she didn’t care to ask if I took it by mistake or unintentionally. The chair was not actively used in the basement and if that was wrong then she could have looked for it on Monday or Tuesday. My apologies for bringing it up but I felt embarrassed having gone through this situation. A healthy conversation is the least that we can expect from each other. I firmly believe that it’s not a few, but we all are giving our best for the workplace’s success. If you have questions or issues in this regard, I am happy to discuss or resolve them in person or at the coming weekly meeting.”

He is not my supervisor (nor am I his). I don’t really know how to respond to this. What I’m currently doing is ignoring it. I didn’t attack him when I asked for my chair, and his email feels like he’s trying to justify himself for taking my chair. (Even if he didn’t know it was mine, he knew it wasn’t his.) However, him sending this to the entire team makes me feel attacked for simply wanting my chair. Do you have any advice for how to address this with him/our manager/the team?

There’s no need for you to address it with your manager or team. This is a bizarre email for him to send to a group, and it’s going to reflect on him, not on you. It’s very Milton with the red stapler. (Also, his invitation to people to speak with him if they have “questions or issues in this regard” is especially strange. I doubt that anyone has questions about anything other than his choice to send this email.)

That said, it’s probably smart politics for you to try smooth things over with him. Don’t grovel, but a brief “I’m sorry that I upset you; it wasn’t my intent” is probably worth doing as an investment in office harmony.

4. Wrongful termination on Gilmore Girls

On Gilmore Girls one of the running jokes is that the grandmother, Emily, is unable to keep a maid. She’s shown firing them for a variety of reasons. In one episode she’s sued for wrongful termination, and her daughter, Lorelai, is asked to give a deposition. My question has a few parts:

1. Emily tells her family she fired the maid in question because she walked very loudly “she was the clomper” and she couldn’t stand the noise in her house. Would that be considered wrongful termination (i.e., could the maid win the case)?

2. In the deposition Lorelai is asked the following questions: “Would you say your mother is a tolerant woman?” “Why has your mother dismissed maids in the past?” “Would you say your mother sets impossible goals which people cannot help but fail to reach, thereby reinforcing her already formed opinion of their deficiencies?” “Would you call your mother an extremely critical woman?” and “On a scale from one to ten what would you rate your mother’s compassion for others feelings?”

Would any of these questions be relevant for a wrongful termination suit?

Some of those questions could be relevant in establishing a pattern of behavior, but it’s moot because firing someone for walking loudly isn’t illegal.

“Wrongful termination” doesn’t mean “fired for an unjust or bad reason.” Wrongful termination is when the firing was based on something illegal, like firing someone because of their race or religion or as retaliation for engaging in legally protected behavior (like reporting discrimination or harassment, or taking legally protected FMLA leave). Firing someone for walking too loudly wouldn’t qualify unless the loud walking were caused by a disability. However, even then, the federal law against disability discrimination only covers employers with 15 or more employees. (Some states have laws that kick in at lower thresholds, but many of them specifically exclude household employees.)

{ 636 comments… read them below }

  1. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, if your daughters are readers you could also expose them to interesting careers by giving them books that highlight them without being “do this.” I am thinking specifically of Mary Roach, whose books would have definitely pushed me into science because she makes it so interesting while being funny as hell. Second might be Simon Winchester who also makes science fascinating.

    1. ESus4*

      Great idea! I l8ke the Dick Francis mystries because he dives so deeply and empathetically into the occupations and work lives of his characters.

      1. Grandma*

        There was the one Dick Francis novel about the injured jump jockey who had to take over his brother’s gem business. I learned a lot about how gems are sourced and sold.

        Also recommended for an 8-10th grader: The Code Book: The Secrets Behind Codebreaking.

        On oceanography: Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor

        1. HoundMom*

          Fellow Dick Francis lover here! Fun fact, he attributed a lot of the in-depth knowledge of the occupations to his wife who did the research. She even learned to fly for one of his books.

          1. MK*

            I think they were basically co-authors; I believe he said in an interview that they used his name because he was already well-known before becoming a writer.

      2. Khlovia*

        Seconding Francis. There are always horses trotting about in the background, malevolent villains trotting about in the foreground; and the protagonist is always The Quietly Competent Guy–an expert in some niche occupation upon which the author has done thorough homework. Enough mystery, violence, and racing to catch a teen’s attention, and a wide enough window on some interesting aspect of the world to retain an adult’s.
        Plowing through the entire oeuvre would at least suggest to a kid that there are more options in life than he or she previously realized.
        Something of that element also exists in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories, via the wide variety of clients. Fewer horses, more orchids.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Although every once in a while you run across a Surprisingly Intelligent Villain–one fellow had been hired to blow off the protagonist’s hand, and the hero pointed out how a jury would take someone blowing off his only *working* hand. The hired villain then said, ‘not paid enough to take that long a sentence, bye now.’ and wandered off, likely to have Words with the guy who hired him.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      This is a great idea – but don’t limit it to science! There are all sorts of books that can give teens some exposure to different careers, including bios/memoirs as well as other non-fiction.

      1. Lydia*

        Caitlin Doughty’s books about being a mortician made me feel a lot more comfortable about death and at one point I did wonder if I should have learned about it sooner.

    3. DJ Abbott*

      Growing up I got a lot from the great science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. Also Heinlein and the James Blish adaptations of the original Star Trek series. He adapted each episode into a short story.
      That was decades ago and I’m sure there are also new writers now. :)

      1. DJ Abbott*

        PS- Heinlein’s isn’t just about science. His books got me thinking about society, why it’s like this, how it could be improved, the way people treat each other, and more. It’s a very broad scope.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          As a caveat, Heinlein’s books have some problematic views on gender, sexual assault, race and being gay. I realize all writing is a product of its time, but I found Ursula K. Le Guin’s books at least as interesting in the way they build societies and much more inclusive.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          Yes, Heinlein didn’t have gender awareness like we do now. It wasn’t happening back then.
          However, his views on sex, relationships and marriage were very advanced for the time!

          1. Zelda*

            I wouldn’t call them “advanced.” Maybe “unconventional.”

            Reading Heinlein as an older teen (the LW will have to judge whether the material is suitable for these younger teens, but I’ll tell you that _Friday_ is *right* *out*) did help me question and explore a lot of my own assumptions about gender, sex, relationships, etc. In a good many cases, they helped me by clarifying for me why I thought Heinlein’s take on the matter was dead wrong.

            Interesting, thought-provoking, useful, but I wouldn’t say “advanced.”

            1. DJ Abbott*

              It seemed advanced to me as a teen in fundamentalist Kansas. In the mid 70s. His characters did not necessarily get married, had sex whenever and with whoever they wanted, and treated relationships in a way I had never seen before. It seemed very advanced to me in a culture where I really believed people didn’t have sex until they got married. And you had to get married!

              Anyway, even back then I noticed some of the novels were a little dated. As living together without being married got more common, reading a book where the characters had been to Mars but were still considered to be “living in sin”was quite dissonant.

              I mentioned these examples more to show how much a person could get out of science fiction than as a recommendation to read now. Except maybe for Asimov’s I Robot. I also read an anthology Jewish science fiction he had edited and it was hilarious.

    4. BitOfAWanderer*

      OP here— we are all readers. I have been doing this some and I will definitely continue to do it. The look on their face when I suggested making prosthetic limbs as a career option was priceless. Everyone wondered where that came from…..

      1. DJ Abbott*

        My father was also interested in that, but as far as I know never got a chance to work on it. He was an electrical engineer.
        Someone has to do it, and it probably pays well! It’s a question of whether they could handle the emotional aspects.

      2. BethDH*

        My parents used to occasionally take me to lectures at our local college — mostly academics, of course, but also alumni in a variety of fields.
        This was useful in seeing careers, but even more so because they encouraged me to write emails when I particularly enjoyed one to thank the speaker and ask (reasonable follow up) questions.
        In other words, they didn’t help me choose a career, they helped me get the skills I’d need to explore on my own in college. I wouldn’t have had the guts to do things independently in college like ask people about shadowing them and informational interviews without having done that kind of communication with help in high school.

        1. ferrina*

          Yes! I remember going to a lecture on string theory when I was 16. I went on to fail Physics 101, but the theoretical foundation of physics helped me understand the paradigm of postmodernism. Totally different worlds, but helped get my brain ready for what I eventually specialized in.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          This is a great point–the LW’s kids don’t need to select a career at fifteen, but strengthening writing and question asking skills will put them in much stronger and more confident positions in college and beyond, which will assist immeasurably in job hunting in general.

        3. Nina*

          Agreed – my parents both retained pretty strong ties to their respective alma maters, and taught me very early on that one of the roles a university fills, and one of the reasons they’re government-funded in our country, is answering questions from the general public.

          I was homeschooled, which helped, but ‘interested in physics? look up when the physics lectures are, take a bus across town, and audit one’ was absolutely a thing for me, as was ‘need to know where to start reading on [subject the teaching parent knew nothing about, e.g. toxicology]? look up on the university website who the experts in toxicology are, and write them a polite email asking for a reading list.’

          Knowing far ahead of time what it was acceptable to ask university lecturers/professors for (protip: you can ask them for an awful lot more than most freshman students think you can) had a bigger impact than nearly anything else on my ability to thrive at university. The professor who eventually became my postgrad adviser also provided freshman-me with rules of thumb that have never failed me yet –

          – default to the most formal title you’re able to find for a person until they explicitly ask you to call them something else.

          – if you can find posted office hours, come in the posted office hours. If you can’t, email to ask for an appointment. Do not be late to the appointment.

          – if you’re coming to ask a question, have the question written down, and be prepared to tell them two things you’ve already tried to answer it yourself.

      3. Mrs. Badcrumble*

        Prosthetics is really a fascinating blend of art and science! You have to have a biology/anatomy background, but also need to be able to fit the part with the body seamlessly. A sense of humor is good too — I had a friend who liked to tell the story of her boyfriend who was actually in a prosthetics/orthotics program. One of his projects was building(?) a replacement digit for someone’s hand. There were a LOT of “pull my finger” jokes.

        1. Em*

          I have a friend who does custom prosthetics as a career — think superhero ones for kids, or really artsy ones! Materials engineering has come far enough that structural soundness now permits a huge amount of creativity. His clients are people who don’t want the part to fit seamlessly — they have a leg or arm that can do things and be shapes regular legs and arms can’t be, so why not enjoy it? If I remember right, he did a full lacework leg to match someone’s wedding dress once. So cool.

      4. Pool Lounger*

        I had a friend who does this! He majored in art (sculpture), got his MFA, and now does his own art and makes prosthetics for people.

      5. nona*

        I think the most important thing is to foster a sense of curiosity. That would help them in most jobs, as its an element of critical thinking (“I’m curious how these two things can be true, or not”), but it can also help them find the next thing that works for them.

        FWIW, prosthetic limbs are part of the medical device industry, which is an industry that takes all kinds of backgrounds – engineers, regulatory, writers, marketing, etc – tho most people only think of the engineering part.

        Its where I work (med device, but not limbs), and I would say the most important aspect of working here is not having the science background (though it helps), but understanding why we have so many rules/red-tape to follow and being willing to work within that system and the spirit of those rules (which sometimes depends on knowing the math and science).

        1. Hats Are Great*

          This exactly. The career I have now didn’t even exist when I was in high school or college. I didn’t “train” for it … I learned it by keeping up with the world, being curious, looking for opportunities to keep learning and training.

          The biggest career gift I received was a solid, broad-based educational foundation that made me a lifelong learner.

    5. Anon for this*

      I would actually be wary of this. I work in a field that is very often portrayed to look cooler than it is (we do the cool stuff. It’s just 1% of our workload), and we get a constant stream of interns from the nearby college who are excited that they’re going to be doing cool stuff all the time. Then they’re disappointed because most of it is paperwork which is not cool at all, and they might not be so disappointed if they hadn’t spent years reading stories about the lives of people who have years of cool stuff stories to share.

      1. Not a Real Giraffe*

        This is where it’s important for OP to help set expectations for the “real world” with her kids. I think most careers are probably like this — you have to slog through the administrative aspects of it before you get to the Cool Stuff; or the administrative side of the job is 95% of the experience and the “cool stuff” is only 5%. Talking with OP, OP’s spouse, others in the field, etc. will be really helpful in setting expectations.

        I used to work in career services at a university that actually did this right (a rarity!) and we often brought in alumni speakers to talk about their careers, their career paths, how their school studies led them to where they are now (usually not a straight line, etc.) and they were so incredibly realistic about what their jobs actually entailed. It may have turned some students off from pursuing that particular path, but it was honest.

      2. Zorak*

        Yes I would say also, the important thing is to help them determine whether they like the meat and bones of the job (i.e. the overall shape of the career path, whether it involves working nights and weekends, whether it’s stable or involves a lot of change) in addition to the surface level of what the job’s about.

        And don’t push them to make their career necessarily whatever they love doing the most: it can be just as rewarding to e.g. paint or do improv on your own time and have another day job then to feel like the only way forward is to pursue that as your career. Not to say that those aren’t excellent careers to pursue as well, but there’s a risk of diminishing your enjoyment of some thing by feeling like you have to monetize it.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          This; find a job you genuinely enjoy if possible, or one that feels like you’re accomplishing something even if you don’t enjoy it as such, but it doesn’t have to be only your one true career.

    6. NeonFireworks*

      This is how I found my obscure university major – by spotting a reference to it in a book and getting intensely curious.

    7. Meep*

      I knew I wanted to be an astronomer when I was 8. My parents wanted to make sure I actually wanted to be one so they took me to a nearby observatory when I was 15. There I learned astronomers don’t actually get to use telescopes. They are glorified data processors. So it helped me realize I actually wanted to be an optical engineer and design telescopes.

      I am a strong believer and exposing them to potential careers!

      1. RPM*

        …what? I used to be a professional astronomer and I can tell you that if you are an observational astronomer you’re definitely using telescopes. It’s just not every night (and if it is it gets old very, very fast). And yes, the data has to be processed, but to say that we are glorified data processors really undercuts the massive time and educational investment that goes into the job. Data processing is a small but necessary part of the process (and if you’re using a telescope like HST or JWST you definitely aren’t processing the data yourself), but the most important part is looking at the data and analyzing it and interpreting what it means in the context of physics. If it’s not for you it’s not for you and it’s good to know that before you invest the time, but this is not an accurate description of what astronomers do!

        1. Beany*

          OK, but how much of that telescope use is of the classic eye-to-eyepiece variety? Hubble and Webb are space telescopes, so no human is physically anywhere near them. And aren’t even the big ground-based instruments mostly automated/computer-controlled? My impression of Meep’s statement is that they envisaged professional astronomy as being done in more analog way, with back-yard telescopes you actually point by hand and lean over. Looking at data is very different to looking at the stars and galaxies themselves. (I’ve never done optical astronomy, so perhaps I’m way off here.)

    8. oleander*

      I would say, in addition to talking to your daughter about different careers and areas of specialization, and jobs you’ve had in the past, talk about the dynamics of working with people in those careers. Most jobs (as this column demonstrates!) have a major component of how to handle spending time with, and achieving things with, people you really wouldn’t hang out with if you had a choice. Different jobs require different amounts and types of dealing with colleagues’ personalities. Dealing with the personalities can be interesting and stimulating for some people, miserable for others. But it’s another good set of things to consider, in addition to the job content itself.

    9. Heffalump*

      Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, which does aptitude tests, was very helpful when I made a midlife career change. I wonder how things would have gone if I’d been armed with this information in my teens.

    10. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      I’d also recommend Barbara Sher’s books, and one by Carol Lloyd called “Creating a Life Worth Living”.

    11. Ann Lister’s Wife*

      Yes! John Grisham novels had me seriously considering law school when I was exploring career paths.

    12. SweetFancyPancakes*

      I was thinking of podcasts, too. Listen to podcasts in any area that interests them, and they might get a good idea of what it would be like to have a career in that area. A lot of podcasters are perfectly willing to answer questions about their fields, as well.

      1. Fran*

        Best podcast I would recommend is Ologies! Allie talks to professionals and also asks about their schooling and career paths

  2. Shira*

    LW1, related to the end of your letter (not wanting your kids to go to a 4 year college and end up without prospects) – I would give 2 specific pieces of advice/food for thought:
    1. Make sure your kids know they have alternatives to going straight from highschool into college. Help them explore gap years, other forms of education or apprenticeship, volunteering/service, etc. Depending on where they go to school, their peers and the school staff may be completely locked in to the idea of going straight to college, which is not the right decision for everyone.
    2. Talk to them about the cost of college: how much can you afford to help them, if at all? What would it mean financially for them to take on student debt?
    You sound like a great parent. Good luck!

    1. AcademiaNut*

      Another useful concept is the connection between majors and careers. Some careers mostly require that you have a university degree of some sort, but are very flexible in terms of what that degree actually is. Other careers require specific training or certifications. If you are three years into an English literature degree, and decide you want to become an engineer, you have to go back to the beginning. It’s better to know this at the beginning, rather than midway through a degree.

      The most succinct way I can summarize the process of choosing a career path is to figure out what you like to do, figure out what you’re good at doing, and figure out how to combine the two to make a living. The first two involve self knowledge, the last requires knowing about the work world and potential jobs.

      1. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Another useful concept is the connection between majors and careers

        YES. It’s rarely the straight line that “follow your passion” paints out to be. Help them to understand that they should consider skillset, not just subject interest.

        Just because you work in publishing doesn’t mean you’ll be discussing English lit. Many engineers spend their days in meetings. Medical work requires medical knowledge, but also lots of patience with paperwork. Artists often have to spend a lot of time on marketing and PR.

        The experience of studying something is often very different to the experience of earning money in a ‘related’ field, and lots of people jump ship from careers because while the topics were interesting, the work was not (this seems especially true of legal and publishing, IME).

        So practicing skills like public speaking, writing, collaborating, pitching/selling, etc….can be really valuable for helping students figure out what they want to do.

        1. londonedit*

          Definitely. And they should also do some research on lesser-known/less glamorous-sounding roles within industries they might be interested in. To take your example of publishing, far too many young people think ‘Oh I’d love to do that, reading books all day, meeting authors, being an editor, signing up the next amazing book…’ and yes some of that does go on, but editorial is insanely competitive and hardly anyone actually gets to do those things as part of their job, unless they’re a senior commissioning editor in fiction at a major publishing company (which is the equivalent of being a footballer and playing in the Premier League. Not a lot of those jobs to go round). However there are plenty of roles that people don’t immediately think about – marketing, publicity, rights (especially if you have an additional language), sales, accounts, digital publishing, all sorts. And there are other areas of publishing beyond trade fiction. They might not be the super-glamorous jobs that people imagine when they think of publishing, but they’re often more stable and less competitive, and you might just find a niche that you didn’t know you’d be interested in. Personally, the actual types of books I work on are not glamorous in the slightest, but I’ve been able to become something of an expert at what I do because I found my niche and I realised I didn’t want to be the all-singing all-dancing famous commissioning editor.

          1. starsaphire*

            So true! I thought I wanted to get into publishing because I’m a great editor. I found out that, in publishing, editors rarely get to spend time doing much editing!

            I ended up in technical writing because I’m doing almost all editing. And I’m lucky because I found one of the few old-school tech writing jobs that doesn’t hire a bunch of “tech writers” and then expect them to do coding…

        2. AFac*

          Many engineers spend their days in meetings.

          Or writing. All the writing. So much writing.

          If you hate writing (or reading), think twice about getting into science.

          1. NaN*

            Right? People don’t realize how important verbal and written communication is in engineering. Whether you can explain something effectively matters almost as much as whether you can do it effectively.

            1. Nerd Teacher*

              I used to teach writing to engineers and can second this! They’d all grumble through my course and then I’d get emails saying things like, “I graduated three years ago and I just got promoted because I’m the only one who can write a report. So glad I had to take your class!” Yay, interdisciplinary skills!

              1. Rake*

                My dad made a career for himself being known as “the most articulate computer guy” he could explain what was going on to clients or management in a way they could actually understand and that level of visibility (combined with, y’know , actually being pretty good with computer too) gave him a lot of opportunities.

            2. Panhandlerann*

              My husband, a mechanical engineer (now retired), was very surprised at first (way back when) when his jobs involved so much writing. He’d been one of those engineering students who’d felt his required tech writing course was simply time away from the really important engineering classes!

            3. goddessoftransitory*

              SO MUCH THIS. I just read on another site that one commenter’s boss had a sign on his office wall that read “Hire The Better Writer.”

              That doesn’t mean everybody is secretly doing NaNoWriMo or loves nothing more than twenty page essays on lit crit–but having coworkers and colleagues who can express themselves in a clear, timely and interesting way puts you a MILE ahead of the competition in all sorts of ways.

              1. Clisby*

                I read an article some years ago in the Wall Street Journal about this very subject. They interviewed a hiring manager at Morningstar (the group that rates stocks, mutual funds, etc.) who said, “It’s a lot easier to hire good writers and teach them how to read annual reports than to hire accountants and teach them how to write.”

              2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                Even someone who’s hired to code needs to write! Whether it’s little pop-up messages (like a meaningful prompt instead of “page not found”) or the handbook, there are plenty of times where knowing how to put a message across is important.
                (Just remembering when a dev explained offhandedly to me that “oh yeah that’s the message that pops up when X happens” and I said “so why does it say that Y happened?”, and he laughed and said he couldn’t be bothered to write out different messages for different things crashing and I said yeah but think of the users won’t you and he looked at me and I said oh you hate the users don’t you and he cackled)

            4. Clisby*

              That was my experience in 27 years of computer programming. If you want to shut yourself up in an office and write code, don’t go to work for the company I worked for.

          2. occasional engineer*

            And if you are an engineer in consulting, a career progression will likely include project management (sort of expected), client management, people management, business development (bringing in new business and clients), and company management (developing qa/qc procedures, strategic development of new services, health & safety, office management, etc.). These are all VERY different skills and not everyone wants to be doing them together.

          3. Lizzianna*

            My dad, a scientist in a field very closely related to engineering, is one of the best writers and editors I know. I learned more about writing from him than most of my English classes. It’s because he had to write all the time, and as he moved up, he ended up having to spend a lot of time editing more junior scientists’ work.

        3. ferrina*

          This. I wish I’d spent more time exploring things that I liked and had a knack for, but wasn’t “passionate” about. My mom worked in non-profits and I was fed the “follow your passion” with a healthy dose of “save the world”. Then when I briefly worked in non-profits, and I resented never being able to pay my bills. I later realized that my “passion” was the unglamorous organizational management and business operations. I left non-profit to have a better paying for-profit job, and that’s made me much happier. Most skills can be used in multiple settings.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            The cliche’ of a good admin being worth their weight in gold didn’t come from nowhere! Too many non profits are more good intentions than practical skillsets, and ideas and concepts that really could have done a lot of good get wasted because everybody wants to dig wells, not file the permits for digging the wells.

            1. Lanlan*

              This is why I’m really good at my job. I take pleasure in all the paperwork that goes into llama relations, not just the parts where I’m interacting with the llamas. I truly love the monthly reporting, the number-crunching to see which llama handlers we should keep and which ones to come loose, the interactions with the farm down the road (from whence we get our llama-handling referrals), and I get to start learning how to train and manage another llama relations specialist! Nonprofits run on paper pushers like me.

      2. BethDH*

        Also, it’s easy to think about jobs in terms of subject matter but encourage them to find out enough about the day-to-day tasks to know whether they’ll be miserable. The number of friends I had who left jobs because the kind of tasks involved in subjects they loved made them miserable.
        Loving the content/subject of the field can make a neutral tasks pleasant, but it can’t make a task you find miserable pleasant. Jobs can shift a little from company to company, but a lot of career types have certain labor pretty much guaranteed.

        1. Dona Florinda*


          Thankfully I didn’t become a private dectetive, because my expectation would be solving intriguing mysteries for a living, when the reality is more about looking for evidence of infidelity and insurance fraud, and that would’ve made me miserable.

          1. starsaphire*

            I love the Sue Grafton books because she’s very straightforward about this. Kinsey spends a lot of time toward the beginning of some of the books doing boring things like sitting in a car for hours at a stretch, watching a door or balcony or window, and desperately wishing she could go pee or stretch her legs or whatever.

            Of course, *then* she gets tangled up in the intriguing mystery, but a lot of that is also her trying not to get killed, so that has its downsides too…

        2. Eater of Hotdish*

          Oof, wish you all had been there to tell me this stuff when I was 21 and naive and starting a PhD program in a really cool field without any real idea about what an academic’s life actually entails. Good stuff.

          1. Kate*

            Which reminds me of the people I know who went on to get a PhD because they “didn’t know what else to do….” instead of being in school. In even worse positions are those that went on to get PhDs that weren’t funded. :(

            1. Eater of Hotdish*

              Thank goodness I had a professor tell me in so many words, “Don’t even think about going for the doctorate unless you’re fully funded. If you don’t get an offer for full tuition + stipend to live on this year, try again next year. If you don’t get it next year…maybe start thinking about becoming a plumber.”

              I am neither a plumber nor a professor these days…but I also am not going to be paying down student loans till I’m 96 years old, so it was good advice.

              1. Clisby*

                That’s exactly what we told our daughter, who’s pretty far into her PhD programming in Computer Science. If they won’t pay for you to come, they don’t really want you.

            2. Nina*

              I want to do a PhD because a) I loved, loved, loved doing my Masters and would have kept going forever if I could have afforded to and b) my Masters is hilariously different to my actual career, and if I want to get into the big leagues at my actual career, a relevant PhD will help a lot. But yeah, I’m also not touching unfunded with a ten-foot pole, full research funding and stipend or bust.

        3. Smithy*

          This is how I feel about being a small business owner – there are far far too many tasks deeply practical and necessary tasks around running a small business that are just not for me. So no matter the vision of running a cafe, bar, vintage store – whatever – I don’t want to operate a small business. The whole “I want to run a bed & breakfast as a my retirement plan” dream that actually misses the reality of so much of the actual work.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            My mom’s set of friends at one time ALL were chasing the B&B dream, and I remember her filling in for them at their various charming cottages when they finally got ahead enough to take three days off from the endless grind that is running one of those things.

            Unless your dream is to be a combination 24 hour maid, chef, and accountant, B&Bs are not the career for you, especially if you envision it as a retirement thing when presumably you are wanting a lighter workload, not three new careers that never stop.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree with everything here! I started typing out something really long but really it’s just this.

        And what Alison said about just laying the groundwork so they are armed to make decisions in the future, but don’t expect decisions now. I definitely had no clue what I wanted to study in college or what I wanted to do and I ended up with a perfectly good accounting career.

      4. Ellie*

        In early high school, we were given magazines which had things like, ‘If you are good at math, then you might want to be…’, ‘If you are good at art, then you might want to be…’ and then lists of job titles with a brief description of what you did, plus qualifications, and average salaries. There must now be a website that has the same information?

        It really helped me, because I’d never heard of jobs like ‘computer programmer’, or ‘electronics engineer’ before, only the basic doctor, nurse, lawyer, mechanic, etc. But as soon as I saw them, it all fell into place and I knew what I wanted.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      In addition, I would make sure they know that part of the point of going to college is to experiment with classes and areas of study that you didn’t know existed before you got to college, indeed with the goal of figuring out where you want to go afterward.

      I volunteer as a recruiter for my undergraduate alma mater, and so I often talk to wild-eyed 16-year-olds about their college choice. Many of them are very set on the idea that they are going to law school or medical school*, and that’s great, but there are as many who seem so embarrassed to tell me that they don’t know what they want to do, like they’re the only ones who don’t have everything figured out at the age of 16. I’m always so excited to tell them that that’s why they’re going to college — to find out the choices of what they could do, and to meet the people and experiment with the opportunities at the school that will help lead them to their next steps.

      *Also note, many of the students who insist at 16 that they are going to medical or law school don’t end up in medical or law school. I had two separate college roommates who were planning to go to medical school, and exactly neither of them ended up going to medical school.

      1. Shira*

        I respect the idea of going to college to experiment and broaden your horizons, but I’d add the big caveat: only if you can pay for it comfortably without going into debt. It’s always been something of a privilege to “find yourself” at college, but the with tuition costs rising the way they are, it’s become a veritable luxury. To be blunt, there are other ways of finding yourself that cost way less. So it’s one thing to take out loans to get onto a career path that pays off, but in my opinion that should be a financial decision and not an emotional one.
        For generations now kids have been sold the “dream college experience” – it’s become such an emotional and cultural touchstone that I think it’s become difficult for these kids (and their parents) to really take a clear-eyed look at the costs and benefits.
        Sure, college can be formative – but basically anything at this age is formative. It’s a formative stage of life! You can do many things after highschool that broaden your horizons and expose you to different possibilities.
        This isn’t meant to be personally directed at you, GammaGirl- I’m sure you’ve helped a lot of kids! – it just hits on one of my personal bugaboos.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          You’re very correct, and no offense taken at all. The goal is not to end up $150,000+ in debt and in the same place. Absolutely nobody wants that. College is not required or for everyone, and there are many excellent paths you can take that don’t involve four years at a university and / or skillions of dollars of debt. There are plenty of kids that would benefit from a working / volunteering gap year or similar to get a better handle on where they want to go before they begin higher education, instead of yawing all over the school taking whatever random class they can get their hands on, heh. My suggestion is to be open to experimenting with exciting areas of study you didn’t know were open to you, not to spend four years aimlessly. (I also am on two separate scholarship committees, so I’m trying my best to do my part.)

          So that’s not the question we were asked here? LW is musing about pointing her child toward career options so she can hit the ground running after college, not about how to pay for college. I think: A) LW has kids that sound like they are at least headed toward college, and she’s planning ahead, which also means she likely has a plan or at least some resources set aside for this; and B) I acknowledge that usually if you’re at a college fair (…many of which happen in fairly affluent places…) talking to me in the first place, and you’ve just stomped up to my table to tell me that you want to go to a top 10 medical school and therefore you need to know the SAT score required to get into my school, you’re likely at least headed toward college, and hopefully have a plan or at least some resources to do so.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            And it depends on your range of ideas. If you’re having trouble deciding between English lit, music and physics as majors, taking a random selection selection of courses to figure out is a really expensive way of exploring. On the other hand, if you’re thinking of English lit vs history, or physics vs mechanical engineering, you can select courses so that you can pivot to the one you want without having to start back at step one.

            As an aside, I went through a co-op program in undergrad, which was fantastic. You started doing practical work in a degree related job in second year (of a five year program), which really helps you figure out what sort of work you like, and learn about the workplace. They also ran us through the full resume and cover letter process, followed by interviews (for real employers), then a paid four month work term, then a report and presentation to summarize.

            1. ecnaseener*

              I don’t follow why it should be expensive to take English, music, and physics classes. Maybe it depends on the school, but in general there’s plenty of time for electives that don’t count toward your major — after all, that’s how people have time to double-major. I have a friend from college who double majored in music and biology/pre-med, and still took classes in other subjects.

              Engineering is the only major you named where you kinda do need to get on that path right away if you want to finish in four years.

              1. Rock Prof*

                Particularly at smaller schools (liberal arts schools, regional state schools) where required courses might only be offered every other year, there are a ton of majors where starting as early in the major courses as possible is the only real way to finish in 4 years.

                1. Happy meal with extra happy*

                  It’s highly school dependent, I would imagine. I went to a small liberal arts school (less than 3,000 students), and they leaned very heavily on a well-rounded education and taking a variety of classes. Students couldn’t formally declare a major until second semester freshman year. One of my friends switched from English to environmental sciences towards the end of their sophomore year, and the school worked with them to ensure they could graduate in four years.

                2. ecnaseener*

                  Interesting, that’s valuable information for the kids looking at colleges then! If you want to explore several options before declaring, make sure not to pick a school that needs you declare right away.

                3. Nesprin*

                  Even at large universities there’s programs with larger courseloads and course sequences that don’t allow much flexibility if you’re on track for 4 yr graduation.

              2. I am Emily's failing memory*

                Yep, I graduated with two majors (sociology and comparative religious studies) a minor (US history), and a concentration (pedagogical methods). I didn’t decide to add the sociology major until I was registering for senior year, and I only carried 9 credits my second/final semester because that was all I had left.

                I worked part-time throughout college, so I never went “home” during the summers. I took two courses every summer because I really preferred the condensed format of summer semester – I could do a single course that met 3 hours a day, 3 days a week, for 5 weeks – and I got bored doing nothing else but slinging pizza in the summers. I also took a lot of cross-listed courses, which is how I picked up the history minor without even trying. By the end of junior year I already had 99 credits and only needed 21 more to graduate with a BA, and had already done all my gen eds plus the major, concentration, and minor within those 99 credits, thanks to cross-listing.

                Meanwhile, in my third year I landed a part-time job with the campus survey research lab, and over the course of the year I ended up working in 4 different positions in the lab and “discovering” sociology in the process. I decided to major in it and go to graduate school to study it, abandoning the 5-year program I’d been doing where I would have taken graduate-level courses in my 5th year and been simultaneously awarded my BA/BS in any major of my choice along with a Masters in Education at the end of 5 years. I already had 6 credits in sociology from a gen ed course and a cross listed courses in my comparative religion major, so I only need 24 more credits to major in it. I signed up for a summer honors research program the summer before senior year with my work supervisor’s recommendation and got some direct research experience working under a faculty member to see how I’d like it, took 15 sociology credits in the fall and coasted through an easy last semester with just 9 credits in the spring.

                My advice to students is take a wide range of gen eds, and take as many cross-listed courses as you can to bank credits in a wide range of majors. Then if it takes you until your senior year to figure out what you really want to do – or what you really don’t want to do that you thought you would in your first year – you can easily change gears even as late as your last year and graduate with a major you had no idea you wanted until a year before graduation.

            2. Dwight*

              There’s no courses that mechanical engineering and physics share, or that would help you. At best you could use it as an elective, but in that case, you could use almost any college course as an elective.

              1. Nerd Teacher*

                I think that depends on the uni, though? Here, the statics and dynamics courses drew from both majors. And even if they don’t count towards major requirements, they’ll still usually satisfy some general grad requirement.

              2. AceInPlainSight*

                I think that’s uni dependent- in mine, the first 2 physics prerequisites were also required for all engineers, and ditto the 4 math prerequisites. I don’t know about engineering, but for physics you wanted to take those as soon as possible to graduate in four years

            3. Sarah in Boston*

              @AcademiaNut are you a fellow Northeastern alum? Also this example amuses me a lot because I started at NU as an engineering major but graduated with a double major in physics & music. :)

        2. Bayta Darrell*

          If you’re looking to take classes to explore, try community college! It’s much more affordable than a four-year institution. Check for one that has transfer agreements with universities in your state university system. My local community college offered me the lowest costs because I was a local resident, and then all of my classes from my AA degree (general studies), plus a few extras I took for fun, transferred to my 4 year institution, a state university where I paid in-state tuition.

        3. lilyp*

          +1 to this — try and get comfortable with the idea that your kids might not end up at a four-year college (or might go much later) and that wouldn’t be a sign of intellectual/financial/social failure on their part or yours!

          A thought experiment: if one of your kids wanted to go to a summer program to explore career interests and the cost for the summer was 50% of the out-of-pocket cost for a semester at some target college, would you be like “yes, totally worth that much money for them to explore their options and meet new people/have new experiences” or would you be like “yeesh kid we can’t afford that/I’m not going into debt for that/that isn’t a reasonable way to spend $X”? The answer varies a lot depending on your financial circumstances and the price of their ideal colleges of course, but I think it puts into perspective the idea of spending that much money *just* to explore/discover yourself

          1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

            Yes. My son is a junior and while he is intelligent, he hates school. He’s intelligent enough to go to a four year school but he’s not interested, and I’m not going to make him. Everyone asks what his plans are and I always get an “oh, well maybe he’ll change his mind later” when I say he’d like to be an electrician. For one, I know my kid and he’ll never go to a traditional college unless he does a complete 180. Two, electricians make good money, are valuable and needed jobs that cannot be outsourced. And finally, it’s in his skill set of introvert that likes to tinker with things. He’ll be fine and more importantly he’s a kind and empathetic young man. I’m happy he doesn’t want to be some kind of finance bro.

            1. Jeebs*

              Electrician is an excellent career choice. It’s ridiculous that people seem determined to under-value essential trades like these. I do, in fact, want the person wiring my house to be smart!

            2. Gracely*

              Electrician is a great choice!

              I still remember back when I was a teacher, and one of my students told me he wasn’t going to college. I asked him what he was planning to do for a career/what his plan was, and he said he was going to be a plumber–and I genuinely surprised him by telling him that was a great field to get into, and being encouraging about it. He was definitely expecting push back. What he didn’t know is that my parents are in construction and I know just how lucrative those trades can be, and how much they’re needed.

              So good for your son! Good electricians are so, so important!

            3. not nice, don't care*

              My little bro is an electrician at the top of his trade. He started out as an apprentice and did the required trainings/certifications when other kids would have been starting college. He started earning good money fairly early and has had the fun of working on cool projects (including Bill Gates’ PNW house and the Amazon spheres in Seattle).

            4. Nonym*

              Man, people are so rude. My husband is an electrician and when it comes up, people often comment that electricians make a lot of money, which is an odd answer. He doesn’t make more than the people who make the comments and I never see them saying that to each other about their white collar spouse’s jobs. But “oh, well maybe he’ll change his mind later” really takes the cake. It’s so rude. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be an electrician.

              An electrician career isn’t for everyone and it’s not all rainbows and sunshines (no career is) but it has a lot to offer and it’s a great choice for the right person. It’s a good combination of working with your hands and your brain.

        4. Colette*

          That is certainly true, but I’d also caution against working a minimum wage job after high school unless it is in conjunction with volunteering/taking a class in something interesting/making a plan to do informational interviews with people in careers you are interested in (unless, of course, the minimum wage job is something you want to do as a career and you can live on what you make). It’s easy to get stuck and never end up taking the next step.

        5. A guy*

          Strongly agree (Im in my mid 20s so went through college semi recently). Both growing up and in college I was sold exactly that experience that Shira is talking about along with “follow your passion and it will all work out”, “college is a time to explore new things”, etc. and wish that I had known more concrete stuff about what careers were out there, the typical path to get there, and just generally had more of a plan. I know many of my friends feel the same.
          And I’m on a career path now that I like and think is a good fit for me! But, as a result of not knowing I wanted this from the get go I did need to work a certain job for a few years before moving to a next step that many go to right from undergrad. I don’t regret it and loved my time in that job, but it’s a trade off I would spell out for high school/ college aged folks asking about our field.
          Also, for some career/ degree tracks (I.e. nursing, engineering) you do need to apply specifically to those programs from high school, and others (pre med/ pre vet) you really should start on straight away in undergrad if you’re interested since its easier to stop if its not for you than decide 2 years in that you actually do want to be a doctor and have an impossible number of courses to take. So its worth spelling that out clearly- I certainly didn’t understand it.

          1. Me ... Just Me*

            Yes, definitely for nursing, students need to firm up quick that it’s what they want to do, and get those pre-requisites taken care of. Most programs have a very competitive wait-list, even if there isn’t an entrance exam (though, some programs still use an entrance exam coupled with pre-reqs). There were really only a few elective credits needed, and it’s not like most students are going to hit those electives with a tremendously difficult course, as that would end up being overwhelming coupled with the required courses. The only true elective “fun” class I took was a science fiction literature course.

        6. Smithy*

          To GammaGirl1908’s follow-up point – college is definitely not the end all and be all worth going $150k into debt.

          However, if you’re in a position to go and have no debt or minimal debt – I think the stronger take home point is to not force yourself into a major just because its practical and it indicates that you now know what you want to do. When I went to undergrad, being a social media manager wasn’t a job that existed. Now it’s a job that a number of my friends have, and what they studied in undergrad was a wide variety of things including degrees like Art History.

          As someone who didn’t truly get what I wanted my career to be until I was 28 (after a mix of both working and going back for graduate degrees – yes more than one), my advice on those post high school years for those who are uncertain is being mindful about what successful “finishing school” might be for that young person and their family’s finances. Basically options that build out a young person’s generic resume without costing huge amounts of money.

          For young people who want to go abroad, there are options like teaching English, the Peace Corps, and I’m sure more – where even if those aren’t your long term careers they’re functional lines on a resume. If college is an option, study whatever, but there are often campus jobs that include data entry and other straightforward early job skills. Whether the degree is sociology or basket weaving, if for two years you also had a part-time job as a receptionist at the campus gym – they can balance each other out.

          For a parent looking to support a kid/young adult who doesn’t know – my greatest advice to to help continuously supporting them to find “finishing” options that don’t require committing to a career path or knowing what they want to do – WITHOUT spending tons of money. In my case, I went to grad school when I should have done Peace Corps or another international “work abroad” style program. Even if it cost some money or the net result was breaking even, would have been loads cheaper than premature grad school.

      2. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Also note, many of the students who insist at 16 that they are going to medical or law school don’t end up in medical or law school

        Yes, and I think it’s important to stress to students that this isn’t a bad outcome. Many students have been raised with an idea to “never give up on your dreams” which can sometimes make changing course seem like quitting.

        I worked with a therapy practice near a teaching hospital that had SO many clients who were unhappy doctors. Perhaps because they were so goal-oriented that even as they learned more about working in medicine, they never reconsidered whether its what they wanted.

        On the other hand I know two people who returned to school in their late twenties to pursue medicine, and they are both very happy doctors.

        (Also of note: people who come to a therapy practice are a self-selecting group, I’m not implying that all doctors are unhappy. But learning more about a career and realising it’s not for you? That’s not “giving up”, that’s growth.)

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Thank you for this! I was that kid who’s identity was really tied up in being a doctor from about grade 6 and… it didn’t happen (user name checks out). Realizing that I needed to stop, look around and see what else I could do with a passion for a) helping b) knowing stuff and c) explaining stuff in a way that helped other people achieve their goals was both really hard and really transformative at 23.

        2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          My son was planning to go to med school from when he was about 14. Most of the way through his junior year of college, he changed his mind, realizing that the lifestyle would not be for him (too many people for an introvert, little schedule flexibility). He felt bad, like he had failed at something, but I told him I was proud of him. That can be hard to do when you’ve been set on something, and he really likes things to be resolved.

        3. Irish Teacher*

          I don’t know if it’s the same in the US, but in Ireland, there was a real concern about smart kids being pushed into medicine. There is a kind of “you’re smart; you should do medicine” idea. It might be different when medicine is more post-grad and people have more time to decide, but here…well, they actually added an aptitude test thing some years ago, so entry to medicine is no longer solely on Leaving Cert. grades, the way most courses are, because requiring near perfect grades in all subjects, they were getting students applying to medicine solely because it was assumed that was what you did if you were in that 1% of the population or whatever it is that gets those grades and on the other hand, people were being excluded because they got a B in Irish or something.

          1. Cate*

            I’m from very middle England and it was similar here, particularly for kids who didn’t have a lot of role models for other types of careers that successful, school smart people could do. Out of everyone from my school who has a ‘professional’ career, I think I’m about 1 of 1 in finance, but there are about 10 medics of some sort.

          2. Humble Schoolmarm*

            It can be here (Canada) too. Personally, I was drawn to it because of my own chronic health issues (ie, my pediatricians were awesome and I wanted to pay it forward) but certainly the talk around my undergrad biology student lounge was “I don’t know, I guess I’ll go to med school.” was just what you did when you had a biology degree and few other concrete plans. Interestingly, teaching (and occasionally law) was the default in the social sciences building.

        4. Happy meal with extra happy*

          I’ve seen multiple threads and comments in different Reddit subs for attorneys where people are convinced that happy attorneys who enjoy their job don’t exist. I think a lot of that is expectation vs reality, but also a lot of self selection for who’s going to these subs.

          Personally, I’m super happy being an attorney and I have no clue what I’d be doing otherwise.

        5. prof daffodil*

          Yes! I’m a communication professor and probably half of our graduates come in with a different major or undecided, because they don’t know what it is. Or they think they want to be teachers or nurses or doctors or lawyers and find out they don’t. I think it’s good to build self-awareness and interests but not lock into a path until you need to. And even then, be willing to make a change. Lives and careers are long! To that end, OP, you’re about to enter a big life transition too. It’s not too late for you to think about how you want to spend your time and energy in the future either!

      3. Delta Delta*

        Yep. I had a friend who was 100% sure at 16 she was going to vet school, and another who was dead set on pharmacy school. The non-vet is an English teacher and the non-pharmacist is a counselor. Both are happy with their paths, gainfully employed, and are very nice people.

        1. Jeebs*

          My sister got a veterinary technician’s degree. (This is good money, BTW, as long as you’re not squeamish and don’t expect to be working on cute pets.) Her advisor told her in her freshman year that she was the smart one, and most of the people in her school pursuing veterinarian degrees would change their mind by senior year and switch to vet tech. He was right.

          1. SweetFancyPancakes*

            I just want to throw out here that in some US states a degree isn’t required to be a vet tech. I had a former manager whose husband is a vet and he would get so angry when he would see ads for for-profit schools offering a vet tech degree when it isn’t required in that state. Be sure to always look into actual requirements for your chosen job!

            1. The OG Sleepless*

              There is a difference between a veterinary assistant and a registered/certified veterinary technician. You *can* get an RVT degree from a for-profit school, but you’ll get a better education for far less money at a public vocational school.

      4. Rain's Small Hands*

        I have a college Senior and the delight has been in the expansion of their ideas around a wide variety of topics – ethics, psychology, statistics, Shakespeare. They are taking a required religion class and its been delightful to watch them come home with new ideas. They are a History major, so who knows what their career path is going to be, but I’m less worried about that over the long term than I am about them getting this wide exposure and experience. I value the weird classical liberal arts education that is disappearing in favor of technical training to do a job – I think the world would be a better place if everyone had a Philosophy course and some sort of DEI course (their African American History course opened eyes).

        Their Dad and I both got our degrees in unemployable liberal arts majors, and both had varied and interesting careers (I went back for a practical accounting degree later, deciding I wanted to do one of those jobs you train for).

        Also, don’t discount trade school. My son is a welder. Especially if you have a kid who isn’t ready for four years and “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up” a year or two year long technical program to get them into a job might be a good start. Now, at 24, my son is starting to make noise about going back to school – and I suspect eventually he will go back, pick up an associates in business, and move into estimation or project management.

        Likewise, community college can be a good starting place – especially if your college funds aren’t plump – to start exploring.

    3. GythaOgden*

      Also that uni for those who are able is a good way to broaden horizons in general. It may not directly lead straight to a job, but it exposes them to different subjects, disciplines, things they never knew interested them and so on.

      In the UK we have to choose our degrees going in, like if we want to do physics, we apply for a physics degree. Our courses in England are three years of very specialised education, and because of the need to specialise from 16, we need to be thinking about what we want to do at 14-15. But for US teens, even applying for college is slightly easier — they have access to a wider range of subjects and can gradually focus during that programme. I would have benefitted more from choosing a direction at uni itself rather than having to stake everything on my choices at 15. I knew what I wanted to do (politics), but for many young people when they find out what interests them, it’s too late to be whittling everything down to one subject.

      Even in the UK, though, merely going to uni (in one case, against their parents’ wishes — Jehovahs Witnesses) can get you out and about and able to make choices. The JW guy actually dropped out when he got a job in finance — he was recruited because he was able to leave home, make friends, make connections, and demonstrate to others what he could do on his own terms even without a formal degree. I know people who did the same thing with journalism after working on the uni newspaper for a year. I got my degree, but I got some non-uni artistic jobs through just being about and active in the newspaper as a cartoonist.

      The benefit of college isn’t just in the degree at the end. It’s getting all the stuff that goes with being independent but in a semi-controlled environment. For a lot of very able and flexible people the ticket out of the small world of your home town comes with the university experience, regardless of whether you end up staying the course.

      I’d recommend it for that sort of thing as well as the academic elements.

    4. allathian*

      Another point to consider is that technological change is both destroying old jobs and creating new ones. Most of the kids who are now going to college will be switching careers at least once, often to a job that doesn’t even exist yet. Some will switch careers more than once. This includes people who go to post-secondary education to get a certificate without which they can’t practice their profession, like doctors and lawyers.

      Granted, I’m in Finland, where college tuition is free up to a Master’s degree, so the debt issue isn’t as acute here. I have a Master’s in economics and business administration, and for most of my time in college I thought I’d make a career out of management consulting. But at some point I realized that I wasn’t willing to put in the long hours and travel that consulting requires, so I didn’t even start down that path. Instead I worked various entry-level jobs, mostly in retail and customer surveys. Eventually I landed a job as a survey analyst, which required some localization work, i.e. translations, and I ended up enjoying that bit of the job more than everything else put together. Before long I realized that I really wanted to be a full-time translator. This means that I started my career in my 30s. I have a certificate in legal translation, but I don’t have a degree in translation sciences. My current job doesn’t require that, but a master’s degree in “an applicable field” *is* a mandatory requirement.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I ran a careers session with a group of our student interns a few weeks ago, and nearly 50% of them were going to do social media marketing– a job which didn’t exist when I graduated in 2002!

      2. ICodeForFood*

        Yes, this is a thing: professions that exist now didn’t exist when I was 16, and there are likely many professions that don’t exist now that will exist when your teens are adults!

      3. BethDH*

        And that is also changing which fields are “guaranteed stable career paths” too! Fields shift in demand or tech changes alter how many people are needed to perform it or how much it pays (see website design …)

    5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      On Shira’s first point:
      I tried going to college straight out of high school because That’s What We Did At My School and because that’s what my parents wanted me to do. I flunked out three times – like, literally, my cumulative GPA for all three attempts was below 0.5 on the 4.0 scale. Once I figured out what I actually wanted to do (which didn’t happen until I accidentally got a temp job that was adjacent to the field) I was on the president’s list every term in my community college and finished my bachelor’s degree MCL. Knowing what I wanted to do and why made a huge difference, and the first three failed attempts made getting started on the right path a lot harder for me. Waiting a while is not a bad thing.

    6. That One Person*

      Absolutely seconding this because if they’re still exploring then they really don’t want to go to a private university or specialized school only to be in debt over something they realized they don’t want to take into the work place. My high school also really pushed the “college immediately” angle so the notion that I could take a year off to explore interests and take broader classes before settling on something hadn’t occurred to me.

    7. Veryanon*

      This, exactly. I work in HR. I recently spent a couple of days presenting at a local high school’s Career Day events. This particular high school (which my children both attended) is notorious for pushing college, college, college, and never discussing alternative career paths, or if they mention them at all, it’s kind of in passing and in the vein of “if you’re too dumb to go to college, you can do this.” Not very motivating. So I made sure to talk about how I knew that the high school pushed college, but it wasn’t always the right path for everyone, and that was okay, and it was also okay to not have any clue what they wanted to do right now. I also encouraged them to maybe take a year or two between high school and higher education to work, travel, or just try to figure out what they wanted to do.
      I wish someone had had this talk with me when I was a teenager, but in the 1980s there weren’t as many options as there are now.

    8. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I didn’t even know my field existed until a few years after undergrad. I didn’t “waste” my time in undergrad because I didn’t end up in the field I trained in. Upon graduation I got a starter job based on my degree and then tried to figure out what I wanted to do. Then I tripped over a field I was interested in and went to grad school.

      My one recommendation is to encourage your kids to develop generalizable skills in school, no matter what they do. My secret weapon in all of my STEM roles was that I can write quickly and easily thanks to minoring in Literature. Grant applications are a piece of cake after having to write a 20 page paper on a poem with 5 lines.

    9. Water Everywhere*

      Shira’s first point is gold. Education was such a focus in my family that high school-to-college was the expected path and no other options were even discussed. I had no idea what career path I wanted to follow so college was not a successful venture at all and I think that really pushed down my confidence for a long time. Took me until my 30s to figure out what my career path was and to follow it on my own terms, which I’ve been happily doing for 15+ years now.

    10. Here we go again*

      Only advice is to let them have a part time starter job. It will teach them so much about the working world that a class or a book cannot. They will learn somethings about themselves, like whether they want to go to college or trade school. It can motivate them to go to college and find a career they’re passionate about or they will learn that there is nothing wrong with just having a job that you tolerate and pays your bills that allows you to enjoy your life outside of work.

  3. LaBelleFleur*

    I vividly remember being 16 and constantly being asked “What are you doing for post-secondary? What career are you going into?” and crying in frustration because I had absolutely no clue. It felt like everyone around me had their lives figured out while I was floundering in a sea of mental illness and indecision.

    10+ years later, I am doing just fine working in supply chain (which, at 16, I wasn’t even aware was a career path I could take). I ended up taking a gap year to work, going to post-secondary, dropping out of post secondary, going back to work, working my way into a supply chain position, discovering I really enjoyed supply chain, then going back to post secondary part-time (funded by my employer) and graduating.

    Most of the friends I still keep in touch with from high school are not working in the field they were interested in back then (or the field they went to post-secondary for).

    1. Voldemort’s cousin*

      Seconded. I didn’t hear about my niche field until I was in grad school, and it all worked out. It’s good to know yourself and what makes you tick, but part of growing up is getting to know the world and what’s in it. The latter takes time.

    2. Angstrom*

      I remember hearing an interview with someone who made a major midlife career change, and when asked why said “I let an 18-year-old decide what I should do for my entire life.”

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, I think this is important to talk about too. When I was in high school, I was a bit stressed out by my peers who had their lives “figured out:” “I’m going to major in X and then be a Y when I graduate,” “I need to get into A, B, or C universities in order to be successful at X,” etc. And I was 17 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

        Knowing that (1) I could change majors in college (which I ended up doing!), (2) transfer schools if I went to a college that wasn’t a good fit for me, and (3) change careers (which I may do in the future) helped me realize I didn’t need to go to the “right” university and major in the “right” subject so I could go into the “right” career.

    3. Mockingjay*

      Agree about the plethora of unknown fields and jobs. I went into technical writing, but I had never heard of the field until my college roommate mentioned it my junior year (she learned about it from her mother, a librarian). It wasn’t until my second job that I learned about the field of logistics which fascinates me. During high school people told me “go into Engineering!” Except there are multiple engineering fields: electrical, computer, civil, software…

      Since OP’s children are planning on college first, talk to them about the types of classes which support a variety of fields – math, science, writing courses, etc. Ensure these get worked into their course selections – they need a math credit, but which math course gives them long-term benefit: Math 101 or Intro Calculus? English Lit or a communications writing course? I took Into to Psych as an elective and learned tons about creating formal papers due to the stringent requirements of APA style. The principles learned in one major can be applied to several fields. So even if they pick a major early, that won’t lock them into a single career field after graduation.

      1. Your Computer Guy*

        I was one of those people who thought they knew what they were going to do going into college – hardcore humanities, lots of extra classes and electives all driving towards a PhD. Got into a top 25 grad program and started to burn out badly. Realized that the academic job market was a shambles and dropped out to follow my (now) wife in her own academia journey.

        I switched to working in IT, which I had always done as a side/summer job, but didn’t previously consider seriously because it didn’t feel “hard enough” or I wasn’t passionate enough about it. But my priorities had changed in my 20s: I found the person I wanted to marry and have children with and a job/career was suddenly just a means to support those ends. Now my wife (who completed her PhD) is the stay-at-home parent to our 2 kids and I work for a small company that gives me enough flexibility to be available for them when needed.

        Life is long and fate is unclear, so I’d encourage diversity in interests, jobs, and classes. You never know what you’ll need to fall back on.

        Also, I get a strong sense of self deprecation from LW1 about their being the more at-home/available parent – don’t discount the enormous value you’ve brought to your family by “being the caretaker of everything else.” Our quality of life would be extremely low if my wife wasn’t available to handle most everything that needs doing for the household and the kids. We’re both women, so our dynamics both inside our household and socially are probably a little different than yours, but I’d caution you against being too negative in front of your children about where you ended up in life. There’s no shame in making choices towards a better life overall rather than some concept of career prestige.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Seconded! Having someone in your life demonstrated what a well-ordered, well-loved life looks like is enormously, incalcuably valuable.

      2. No Longer Looking*

        I am 50 and I still don’t know what I want to do for my career. I went into college fully intending to become a computer programmer because “I liked playing around on computers.” Back in the 80s that meant diving straight into mainframe programming languages which I HATED. I ended up dropping out of Uni, going back to community college part time for a few years flailing around trying to figure out what to do instead, and again sort of dropping out (got my AS:Business with intentions of returning). I floundered my way through bad jobs for over a decade learning what I didn’t like to do. I finally figured out that I just don’t like working – so I went back and finished my BS:Accounting at 45. At least the pay is better now. ;)

    4. Amadeo*

      Yeah, if you had asked me at 16 what I was going to be I would have emphatically told you ‘veterinarian’.

      What followed was flunking out of U of I gen ed courses (physics, calculus, etc.), going to vet tech school at a community college successfully and realizing the pay was crap and the work was backbreaking and vets can be cheap assholes. Went back to school for graphic design as a non-trad (25-28), graduated with great grades. and now at 42 I’m doing a job that didn’t even exist when I was 16 – UI/UX designer.

      Give your kids some time, OP. They might do amazing like my SIL and blaze through whatever they choose, or they might be like me, blundering around for all of their 20s just trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up.

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I was a smart ass and always said, “Revolution.” with a deadpan stare. Hey, it was one of many options I was considering!

    6. Beth*

      This was my experience also. By the time I was 12, I was already stressed out because I didn’t know “what I wanted to be when I grew up”. None of the VERY limited range of options that I knew about had any appeal, and I literally did not know what else there was.

      I remember going through some kind of Future Career Assessment every year for most of my childhood, and feeling like a profound failure because I never had a satisfactory answer.

      For heaven’s sake, your kids are only 10! Give them a few more years of just learning about life!

      1. mmmmmmary*

        LW said they were in 10th grade, which puts them around 16 and in the US is when kids start touring colleges and deciding where to apply.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Did it not occur to you that the Future Career Assessment was badly designed?
        I remember we had to do a computer-assisted assessment when I was about 16, and some girls were surprised to see that the computer didn’t spew out any of the careers they were interested in. The teacher told them that they clearly hadn’t been enthusiastic enough in their answers – a lot of them had put “I quite like the idea of doing X as part of my job” rather than “I really feel all-out passion for the idea of doing X as part of my job”, even for Xs that were clearly related to the field they were thinking of going into.

        The computer did actually spew out my current career as a possibility for me, but then the teacher told me that you needed such a high level in foreign languages, the only people who could do the job were those who learned several languages in their childhood, which basically meant the children of diplomats. My parents were not diplomats and had not taught me any foreign languages, the reason why the computer mentioned translation was because I said I loved learning foreign languages and writing.
        It took me a while but I got into translation and then got a master in translation on the strength of my professional experience (i.e. I didn’t have to study for it), so the careers guidance teacher can go put her advice right where I’m thinking.

    7. WantonSeedStitch*

      I remember having a clear idea of what I wanted to do as a junior in high school: I wanted to study international affairs and join the Foreign Service. By the time I was a junior in college, I no longer wanted anything to do with government. But I finished my degree and decided to go to grad school for journalism, and become a journalist. Then I found out how hard it is to get an entry level job in journalism that will pay enough to survive in a high cost of living city. I ended up getting a “pay the bills” job as an admin assistant (at a company I hated). When I quit after three years without anything lined up, I temped for a while until I ended up temping in the development office of a university. That’s how I stumbled on prospect research, a career I didn’t know existed previously. I’ve been in that career for over 15 years now.

    8. Parenthesis Dude*

      The point isn’t for these kids to figure out what they want to do at tenth grade. Although, I will note that in twelfth grade they’ll need to apply to colleges — and some majors are impossible to start after freshman year. But I digress.

      The point is for the kids to think about what type of careers make sense to do and how to weigh the pros and cons. And it sounds like she wants her kids to focus on careers that pay well. It doesn’t mean be a doctor or a lawyer. It just means go into college (or something else) with the idea that they want to use that education to help leverage them into a well-paying job. It’s about them not going to college for four years and finding out they have a useless degree that doesn’t help them go where they want to go.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        I am very good friends with someone who is in over 100k of debt from an art major she finished over a decade ago. She’s a retail manager now, and pretty much in debt for life.

    9. Tio*

      I’m also in supply chain, in a fairly high level position I never had even thought about before I entered. And I only entered supply chain out of spite! My friend got a job with a logistics company, and I couldn’t get a job with them, so I applied to a couple competitors to show them. Now I make very good money in a field I never ever even knew about

    10. JustaTech*

      There is only one person I know from college who is doing exactly what she wanted to do when she was 16, and if you’d told me that then I would not have believed you *at all*.

      Somehow at 16 this gal knew she wanted to go into intellectual property law, so she picked the hardest engineering school and got a general engineering degree (we only offered general majors like “engineering” or “chemistry” or “biology” or “math”, none of the sub specialties), then went to a very specific law school (not a big name school, but one that has a really good IP law program) and then went to work for a very specific law firm. (I know all this because two other friends work at that firm, but neither of them started undergrad knowing that was what they would be doing now.)

      Everyone else I know from any school I went to? They’re doing something other that what they thought at 15 (including me).
      The only “trick” to it is to make sure to get exposure to the vast array of what’s out there, and a solid enough educational base to be able to pivot.
      (And it doesn’t really matter what your parents do either; I’m in the life sciences but my mom was a educational development officer (fundraiser) and my dad was a management consultant and then business professor, and they both went into government right after college.)

    11. Frank Bookman*

      I found a supply chain related career at a company that sells products I’m deeply passionate about.

      This is another direction 16 year old me never would have considered— you don’t have to be an actor to work with movies, a musician to work with music, or a writer/editor to work with books. I was familiar with the field, but even at 16 I knew I didn’t want to do the cut throat latter climbing I’d need to do to excel in the more glamorous roles.

      But with supply chain, I can actually contribute to the ecosystem that creates the things I love. Sure I’ll never be famous or fabulously wealthy about it (or, more likely, struggling to survive on passion alone), but I have a job that interests me and in which I excel that makes decent money and doesn’t require I sell my soul to succeed.

      I imagine that would apply to customer service, accounting, IT, data sciences, and many other operational roles as well.

    12. TrixM*

      Yes, IT operations wasn’t a thing when I was at school/uni (before I dropped out). I didn’t really touch a computer until my mid-twenties. I’m still not a “coder”, so advice about studying programming or electrical engineering would have been moot (not that many females stumbled into those areas in the 80s).

      So my everyday first career was in the print trade, in an area that was pretty much made obsolete by Photoshop and related products. It was a complete fluke I fell into that. Then I got into IT at age 30 by way of copyediting – long story – and was lucky enough to get a desperate employer (just prior to Y2K) who offered full training with valuable industry certification.

      So taking a while to figure out what suits you is pretty common, especially if the field doesn’t really exist or you haven’t heard of it earlier. Changing careers is also common, assuming you ever find a “career” in the first place. And even if you do, there absolutely no guarantees the job will last forever. Getting used to change and learning to be adaptable, spot opportunities and sell your abilities are very useful skills to have.

  4. Observer*

    #4 – Theoretical wrongful termination

    Many of those questions would help show a pattern, but the pattern would work AGAINST a “wrongful termination” verdict. Because they would tend to establish that Emily is a difficult person and difficult boss. And that is perfectly legal.

    It’s only if you establish that to her friends and family she seems like a tolerant and considerate person that makes you question why she would fire someone for being a “clomper”. And that’s how you could conclude that if the employee were of a different demographic, perhaps Emily would have reacted differently and now we’re talking about discrimination.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I don’t recall that episode but as presented, this case makes no sense. The maid could possibly sue for some sort of intentional infliction of emotional distress? And thus have to prove that Emily is a nightmare employer?

      1. Twix*

        Theoretically, but intentionally inflicting emotional distress is normally perfectly legal. The bar for IIED as a tort includes that the behavior be “intentional or reckless” and “extreme and outrageous” and the distress be “severe”. It’s an extremely high bar for conduct that is not otherwise illegal or actionable, and being a terrible boss will rarely reach it.

    2. Data Nerd*

      I had similar thoughts to LW4 about the string of terminations of Murphy Brown’s secretaries (I am an Old). I would have to go back and watch the entire series again to determine that none of the firings were based on protected-class issues, although I would certainly doubt that any were blatantly discriminatory; however, might things we wouldn’t have seen as discriminatory in 1992 be seen that way now? And Murphy definitely had a pattern of behavior in firing everyone.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        In both shows, as far as I recall, the pattern of firings basically all boil down to “employee annoyed employer” which tends to be a legal reason to fire someone.

  5. Well*

    Op 1, are you unhappy with your path? It sounds to me like you’re not comfortable in your role in your family and want to help your kids avoid a similar path. But you never know where people will end up, and if you focus too much on the future, you miss opportunities to be in the present, and the present is where we learn about ourselves and gather the skills to move forward into careers and vocations.

    If you had told me at fifteen I’d be an educator in a religious school I would have assumed you were drinking heavily. Now I can’t imagine a different career. But it’s all the stuff in between that allowed me to get there.

    1. Blue Moon*

      >if you focus too much on the future, you miss opportunities to be in the present, and the present is where we learn about ourselves and gather the skills to move forward into careers and vocations.

      I second this. I earned a degree in psychology, not knowing what I was going to do with it. I just enjoyed the subject. 15 years later and I’m a lactation consultant and doula. I had no idea those were even jobs that existed when I was in college. They do make great use of my degree, though!

      1. Sarah*

        Re psychology, it’s one of the most popular majors, and for good reason – but few graduates work as psychologists. What gets people interested in psychology so often leads into fields that they didn’t know existed at time of enrolment, or allied fields where they actually spend more time directly supporting people than they would in a clinical setting. How can they know this at outset?! And some of the jobs people do now didn’t exist 10 years ago. Hopefully if we actually decide to tackle climate change, there will be even more jobs in 10 years that don’t exist now.

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Nod. I think kids should be able to enjoy what they have now. work is a big part of life but building a life that is good no matter what employers say- that’s the rub

    2. Allonge*

      Yes! To be honest, what came to my mind when reading OP1’s letter was that the best my parents did for me at that stage was to not put a huge amount of pressure on me about what I was Going to Be when I Grew Up TM. By that time they were ready to let me make my own choices in most things, and so was I.

      Yes, we discussed college and so, but it was not something that was an ongoing Issue – I got the change to travel with them, take summer jobs, they encouraged my studying because I was good at it and did not bother me, say, about becoming better at sports because I was really not good at that. I had my chores to do but not in the context of ‘this will be useful when I am an adult’; I had free time to be with friends, sing in a choir, read etc.

      25+ years later I am doing something that did not even exist at that time, after having studied two very different things which both allow me to be good at what I do now but which did not make a lot of sense one after the other. The only thing that I was doing at 16 that tanslates directly into my life now was learning English (it’s my second language).

      1. ferrina*

        This is great advice. It’s important to talk about the future, but not lock it in and intentionally leave room for change and development (which will inevitably happen, both at an individual level and industry level). I think it’s also important to talk about what different jobs are out there and what they can look like- as a kid, I pretty much knew about teachers, doctors, diplomats, Non-Profits That Save The World (TM) and Evil Corporations (TM). There was a lot of grey areas that I just wasn’t aware of until I was an adult, and I wish I’d been exposed to them sooner. I love business management and wish I had studied it in college.

    3. MK*

      The OP needs to consider that her children might not want a career. I also get the impression that she is dissatisfied with her situation, but for a lot of people that would be fine, or even ideal.

      1. Colleen*

        It’s the “being the caretaker of everything else” that stood out for me. It’ll be important to ensure the kids don’t grow up to be adults who think one spouse is responsible for taking care of chores, scheduling, house and family admin, taking kids to/from appointments, etc, as well as working (OP doesn’t say if they work part time).

        1. MK*

          Sure, but that’s not really dependent on whether they have career jobs. Plenty of women do have high-powered careers and also do the bulk of housework and childcare because of entrenched gender roles.

        2. BitOfAWanderer*

          For a decade I worked a job where I had a day or two off during the week because I had to work the weekend or evenings. I ended up taking care of things because we live in a 8-5 M-F world and since I didn’t have to take off work for doctors appointments, dentist appointments, car repairs, etc. Nothing to do with gender and everything to do with a household running smoothly.

          1. Allonge*

            But that should be a choice they make, not indoctrinated in them on the level of ‘prams only roll if mother pushes it’.

        3. Citra*

          “It’ll be important to ensure the kids don’t grow up to be adults who think one spouse is responsible for taking care of chores, scheduling, house and family admin, taking kids to/from appointments, etc, as well as working (OP doesn’t say if they work part time).”

          Why is that important? Isn’t it up to the kids themselves to decide what their lives will be, what their marriages will be about, and choose a spouse who agrees? Isn’t it LW and her spouse who decide what’s important to teach their kids about marriage and life? Is there something wrong with being a stay-home parent or a parent who works outside the home part-time, who takes care of all the “support work,” so the other parent can focus on their job and earning the main income for the household? Should LW be teaching her kids that the way their house runs is wrong and bad, and that it’s not okay for the kids themselves to live that way as adults?

          1. Calliope*

            They need to have the option of supporting themselves. They’re teenagers. They don’t know if they’ll meet a spouse who can afford to support a family, or whether that marriage will last, or whether their spouse will become disabled or anything else. Being a stay at home parent or spouse is great for those who want that. But part of being a parent is preparing your kids for a variety of outcomes, not just getting an MRS degree and hoping it works out. I imagine the LW knows in part how vulnerable a stay at home parent can be to changes of fortune.

    4. BitOfAWanderer*

      OP here—not so much dissatisfied but definitely not using my full potential. I like my role now and can see myself finishing my career in it. I do think there were some missteps early on that set me down this path, and it took me a while to find something satisfying and had a good work/life balance.

      1. Allonge*

        I don’t want to suggest that this is not an issue, but I am not sure you, or your kids or anyone else can do anything to prevent this with any certainty.

        It’s normal not to know what you enjoy doing every day – some people well into their adulthood have no idea. It’s normal that this changes, it’s very normal not to know which career option would translate into doing something that one is happy with and paid well and so on. It’s also normal to want to make your parents happy with your choices.

        Honest question: is there something you wish someone said to you or helped you with, back at the time of the ‘missteps’ you mention?

        1. BitOfAWanderer*

          I got some bad advice which instead of lots of job options ended up being lots of job options I almost was qualified for. It felt hopeless and aimless for a while. Just don’t want the kiddos to end up in the same boat.

          1. Hound Dog*

            If someone else has suggested this already, forgive me, but when you’re talking to your kids about careers, make sure you mention “blue collar” jobs as well. So many people got funneled into “university or else!!” and we’ve been seeing the repercussions of that. There’s many excellent vocational schools out there these days, with rewarding and well-paying careers. And, frankly, we’re always going to need plumbers, HVAC, and repairmen.

          2. Here for the Insurance*

            It’s completely normal to want our kids to have things easier and to not repeat our mistakes. But, and I say this with all the sympathy in the world, their lives are not about living our lives better. Not saying you’re doing this, but just a caution to not view their futures too much through the lens of your past.

            They’re going to make mistakes, maybe the same as we made, maybe different. We can’t protect them from that. They’re also going to be the people they are, not the people we *want* them to be. I think accepting that is one of the hardest jobs for a parent. You might want them to have a career that provides a certain lifestyle; that doesn’t mean that’s what they’ll want. They might not want a career at all. The things that are important to you might not matter so much to them. That’s okay.

            I don’t think a parent’s job is to guide their child into any particular path. I think it’s to help them see the options and then let them choose their own path.

            My own situation: I’m a lawyer. My husband is a lawyer. Despite our best efforts, our 28 YO old son barely finished high school, has no interest in more education, and works a minimum wage job. He doesn’t have any particular challenges; he just isn’t interested. Never was. No interest in money, in living our upper-middle class lifestyle, in what other people think. I fully expect that he’ll struggle, but he’s a grown man now and I can’t live his life for him. He is who he is and I’ve had to learn to let go enough to let him live his life on his terms. We gave him options; he chose; and now we have to respect those choices.

          3. Allonge*

            Have you talked to them about this? That may well be the best thing you can do to help them avoid this particular situation. It’s the ‘kids copy what we do, not what we tell them to do’ thing.

            Absolutely do expose them to various options, but, sorry to say this, the more you try to control what they do the less they will come to you for genuine advice. Be the person who they listen to, not the one who tells them what to do.

            It’s hard, so hard!

      2. Julia*

        Missteps are part of the learning process. I think talking about how it takes a while to find satisfying work is helpful. They don’t need to be laser focused on a career path. Very few people at that age are able to assess what they will be good at. Giving them space to figure things out and letting them know they can change their mind is great.

        One of my closest friends planned a career in music, added a major in economics in college, and in her 30s decided to go to medical school. She is currently the head of a department in a busy hospital and works at the affiliated college. In high school she didn’t have a particular interest in science as a career. I also know plenty of pre-meds in college who decided not to go into medicine.

        Give them space and support to learn. A gap year between high school and college might be great or it might not. Let them know they can change majors and they aren’t locked into their adult career at 18.

    5. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, this read to me like a desire to skip all the messy stuff that comes with young people figuring out their path. There is no good way to skip. The friends I had whose families shunted them directly into good careers just had their breakdowns later, when they realized they hated the practice of law or didn’t want to be a doctor or shouldn’t have gotten married so young. Life is very messy. Own it, embrace it.

    6. EPLawyer*

      Yes. OP you have laid out what you want for your kids. But what do THEY want? Granted at 16 they probably only have a vague idea. But maybe they don’t want to have a “career path.” Maybe they want to just work a job and then go home and have their lives. Or maybe they want to be really driven people who want to work “hardcore” hours.

      The key is this has to be about them. Not you.

    7. Lily*

      “if you focus too much on the future, you miss opportunities to be in the present, and the present is where we learn about ourselves and gather the skills to move forward”

      Beautifully stated.

    1. Shira*

      Yikes. This seems unnecessarily hostile. Helping kids figure out what’s important to them and giving them the resources to make life decisions are part of being a good parent. I didn’t see any indication that LW is being overbearing.

      1. JustaTech*

        Seriously! “Overbearing” is deciding for your kid when they’re 12 what college they will go to and what career they will have, without asking them.
        Helping your kids see the wide range of possibilities is pretty much the exact opposite.

        Here’s an example of overbearing: I was representing my undergrad at a high school “college fair” with my husband and our friends (another married couple from our undergrad, she was a teacher at that school which is why we were there). A parent came up and started asking extremely specific questions about should her kid go into the IB program or the AP program and what exact after school activities should he do to get into the school. After the teacher and I explained that admissions isn’t a case of just checking the boxes, and that none of us did the IB program, but also only two of us took anything like the AP program the parent very snipply said “well, no offense but you got in because you’re girls”. Offended, we sent the parent to talk to our husbands (who told her the same thing). Then they asked “how old is your student?” (hoping to talk to this kid). “He’s 12.”

        After she left we all said we hoped the kid went into a completely different field that would bring him joy.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          As a teacher, I’ve come across situations like that and it can be heartbreaking – the 12 year old who would not hand up his test when everybody else was finished because “there are two questions I can’t do.” I pointed out there were 25 questions on the paper. Getting two wrong still meant he could get 92% and he replied “well, I’d be happy with that, but my mum wouldn’t.” At the parent-teacher meeting, I tried to tell her he was doing fine, was one of the brightest kids in the class and didn’t need any more pushing, but she only took that as encouragement: “oh, he’s doing well because I put so much pressure on him to work.”

          The kid was 12. It was a class test that didn’t even count for anything and the only place the grades were being recorded was in my rollbook.

          Yeah, that’s overbearing. The mom here just seems to be trying to find out what options are open to her kids and whether there is any more she can do to support them.

          1. Juicebox Hero*

            Poor kid.

            I can remember getting something like a 98% on a test in grade school and proudly showing my mother, and her response was “if you had just studied for 5 more minutes you would have gotten 100%.” That was the exact moment I quit caring about school until college. I got good grades because I tested well and could think of my feet, not because I put any kind of effort into it.

            1. Ann Ominous*

              “ because I tested well and could think of my feet”

              Can you please elaborate? I can’t tell if this is a reference to something or a typo that I can’t figure out, but it’s delightfully fascinating to wonder what thinking of feet means.

              Like thinking of something, anything, other than the test? Or more like thinking about the fact that your feet can help you leave? I must know. Please :)

              1. Blargant*

                I think that was meant to be ‘think on my feet’, i.e. quickly adapting to the current situation rather than relying on rote knowledge

  6. Lilo*

    I thibk when figuring out careers, it’s important to take clear stock of your interests and abilities. I had a lot of family pressure to go into certain fields, ignoring the things I actually liked to do. I made myself miserable in college trying to be what my parents wanted, then pivoted post college and I’m so much happier now.

    1. Shakti*

      Very much seconding this! I was pushed to major in neuroscience so that I could become a doctor or failing that government so I could be a lawyer not taking into account that I had no interest or inclination towards any of those things! I’m actually an artist and always had a passion for art, but was pushed very far from that. I highly encourage you letter writer to encourage your children to do what they’re excited about and enjoy doing and then finding people and careers that are successful using those skills and interests and seeing how they get there! It would have saved everyone a lot of time, money, and emotional pain if we’d all acknowledged that I was an artist and figured out how to launch a career successfully from there (of which there are many ways starting very young)!

      1. Sloanicota*

        Which is crazy as I know several happy and successful graphic artists and an animator who loves her job, so it’s not as if art is always a direct line to a draughty garret and a bad case of consumption.

    2. WheresMyPen*

      Yep I agree. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was 16 (I’d gone from doctor to paramedic to teacher but wasn’t set on that) so I chose to study languages because they were my favourite subject. After uni I tried a whole bunch of things like admin, teaching, publishing etc. until I stumbled on a job that combined lots of my interests. Admittedly in the U.K. it’s not quite as big a financial risk to do that as in the US, but if they do really want to go to college at least over there you get to study a bunch of different subjects. And if they’re really not sure yet then they don’t have to go to college straightaway, they could travel, get a job, do some volunteering etc to see what parts of work they enjoy and which they don’t.

  7. LabTechNoMore*

    LW#4: I love this question, because the maid’s lawyer could, in fact, argue wrongful termination! Not due to her alleged “clomping” or Emily’s tyrannical standards. Instead, because Lorelai made jokes based on the maid’s nationality.

    EMILY: Gerta, the one from Hamburg, Germany.
    LORELAI: Which one was she?
    RORY: You remember. she was the one you made all those Hamburg/hamburger jokes to.

    1. Myrin*

      I don’t know about the intricacies of the term “wrongful termination” but wouldn’t she still only have a case if Emily actually fired her because she’s from Germany? Furthermore, couldn’t she evoke that it’s her daughter who has a problem with Germans – if that’s even the case, she could make jokes like that but not actually have any beef with Germany at all -, not she herself?

      (In case anyone’s wondering where my bunny avatar went: I’m in a new job and on my work computer where I don’t want to link to my gravatar/email address, but it’s still me!)

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I don’t know if you did it on purpose or not but thank you, the “beef with Germany” pun cracked me up this morning.

    2. Gray Lady*

      I don’t think jokes made by the daughter, who doesn’t live in the home and has no authority over the maids, could have any bearing. And upon further questioning of Lorelai, it would become clear that Emily had not participated in the joking and had even frowned on it — because we know that’s exactly what Emily would do. It’s also highly unlikely that the joking could have created a hostile environment because Lorelai would not have joked that way in the maid’s presence. This is Lorelai’s precious irony in full flow for the benefit of Rory and her parents, not intended to actually disparage the maid.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        IANAL but I think it could if the mother did nothing to stop it. There is a level of employers have to make a safe place for their employees.
        I think it would be similar to a situation where a receptionist or server was being grabbed and sexually harassed by customers but the employer does nothing to stop the customers. Although the employer is not the one who is harrasing they are not stoping it, when they could.

      2. LabTechNoMore*

        Well, then there was this comment Emily made:

        Every time she went to the pantry, I thought she was marching on Poland.

        Granted, that was to her own lawyer, so it falls under attorney-client privilege, but if she made any similar comments in front of witnesses, it wouldn’t help the case. (Though it might be more “hostile work environment” than “wrongful termination”? I’m not sure which one would be pursued.)

        1. Panhandlerann*

          This was a different termination, but how about the time Emily fired the maid right after she “caught” her talking in Spanish with Rory?

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        And I love that there’s an exhaustive “Gilmore Girls transcripts” fan site! Crucial for settling fictitious legal battles online.

    1. Mangled Metaphor*

      But that’s not a career path.

      (Unless they want it to be)

      That’s just an introduction to the world of work and how it differs from school.

      I worked Saturday retail at 16, and had no idea how to turn it into a 9-5 like my parents. My school friends were (variously) also Saturday staff, a volunteer at a vet, spoiled to the point she didn’t actually start working *at all* until some time in her mid-20s, and one who has her career path laid out for her by overbearing parents when she was barely 6 years old.

      Absolutely none of them (nor I) are doing what we were doing at 15. Except the vet volunteer – she went into human medicine.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I disagree. It’s useful for teens to have a job (any job) because of what it teaches them about work in general.

        If you work in retail you’re learning about a retail environment but you’re also learning whether you prefer actual teamwork or solo projects (outside artificial school group projects), whether you prefer to be customer facing or back office, whether you prefer to work indoors or outdoors, whether you prefer varied shifts or fixed hours, whether you can cope with noise/dirt/physical labour etc etc. The role itself is kind of irrelevant except for what it tells you about your own particular personality.

        LW1, I feel very strongly that we talk to teenagers* about careers all wrong. We get them to focus on the *field* rather than the day to day. So if a kid likes animals we talk about majoring in veterinary science, for example, rather than assessing whether they’re actually the kind of person who would enjoy multiple 20-minute appointments in a vet’s office and chasing the billing, or whether they would be better off literally grooming llamas in a field with no other humans.

        * and adults, actually.

        1. Delta Delta*

          Working also exposes young people to other people in the workplace they might not otherwise encounter, and that’s really valuable for figuring out career/life paths.

        2. Kate 2*

          Strongly agree! For instance I didn’t know that being a public or school librarian is a really intense customer service job. I like books so people told me I should be a librarian. That would have been a very bad idea for me.

          Similarly until a few years ago I didn’t know not all paleontologists have to go into the field. I love paleontology but would never be able to stand that. So I ruled the field of paleontology out when I shouldn’t have.

        3. Nonym*

          I don’t believe in the importance of high schoolers having jobs. It’s mostly not a thing in my homecountry and kids do just fine without. Young adults don’t seem to struggle anymore than young Americans with finding a professional path and/or building a career (which is to say, they do struggle but not in a way that seem corrected by American culture being so work-centric from a young age).

          But I completely agree with your second paragraph. The day to day reality of various jobs is touched on but not emphasized enough compared to the field. Discussions are often presented within a simplistic “passion vs income” dichotomy (and the income part is hard to grasp for high schoolers as it’s often presented as just a number rather than the associated reality or lifestyles) when working conditions have a larger impact on one’s quality of life and should be a big part of the discussion. We ask “what do you want to do” too much, to kids who have no clue what the possibilities are, and and we don’t ask “what do you want your life and work life to look like” not enough.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Agreed, working during high school taught me basically zero about what I wanted in a career path, except for “yep not this!”

        1. irene adler*

          In some situations, learning what you don’t want can be as valuable as learning what you do want.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Sure, but it wasn’t a surprise that I didn’t want to work in fast food my whole life. Didn’t help me narrow down a career path, which is what LW asked for.

            1. doreen*

              Maybe it didn’t for you – but it kind of did for me. I not only knew that I didn’t want to work in fast food or retail my whole life , I also learned I didn’t want to work in any sort of customer service role where I would have to deal with people waiting for me ( on line, on the phone or in a waiting room) and that eliminated lots of jobs. So no librarian, no driver’s license clerk, no dental hygienist.

        2. TrixM*

          It did that for me too, which actually was valuable for three reasons:
          a) I had zero idea what I wanted to do, and it utterly, completely confirmed I was not cut out for retail and being treated like I was an idiot by management, so I would have to find *something* that wouldn’t lead me down that path. It actually motivated me to go to university.
          b) I have the utmost respect and sympathy for anyone who works retail, and I immensely appreciate those who are good at it. There are some out there, and it’s so great when you encounter them. While it’s not retail, I’ve recently had this experience with a real estate agent – she’s been a pleasure to work with and everything has been seamless. c) Conversely, I learned how so many people can be utter w@nkers to those they consider inferior. Which was strangely reassuring that mistreatment and rudeness weren’t about me personally (or my f-ed up childhood), but that bullies will bully wherever they feel they have license to. And that I never want to be that kind of person, and, in fact, there are some people that I myself am better than, at least in terms of behavior. That may sound a bit warped, but I thought of myself as scum, and to realise there were ways in which I wasn’t *as bad* as some was a pretty major revelation. And that I might be capable of aspiring to more than just a dreary existence.
          d) I got my own money and more independence at a time when I really needed it. Even $20 in my pocket meant I had bus fare and could travel into the city and hang out with friends without being dependent on anyone else. I got a taste of the world outside school and home, again highly motivational to get out into it.

      3. Sloanicota*

        I agree, I had trouble connecting the $6.50 I received per hour for being obedient to my boss with my dad’s career choices in the white collar salary world. Being raised in the midwest and he middle class, we never talked about money at home. I had no idea how much he made, or how salaries even worked TBH. That is what I recommend to OP: *talk* about money. How much do you earn in each paycheck, and how much do things like a vacation or rent or a week’s worth of food cost? What about taxes, insurance, car payments, etc etc etc.

        1. irene adler*

          This is VERY good advice! Understanding how compensation and cost of living works should be a factor in sizing up what professions one might pursue.

          Mom (an HR professional) pushed computer science. I preferred biochemistry. However, computer science was almost impossible to get into (it was an impacted major) because you had to have the highest grades possible to get in. I did not have the grades.

          She kept telling me that bio careers pay significantly less than computer careers. So, I needed to plan accordingly (i.e., I won’t enjoy the same standard of living that I was raised in). She was correct on all counts.

          I knew I had to do something that I liked. And I have been very careful with my money. She’s not disappointed or anything; above all she wanted me to be happy. I am.

      4. nona*

        Then its an opportunity to talk about the difference between a job and a career. And sometimes you just need a job, even if it doesn’t fit in with an overall career path, and that’s okay.

        A high-school job is a data point, about what it’s like to be responsible to someone other than your parents and teachers. It’s an opportunity for a parent to talk about whether that job has reasonable expectations or not, so a kid can learn, in real time, what a good or not-good work environment looks like. Including the fact that sometimes you do just need to smile and do the thing because the boss wants it that way.

    2. Andrew*

      I so strongly disagree. I think McJobs do irreparable damage to young people’s sense of career goals and ambition.

      We need to understand what careers are good for to see the value of work. When 2020 circumstances left me unemployed, I realized there were five related problems:
      1. I wasn’t being valued for my strengths.
      2. I wasn’t moving forward with my career.
      3. I wasn’t making positive change in the world.
      4. I wasn’t connecting with people who share values and ideas with me.
      5. I wasn’t bringing in a paycheck.

      And I realized that a menial job that addressed #5 very slightly while being harmful to #1-4 would be a net negative. The same is very much true for the jobs I worked as a teenager, which made me feel more isolated and ethically conflicted, and stopped me from opportunities that would have actually connected to my life goals.

      If there’s an opportunity for your teens to connect with people, explore their values, utilize their specific talents, and put them on a track towards a career, then that’s a great teen job. If there’s a job that teaches your teens that their only value is obeying orders with a smile, then that’s harmful.

      1. Low Sparrow*

        Well…most teens who spend some time in food service or retail become adults who view people who work in food service or retail with empathy and respect, and don’t sneer condescendingly at the idea of “menial McJobs” while basking in their own (unemployed) superiority.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Honestly. Comments like Andrew’s are exactly why retail and food service employees were deemed essential workers (which they are!) but simultaneously treated as cannon fodder during the shutdowns.

      2. Zorak*

        Most people who spend time in service jobs spend the rest of their life being extra respectful and considerate of other people in service jobs. There is a reason why it’s a common thing to say that everyone should have to work retail or food service in their life.

      3. nnn*

        I don’t think they do irreparable damage to career goals and ambitions, I just think they’re possibly unrelated to career goals and ambitions, as are many of life’s activities.

        I also don’t think they have a negative impact on moving forward in your career, because never having had a job makes it a lot harder to get a job! It took me 4 years to get my first job because employers didn’t want to hire someone who had never had a job. Once I had that on my resume, I started getting interviews for most things I applied for.

      4. Flipping burgers*

        None of these are inherent problems with so-called “menial jobs”; they’re problems with how employers in these sectors treat their workers, and how customers treat the workers. Your disdain for people who work in fast food or other “menial” jobs is palpable. I worked in fast food at one time; I later went back to school and got a graduate degree, but I worked harder in food service than I ever did at any other job, and I did it for minimal wage while bearing the attitudes of sneering customers who so clearly thought they were better than me because they didn’t have “McJobs”.

      5. COHikerGirl*

        I had a “McJob” where I felt more valued for my strengths and was able to move forward than at a “proper” salary job. And I was more proud of what I did there. I had bosses who backed me up at that job rather than a boss who threw me under a bus.

        I value my work as a waitress and in retail so much. I learned a lot. And when I tell people things about how those worlds work, they’re surprised, because they had no idea what goes into it.

        My current job as an accountant, I started from the very bottom and worked up. It has given me a really good understanding of what goes into the bigger picture numbers that the higher ups care about. I may have never taken a finance course in my life, but because of the “McJob” level beginnings, I am a better accountant than some who did take the courses and who started out in the middle rather than at the bottom.

        The McJobs that people look down on can teach people a lot. Those jobs are just as important as a lawyer’s job. Because they teach the foundational basics of a lot of things. Which I’ve found a lot of people lack.

      6. goddessoftransitory*

        I’ve spent twenty years in a service job and it’s taught me a LOT, including what kinds of people understand work and what kinds tend to value only what their job “appears” to be.

    3. ILoveLlamas*

      Both my kids (now adults) had jobs as teen-agers. My daughter worked in a hair salon, was a camp counselor & flag football referee. All 3 jobs taught her valuable life skills and she is now a surgeon. Yes, she was one of those weird kids who knew by 7th grade she wanted to be a doctor. My son had no idea and I was very reassuring that his sister was not normal :-) He found his own path, but it was a very different journey. I encouraged a lot of variety of courses in college, he did a summer aboard, a gap year before his Masters working in Japan in the JET program and then he did a variety of internships during & after his Masters. He has found his place now — it was just a completely different path from his sister and that is perfectly fine with me. I suggest exposing high schoolers to as a wide variety of jobs as possible. I have a Communications degree, never used it and have had a long career in a field I didn’t even know about. All this to say — IMHO the best thing a parent can do is to be positive, encouraging, open-minded and don’t try to control the process or outcome. I kept telling myself my job was to show them world outside the nest, but they had to do the actual flying….

    4. Chidi has a stomach ache*

      I’d love to know from parents — how feasible is part-time work for teens these days? My sister and I both had regular after-school jobs (I was a receptionist, she worked a bagel shop). But my youngest sister (8 years younger than my other one) tried to find part-time work and really struggled. We live in a pretty dense suburban area with lots of service work and retail, but it seemed like they only wanted folks who would work full-time (this was the late aughts/early 2010s). It’s only anecdata but I’ve heard that a lot of teens these days do so much school/sports/extracurriculars that it’s rarer for them to have a job.

      1. Here we go again*

        My stepdaughter just graduated from high school and now she’s in a full time supervisor position after working her way up from her part time high school job she’s had for a year and a half. She now makes around $20/ hour and had her training paid for by work. She’s now in a supervisor position. She hated school and enjoys her work.

      2. Heather*

        There are so many businesses desperate to hire right now that it really shouldn’t be hard to find a job, perhaps especially entry-level service type jobs. And it’s really good for teens to get some exposure to the working world, even if it’s just a couple of half shifts a week.

      3. Clisby*

        I’m sure location is a big factor. I live in Charleston, SC, and once a kid gets to be 16 it’s not hard to find at least seasonal/part-time work. Tourism is such a big part of the economy, and those businesses just won’t survive if they can’t work around the schedules of high school and college students. (Of course, the really high-end places don’t rely on part-time teen-agers, but most of food/beverage here is not high-end.)

    5. a raging ball of distinction*

      Jobs and/or regular volunteer commitments. Not even as a career path, but – what do they LIKE doing? How do they feel about interacting with people – members of the general public or not? What brings them satisfaction? What skills might they have that they don’t get to use in school? What school skills are they surprised cross over into working with others?
      Knowing all these little pieces of information about themselves will be invaluable for them to move toward satisfying careers.

    6. yellow haired female*

      I’m not sure about this. Focusing on doing well in school should more important than working a job, if it’s not a financial necessity. I remember being in high school and wondering how my classmates who went to work after school got their homework done. Also, if they do any kind of extracurricular activities, including some that could potentially lead to scholarships, it’s going to be very difficult to work, go to school, and participate in those. Retail places are terrible at working around people’s schedules, and no one cares if Susie has a basketball game. Also, competitive colleges are going to care more about extracurricular activities and volunteer experience than retail/fast food experience.

      I also did a lot of volunteering in high school that went a lot further in helping me figure out my passions than working at McDonald’s would have. When I worked at McDonald’s in college, all I really learned is that I never want to do it again. They constantly scheduled me when I had class, and I couldn’t make plans more than a week in advance because they did the schedule by the week.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I agree. There is a reason that schools will often advise against students taking part-time jobs. There is research to show it can have a negative impact on grades. And school is a full time job. For many students, it is significantly more hours than a full time job. My Leaving Cert. year, I was working at least 50 hours a week between school, homework and study.

        That’s not to say no kid should ever have a job. Working summer holidays is generally beneficial and for some kids, the benefits of a part-time job at the weekends may outweigh the disadvantages, but at least for work during the school year, there are negatives that should be taken into account.

        And her kids are awfully young. Here in Ireland, if they are 15, it would be pretty difficult to get any kind of job. Technically, 15 year olds can work something like 8 hours a week during the school year and up to 35 hours in the holidays, but…I don’t think many employers employ 15 year olds unless it’s a family member or friend’s kid. Even at 16, it’s not that easy.

        If her kids are planning on college, they have about 7 years in which to get work experience before they start applying for full-time jobs. And college schedules are usually more flexible. There’s plenty of time.

    7. EchoGirl*

      I’m not sure this really relates to OP’s question. That’s not to say there’s anything WRONG with them having jobs, or even that it’s a bad idea, but in most cases it’s probably not going to lend itself to what OP is trying to accomplish here (helping the daughters decide what path they want to pursue long-term).

  8. nnn*

    An assortment of thoughts for #1:

    1. One thing I wish the adults around me had been more receptive to, and I wish guidance counsellors had been equipped to help me find my path, is the question of what don’t I want to do, and why.

    I have no idea whether this still happens to young people today, but when I was growing up, if I mentioned that I don’t want to do something or I’m bad at something or I don’t enjoy something, the instinctive reaction of adults around me would be “Don’t be silly!” and try to convince me that I’m good at it or I can do it if I put my mind to it or work hard at it.

    It would have been a lot more productive to accept that I don’t like it and drill down into why, and then think about how those characteristics might extrapolate into the workforce.

    For example, I don’t like work that involves manipulating physical tangible objects. I’m not skilled at emotional labour. I’m not entrepreneurial and have no aspirations to leadership.

    These are the sorts of things that could guide me to a compatible career, or, at least, rule out incompatible careers, if the adults around me had only let me be bad at things rather than trying to convince me that I am or can become good at them.

    (Also, you’d need to have a safe environment for people to admit things like “I don’t want to work with people, I just want to quietly get my job done.”)

    2. In addition to satisfaction and interest, pragmatism is also a consideration. Your kids will be competing with all their peers and the rest of the job market. So get them thinking about whether there’s anything that they’re noticeably better at than their peers, or anything that comes more easily to them than it does to others, and whether this translates into a job that they can easily be very good at.

    Of course, they don’t have to decide at 15 to rule out dreams or ambition and go for pragmatism. But, at the same time, it is a valid approach that kids should be made aware of.

    1. Shira*

      Great advice! Especially #1- by highschool it was very clear to me that there were certain skills that I just did not have. I was good in school, and fairly athletic, so I think there was this expectation that I would be all-around good at everything and I obviously wasn’t, which looking back probably set me up for some cognitive dissonance. Real talk from a trusted adult could definitely have helped!

    2. BitOfAWanderer*

      OP-love the idea of exploring what they don’t like and why! I think that can help narrow things down a lot. From what I’ve seen and what they’ve shared most job fairs and conversations have centered around what they like to do and what they are good at.
      We’ve definitely had positive attitudes towards changing your mind as both my husband and I changed majors in college.

    3. The OG Sleepless*

      My son spent a year as an apprentice in the trades right after high school. (Cue the usual comments about how wonderful the trades are…they aren’t always.) He definitely learned that he did NOT want to work with construction crews forever; it’s a fairly toxic work environment. I’ve told him before, though, that it may be years before he fully appreciates how educational it was. For instance, he has a PT job while he is in school, and his boss is a very nice guy and a good boss. My son appreciates his boss after having had several terrible ones.

    4. amas rainy again*

      I second the greay advice . I shadowed family members in any field I had a remote interest in (internships were not a thing in my country). Then I did #1 and determined I did NOT want to work in an office with office hours, nor do research/lab work, and I wanted to work with animals. So I graduated as Veterinary Surgeon and had a large animals practice for 5-10 years, with the intention to develop counseling so I would not have to work nights, so that covered #2. Without spousal/family support during the toddler years of my kids, I pivoted to scientific writer a big pharma (R&D department. Actually, I never considered that field, that allowed me to do stem without the lab. And I actually enjoy my desk job, managing projects in innovation/invention/high tech fields. It took years for me to understand that is rote job that I hate, not all desk jobs. And a veterinary practice was too “rote” for me.

    5. Grits McGee*

      Building off of #1- it’s pricey ($850), but when I was in college I did the 6.5 hour Johnson O’Connor aptitude testing and found it really helpful for narrowing down what I wanted to do with the rest of my time in college and what I was going to aim for in my post-college career. I knew I could force myself to do a lot of jobs and do them relatively well, but I wasn’t sure what kinds of jobs I would actually find enjoyable or fulfilling. The testing was really helpful in IDing the types of work that aligned with my personal skills and abilities.

      1. Architecture is not for me*

        Hey, I was coming to the comments to suggestion Johnson O’Connor! My parents paid for me to do it in high school, and it helped me figure out what I _didn’t_ want to do, at least. I switched majors multiple times, but I could go back to the results sheet from Johnson O’Connor to help validate that I wasn’t making a bad decision for myself with the changes. External validation also made me feel more confident in my aptitudes. Highly recommend.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      One of the most useful things for me in that regard was part-time work-study jobs I had in college. For one of them, assisting the accountant for one department, once I was trained she would pay me for 10 hrs/week and if I got my stuff done faster than that I could leave.

      I went on to prioritize jobs where I just had to get set tasks done by a deadline, and how long it took depended on me. (Though I enjoyed being a sub at a preschool for a time, and that was completely coverage based–I liked the coworkers, the kids, and what I learned.)

    7. Jaydee*

      Along those lines, just considering the general practicality of certain career paths is valuable. It can be really easy to either focus on the most common version of a career or on the most prestigious because those both tend to be most visible to people outside that field. But there are whole ranges of things that the average person doesn’t even know exist that are often on the cutting edge of those professional fields and that make very interesting and fulfilling careers.

    8. Purple Cat*

      YES to all of this!
      It’s also a challenge as a parent to push our kids slightly outside of their comfort zone and let them know they’re being unrealistic. My teen is a loner and his desire is for a job “where he doesn’t work with people”. And I get it 100%, but I remind him that even if it’s not a customer-facing job, you still HAVE to interact with people in some way, shape or form. Boss, peers, somebody.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        He might well flourish in a freelancer role then. I’m a freelancer, and interaction with my clients is mostly limited to “hey can you do this for Friday? – yes, that’ll be €200, please let me know by tomorrow if you want me to go ahead – thanks yes, please go ahead. We’ll need it by 4pm …. – hi Client, here’s the translation, I added a note for one point that wasn’t entirely clear, please feel free to get back to me if I misunderstood or if you have any questions – thanks, yes that’s a good solution, please send in your bill – OK thanks, please find enclosed my bill”

    9. Sloanicota*

      I remember reading once that people who are considering various careers should think granularly about the types of tools they like, spaces they want to occupy, and the type of specific microactivities they would want to do. It always seemed to me like this would have worked better in the day where more people were producing physical objects (I don’t have a passion for laptops or love writing emails, but that is in fact what I do all day now and am pretty happy) but I think about it a lot. To be fair, my passionate hatred for open offices has driven most of my career choices in the last five years.

    10. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      A little bit of a tangent but I’m ND and the whole “of course you’re perfect at everything” thing drives me kind of nuts. No one is good at everything and I think that kind of minor gaslighting only reinforces the idea that people should be good at everything and it’s some kind of failure not to be or to recognize that we all have strong areas and weak areas. While I feel like if people don’t recognize what my strengths and weaknesses are, they don’t really know me and can’t care about or love the real me, because the real me is imperfect.

      1. Magda*

        I think when you’re a parent, you see your kid deciding they “can’t do it” for all kinds of silly stuff (tying their shoes, learning algebra, asking a cute girl out) and you see how the barrier only exists in their mind, usually, at least for neurotypical kids. So you automatically go to a “you CAN do it if you try harder” place a lot. It takes humility for a parent to realize that teenagers may be correctly identifying their preferences and skillsets and the parent should probably put down the pompoms and step back.

    11. NeonFireworks*

      Similar story here. I stuck too long with several things that didn’t suit me because there was a lot of concern about me possibly “closing doors.”

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        My partner was concerned about our daughter closing doors on STEM by going into Fine Arts. I told him they were doors she wasn’t even looking at letting alone wanting to go through them.
        At one point she needed to DIY something involving electricity and she said “I should have listened harder in physics, but at least I found the info I needed on youtube”. Apart from that, which doesn’t really even count, she has never regretted her choices.

  9. ECHM*

    OP1 – Around your children’s age I had an interest in teaching and Mom set me up on a job shadow with a teacher, at which point I determined it wasn’t for me. I knew I liked to write, so my senior year I did a mentorship with a local newspaper reporter. I went on to get my degree in print journalism and spent a number of years as a reporter and editor. All that to say – if your children have any sort of interest in a particular field, it can be helpful to have them shadow someone in that field for a brief time.

    1. nnn*

      To enhance this excellent idea, does anyone know how a parent would go about setting up a job shadow for their kid?

      1. Anonymous Koala*

        It’s really best if the kid sets up the job shadow themselves. Parents can help by introducing kids to members of their network who might be good candidates for a shadow and coaching their kids on how to ask for shadowing opportunities (email, calls, etc). Parents can also help by reinforcing professional norms with their kids so they’re prepared when they step into a professional setting for the first time. But actually reaching out to people to set up the shadow is best done by the kid. I’ve had high schoolers shadow me before, and I’m 1000% more likely to help out if the kid reaches out to me directly or through an introductory email than if the parent messages me to ask on their kid’s behalf.

      2. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Unfortunately, it’s one of those places where privilege plays a big role (ie. do you know or have professional connections with people who do those jobs?). For folks who don’t have those connections, the school guidance councillor might be able to point you in the direction of programs or people who have been willing to mentor a student in the past. Honestly, if your child can present themselves maturely, this is also one place where getting your kid to reach out to someone who looks promising might work too. We had a recent job-shadow day at my school and one student reached out to a professor in the niche area they love. The professor agreed and the student came back on cloud nine (and I think got much more out of the day than the majority who followed a parent to work).

        1. Sloanicota*

          There should be a way for professionals to present themselves to the local school and offer this, so that it’s not coming from parent connections and privilege – and I think that does happen at the college level. I imagine there’d be a lot of logistical challenges for more vulnerable and younger children, hmm. Perhaps their parents or a trusted adult could come too.

          1. nnn*

            This would also help with the fact that the careers kids tend to be aware of are the careers the adults around them have, whereas the right career for them might be something their parents have never heard of

          2. I'm just here for the cats!*

            I wish they had something like that at my school. The only thing I knew is I DID NOT want to do what my mom did, which was working with handicapped people, either at their jobs, in a daycare type of setting, or caring for them in their home. She did it for most of my childhood and it was incredibly stressful, the pay was so low, and employers (and family members) took advantage. Everyone expected me to do something similar and I gave a big ol’ NOPE to that.*

            Heck, at my school we never had any job fairs or anything. Heck, the only reason why I knew the guidance counselor (for college stuff) was because she shared an office with the other counselor (social work/mental health). I think because i had a small learning disability, and the politics of my small town, no one ever talked to me about college or what I wanted to do after high school.

            *(Nothing against those handicapped folx she worked with. They were all amazing people and I loved their energy and enthusiasm for life. Being that I have a family member who is severely handicapped I grew up around many of the same people she worked with. I was even friends with a few of her younger clients. It’s just not something I could do as a career)

        2. Miss Muffet*

          I used to teach Junior Achievement at a high school that an internship class, and at least in my urban area, classes/programs like this are fairly common at the public High Schools. They had a couple of weeks at the beginning to learn about writing resumes, how to interview, etc (and this was part of what the JA curriculum I brought was doing). Then the kids went into the community and did internships for the semester. At the end, they did presentations of what they learned (like tri-fold, science fair kinds of things). I was amazed at the kids who had started the semester COMPLETELY SURE of what they wanted to do, and then had the internship, and were like, NOPE. I thought they were so lucky to have had the chance to discover this early (and for free!) before burning a bunch of college education/tuition on the totally wrong path.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            Yup, public high schools in my area have a lot of co-op type programs which are great for kids to try out different career possibilities (trades leaning, but not exclusively). I’m in middle school, so we tend to do more one-offs. I had another kid who I recommended for a one day Women in STEM conference. When she bounced back to class saying “That was amazing, Miss! I’m going to be a biomedical engineer and design prosthetic limbs!” I nearly cried.

    2. The OG Sleepless*

      Definitely this if you can! I get asked for advice about entering my field (veterinary medicine) a LOT. I tell parents/kids to try to find a job shadow situation in an animal hospital, or even a PT job doing cleaning. They may not even be doing actual animal handling, much less learning animal related skills, but the point is to see what the work environment is like in an animal hospital…it is generally nothing like people think it will be.

      1. Magda*

        Haha kids ask me how they can be an author and I tell them to throw money out the window of a moving car while shouting a story they made up to see what the environment is like (kidding).

      2. Golden*

        Job shadowing a vet was how I realized I couldn’t be one! (I guess even minimal amounts of blood makes me pass out). It was still a great experience, and I thank you and all other vets who open their practices to young people!

    3. Tio*

      This is really important, and something that gets lost with a lot of the “do what you love” mentality. I love to bake, and have been asked so many times “Why don’t you open a bakery?” Answer: I would be miserable. I am a night owl and bakers have to be open early in the morning. When you run a bakery, you need to bake the same thing over and over, because that pays the bills, not your fun fancy creations. I would have to listen to people complain about my baking all the time, rightly or wrongly. It would quickly sap the joy from baking for me, so I have my little corporate job and I bake the fellow execs treats and enjoy my compliments. Your passion as a profession is VERY different than your passion as a hobby, and they should go into that with eyes wide open, if they do choose to pursue.

      1. The OG Sleepless*

        Doing an activity you enjoy and running a business doing that activity are completely different things, for sure. I enjoy being a vet. I have zero interest in owning and managing an animal hospital. I’ve happily sacrificed some income and autonomy by being somebody else’s employee for my whole career.

  10. The Prettiest Curse*

    I’m curious whether anyone here ended up doing the career they imagined when they were 16. It seems that it’s pretty rare to know what you want to do and then stick to it, but I’m interested to see if that is actually the case.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      (Replying to my own post because part of it was eaten by my web browser.)
      I thought I’d be doing something in the theatre world. I did get a degree in drama and didn’t go into it professionally, but I do use a lot of the skills I learned from my degree in my current job (event planning and coordination.)

      1. prof daffodil*

        I’m always telling students and their parents this. Involvement in college theatre teaches so many transferrable skills! Thinking about visual impact and physical space, thinking about human emotion and motivation, coordinating with others toward a goal, time management, marketing/advertising, sometimes even managing budgets and prioritizing goals. (I’m not a theatre prof myself, but it’s in my department and I see how much the students learn from their experience, and how competent they are post-grad as a result!)

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          The best thing about doing a performance-centric theatre degree is definitely that it teaches you to get stuff done to a deadline. If you don’t at least make an effort to rehearse, your performance is not going to go well. There is a surprisingly high percentage of people with performance backgrounds in the events world because there’s such an overlap between the two skill sets – and you get the adrenaline high of a performance when you do a big event.

    2. old lady scientist*

      At 16 I wanted a PhD in physics. I have a PhD in physics, but after my Master’s degree I changed away from the subspecialty I wanted at 16 (particle physics). I still love particle physics, but I now do materials, and that’s pretty cool too.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        i knew by age 15 that i wanted to study physics. found nuclear physics (the kind with accelerators) very fascinating. did my master’s on that. started in on a phd in particle physics. still with playing with accelerators. left that phd after a year due to abusive thesis supervisor. found the job i’m currently in just before the crash of 2008.

        i’m still doing nuclear physics. sort of.

      2. Call Me Dr. Dork*

        At 16 I wanted to become a professor and/or researcher in a physics-adjacent field. I did get my PhD and a couple of postdocs in there, but there was both an extreme shortage of jobs and I was finding out that my particular set of aptitudes (Johnson O’Connor shoutout!) was not a great match for that work. I stumbled into software development because that’s where the jobs were, and am still doing that today.

    3. Not Australian*

      No. I was not only discouraged from the sort of thing I wanted to do – teaching and library science were at the top of my list – but actively prevented by my parents refusing to support me unless I left school and got a routine office job. Actually I would have been a really bad teacher, but I ended up working in a library and loved it – only if I’d had a qualification it could have been a career rather than a short-term job. Late in my working life I came to editing and publishing, which would undoubtedly have been the best choice all along. I should point out that there was a lot of sexism involved: women didn’t need proper jobs, they just needed to footle about doing something decorous until the right man came along and married them… which was also a disaster, in my case, but that’s for another forum! Daughters should be encouraged, just as much as sons, to find a course through life that will at least make them comfortable getting out of bed and going to work every day: making them miserable just to fit our preconceived notions is not parenting, it’s torture.

    4. Filosofickle*

      I did, for about 15 years! At 16 I knew I wanted to find an applied creative career, by 17 had decided on graphic design, and that’s what I studied in college and did professionally until my mid 30s. Then I moved on to a tangential field. I’m the only person I know, however, that ended up doing what they studied / imagined as a teen.

    5. Ducky Worshiper*

      At 16 I really wanted to go to law school. I followed that through college, even taking the LSATs, but mental health stuff made me not graduate. I fell into social services and mental health work through a winding series of jobs and learned that I’m both good at it but also love doing this work and helping people. I never had any idea of doing this type of work when I was younger (I went to college at 16) and wish I hadn’t rushed school so much.

      1. Just me*

        Yes! Thank you for saying this. I started college at barely 17, and mental health stuff made me not graduate.

        I think it would have been much better if anyone in my life had suggested a different path for me than straight into four-year college. I didn’t even want to go! There just seemed to be no alternative except maybe what my parents derisively described as “flipping burgers for the rest of your life.” If I had a time machine, I’d love to go back and explain to past-me that there were tons of other choices and also that nobody should look down on service workers.

        I can’t be too upset about my path, though, because I’m happy with how my life has turned out. I even have a good career (yes, in a different field than any of the ones I’d imagined — and still no degree, which once seemed unthinkable). Ducky Worshiper, I’m glad you found your way too.

      2. LtBarclay*

        I had a similar thing – mental health issues made me drop out of college (after accruing significant debt) the first time around. It’s why I’m against shooing kids into college right after high school. I wish I’d taken a couple years to mature first as I really needed that. And if the mental health issues were going to happen anyway, it would have been better if I hadn’t been hundreds of miles away, racking up debt.

    6. desdemona*

      Me! But I had a lot of hobbies & a wide-range of academic electives available to me.
      So when I was 15, my parents asked me about what I wanted to do (so I could try to tailor my high school electives accordingly), and I thought long and hard about what I liked doing, what I didn’t like doing, and which things I liked could be a viable career.

      I was also VERY fortunate that a parent volunteer at my high school had been in the niche career I decided on, so I had a resource/example. Without her, I don’t think I would have known my job was an option.

    7. Double A*

      I kind of did. At 16 I would kind of fantasize about being a teacher. I tried to do something else, but when your daydreaming about lesson plans in high school education has a way of pulling your back in. And it turns out I’m really good at it.

      1. Double A*

        *you’re, oh my goodness. That’s always an embarrassing typo to make when talking about being a teacher. It is one day to Thanksgiving break, my brain is mush.

        1. Ann Ominous*

          That makes me laugh because I always feel so embarrassed when I do it, too, but seeing others do it doesn’t even really register for me.

        2. linger*

          We’ve all been there. It’s Mruphy’s Law [sic], aka the Law of the Hanging Pendant: Any time you’re signalling your credentials as a language expert or criticizing someone else’s errors, that’s when you’re most likely to make a mistake yourself.
          My own research career started with a job analyzing published text, by faithfully copying, annotating and classifying the errors that had made it past the editors. (Paradoxically, it was work which left absolutely no room for error.)
          If it helps, one result of that research project was that genitive-contraction substitutions (its/it’s, your/you’re) are the single most common type of error persisting in edited English writing. It turns out we’re really bad at spotting them. The sequence your daydreaming… isn’t even immediately wrong in isolation: until no other main verb appears, it can be read as a genitive + gerund.
          Unfortunately, a large part of my subsequent career was spent proof-reading graduate theses, and I’m now resigned to being stuck in that parsing mode. So I’m truly sorry to point out the other error: “…your back in” should be “…you back in”. Mruphy’s Law strikes again.

    8. Schmitt*

      Yes – discovered software programming in a class at 15 and was set. I mostly manage programmers these days, but I think that still counts.

      Before that class, I thought maybe I would be a teacher (????) or go into advertising (????) – I don’t know why I thought either of those would suit me!

    9. AJthenurse*

      I knew I wanted to work in medicine. I thought I wanted to be an ER doctor and ended up in geriatric nursing. So it seems vastly different from what I imagined, but really, I’m in a hospital helping people everyday, which was the heart of my goal.

    10. JustSomeone*

      I wanted to either become a lawyer or work in advertising. I…definitely don’t do anything even remotely related to either of those careers. (Although a small part of me will always daydream about the “what if” possibilities if I’d actually pursued law. I do think it would have been a good fit, but 2010 was definitely not the time to take on 6 figures worth of debt for a JD, and I’m glad I recognized that.)

    11. Cold and Tired*

      I don’t know what I envisioned I’d actually be at 16, but I made it all the way through college as a political science and Asian studies major, and even spent a year living in Asia after graduation. I came back to the US, and took the first decent job I could find, and now am working in healthcare software and implementation 10 years later haha. I only interact with politics when it comes to government regulations in healthcare (though the poli sci degree did include classes on Eastern Europe that are remarkably relevant at the moment), and I don’t work with Asia all (though I do work with European clients sometimes and lived in Europe for a few years for work). And I’m genuinely happy with what I do, even though it’s nothing like what I expected.

    12. Dark Macadamia*

      I only ever wanted to be a teacher, aside from briefly wanting to be a marine biologist around the time I saw Free Willy. I am happily teaching (humans) now.

    13. Shira*

      I did! For about 10 great years. I’ve always been interested in languages, and my family moved from the US to a non-English-speaking country when I was in middle school. I became fluent in the local language and worked as a translator/interpreter and editor (the latter in a niche publishing house that specializes in an area of interest and deep personal significance to me).
      I feel like I basically won the lottery with my career path. For now I’ve shifted to a related field that pays better, but in the back of my mind I’m hoping to shift back when we’re more financially stable.

      1. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

        Hail, fellow translator! Didn’t have quite the same path as you did, but I’m self-taught in the language I now translate into English (and majored in another language that I started out studying on my own). I know what you mean when you say you felt like you’ve hit the lottery.

    14. Pam Adams*

      At 18, I dropped out of college to go to dog shows. At 35, I went back to college to do computers At 40, I became an academic advisor to university students; a career I’m still loving 23 years later.

    15. Bit o' Brit*

      I had two “plans” – study Maths at Oxford and/or become a programmer/software developer.

      I ended up not even applying to Oxford because they require earlier applications, started but never finished two different degrees due to mental health struggles as a result of being undiagnosed ND, and couldn’t even get an interview for a programming job despite the second degree being Computer Science.

      I lucked into being offered a Data Analyst job, hopped a couple of times and am now Data Analyst by title, BI/Systems Analyst by job function. Which coincidentally is exactly what my mum’s career was (now retired), so I knew it existed if not what it was called.

      1. londonedit*

        I also thought I wanted to go to Oxford at one point (and was pushed into applying by my school, which didn’t exactly have a history of students getting the sort of exam results I was predicted to get, and which really really wanted to be able to crow about someone having got into Oxbridge…) but when I went there for my interview I really didn’t like it. I was secretly so pleased that they rejected me, because by that point I only wanted to go to London!

    16. londonedit*

      I had no idea what I wanted to do at 16. I knew the subjects I was best at, and I knew which three subjects I was going to take forward to A level, and beyond that my plan was ‘move to London and do an English degree’. That’s exactly what I did, so I suppose you could say I was successful! But I didn’t really have a clue about the jobs that existed in the publishing industry. Throughout my degree people kept asking if I was going to do a PGCE after (to become a teacher) or do a Master’s (no thanks) – it wasn’t really until I graduated and started doing temp work in order to stay in London that the temp agency started suggesting placements in publishing companies (literally doing things like covering the reception desk or stuffing envelopes for a week or whatever). That led to me getting a permanent job on reception at a small publisher, and I went from there. But I had no thought at the age of 16 that I might work in publishing – I suppose I had the vague idea that I wanted to do something with words, but I didn’t know a thing about how the industry worked.

    17. Ayla*

      Funny thing: when I was very young, I wanted to be a mermaid. Then I got a bit older and wanted to be a stay at home mom. Then I wanted to be a writer, then a teacher, and by 16 I had decided I wanted to be a scientist.

      I got a degree in biochemistry and worked in a lab for a while. While working in research, I volunteered at an after-school program and it really clicked. I ended up working as a tutor while I got an education degree, then started teaching. When I moved to my husband’s state after we married, I wasn’t able to get a teaching job, but I found pretty steady work as a freelance writer. Then my babies came along… the point is, I’m eagerly awaiting my fins as I apparently am working through my dreams in reverse.

    18. Harriet Wimsey*

      As far as I remember I was an idealistic teenager who wanted to ‘save the world’. I did a geography undergraduate degree and then a Masters in GIS (computerised mapping/analysis), when it was still possible to get government sponsorship for such things. My first ‘proper’ job was with a government conservation agency where I talked to loads of the older staff and thought ‘hmm, everyone with an interesting job here seems to have a PhD, maybe I need one of those’. After a PhD in environmental science I ended up at the research institute I’ve been at for 18 years, working my way up through the ranks. I really enjoy making other people’s science relevant and operational to answer policy questions. I work on climate change policy so there’s no shortage of work, and maybe I am contributing to ‘saving the world’ in a very tiny way. But thus specific job certainly didn’t exist when I was 16.

    19. Sarah*

      I’m in academia, which is not where I thought I’d be but uses many of the same skills of the careers I’d considered. This was a pivot from doing a degree in a service profession and ultimately deciding I didn’t have the capacity to hold all the emotional labor involved in that, I enjoyed the researching of the thing a lot more than doing it. Surprise we are also expected to manage emotional labor for hundreds of students in overstretched and underfunded institutions. In retrospect I wish I’d chosen a career path that was less stressful and focused less on intractable problems I cannot change, but it’s hard to contemplate a career change mid-career and with a family support. One day.

    20. Email in the morning*

      The career I currently have did not exist when I was 16. It barely existed when I was 26 (although I was dabbling around the edges while I was working on my career).

    21. Calpurrnia*

      Husband knew he wanted to be a video game developer since he was about 9? He taught himself to program computer games for fun when he was in (the equivalent of) junior high. After continually hearing “oh yes that’s nice dear” from disbelieving adults who thought he’d to much better in a “proper” engineering field, he spent a year in university studying engineering… And after one internship, he swore off any job that would require him to wear a suit, changed his major to computer science, got a game dev job offer at a major game studio (on another continent) right out of uni, and has been working on video games for the past 14 years.

      Meanwhile, when I was 16, I was determined to be an astrophysicist. I actually studied planetary science in college, then taught high school astronomy for a year after graduating… And then couldn’t find another job in the field at all. Nothing whatsoever. My dad helped me break into the aviation industry, and while working there my job started a new tuition assistance program specifically for graduate school in data science. I signed up for that, got my masters, and eventually, in a roundabout way, ended up at my current job… making data visualizations for a software consulting company. As a consolation for my 16-year-old self, at least my company’s name relates to outer space!

      1. Bob*

        However, 99.9999% of kids think designing video games means “playing games all day” and change their minds after the first maths class.

    22. frontlinER*

      I wanted to be a teacher super bad, but was addicted to those weird medical shows on TLC when I was 16. It was a surprise to no one but myself when I ended up in ER nursing. But it’s cool, I still get to teach in my job (and doubly cool that it’s medical teaching!) I can teach you how to take meds, purpose of treatment, and that it’s still not good to stick cucumbers up your butt.

    23. Marion Ravenwood*

      At 16, the only job I wanted was to be a writer. I had always loved being creative and making up stories, and I had dreams that I was going to be the next JK Rowling (in terms of being a successful author rather than, well, the other stuff). But I also wrote for my student paper, mostly doing music and film reviews, and did that all the way through university as well because I enjoyed it so much.

      However, it was also acutely drilled into me that the chances of making a successful go at that were very, very slim, and I needed to get a proper job to make sure I could at least pay bills. So that’s kind of how I ended up going into PR/media relations, which has basically been what I’ve done ever since I left university (after my dad very kindly got me a summer work experience placement in the comms team where he worked).

      Now, 19 years later, I work in the PR team of a training/professional membership body by day, and write for an entertainment website at night (mostly music reviews and interviews, but also a bit of TV stuff occasionally as well). The day job is OK, but I feel like I’m not great at significant aspects of it – although I think that mostly comes down to my personality and needing to get over myself – and increasingly I feel like I should do something else but don’t know what, as it seems to be quite hard to transfer into even adjacent fields right now. The night job is the thing I truly love, and in the unlikely event I won the lottery I’d absolutely pursue it full time, but it doesn’t pay me anywhere near enough to live on. I have thought about going freelance at least part-time and trying to pursue more of that seriously, but I don’t want to do that without a significant financial safety net, and right now that’s not doable for various reasons. So I guess this is it for me for the time being.

    24. Anne Kaffeekanne*

      I did for a couple of years – I wanted to be in publishing from the time I was 8 or so (yes it was because of You’ve Got Mail) and then did indeed get a job at a publishing house after uni.
      I have since pivoted to a job adjacent to but not in the industry anymore. Better pay, less feeling of certain doom. I work with a product which didn’t even exist when I was 16 so yes you never know where you might end up.

    25. Missb*

      I wanted to be an engineer.

      Specifically, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and work for NASA.

      I am not an aeronautical engineer. I do not work for NASA.

      But I am an engineer, married an engineer, have two kids that both earned at least one engineering degree. I love my career and expect to retire from the same job I’ve had basically since graduating.

      1. Spcepickle*

        Same! Wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and work in Mars probes. Now I am a civil engineering loving building stuff on earth.

    26. Staja*

      Well, 16 year old me wanted to be a radio personality…something akin to a female Howard Stern. I lasted one semester in a school with a great Broadcast Journalism program before transferring 2 times, taking a 20 year break break and finishing my degree last May…in Organizational Communication. I am a Commission Analyst – it has nothing to do with my degree and honestly, I’m not that passionate about numbers. I do enjoy the operational side of things, and my coursework has been relevant to everything I do.

      I have always thought about becoming a Pharmacist – I was always told that my poor maths grades would hold me back, but I excelled at chemistry. Not pursuing that is one of my few regrets.

    27. Irish Teacher*

      Sort of. I’m doing a variant of the career I planned for from the age of about 8. I was always going to be a teacher – I remember in primary thinking stuff like “when I’M a teacher, I won’t do that,” “I’ll let MY students…” – but I didn’t get the points for primary teaching so ended up teaching secondary.

      At 15, I was sending my father for brochures for teaching colleges so I could choose my Leaving Cert. subjects based on what was required.

      But I am a bit of an outlier here and our system is different anyway, in that you have to apply for certain courses, so if for example, you want to be a doctor, you would want to be applying for a medical degree when you are about 17. It sounds like qualifications in the US are broader than here.

    28. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I was actually the exact opposite. My mom was a medical coder and biller all my life until she retired a few years ago, and I made a big dramatic deal as a teen about how boring it was.

      … I have been a medical coder for 18 years now.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I wanted to be a teacher when I was really little (I would grade my own colouring sheets) but both my parents were teachers so by 16, none of us wanted me to go into education. I was going to be a doctor, no question about it. Two things changed my mind, 1- I was heavily burning out just from the competitiveness of med school admissions and 2- some of my med school admissions volunteering was tutoring at the children’s hospital and I really loved it. Nowadays, I refer to the time between 15-23 as my “rebellion against the family business” period.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          My mother about fell off the couch from the (failed) effort to resist the “I told you so” when I told her I was getting my coding certification. (Our career paths have taken very different routes, she always worked for small 2-4 doc family practices and stayed an IC while I’ve always worked in big academic hospitals and now manage a coding team, but still, she teases me. :) )

    29. Lady_Lessa*

      I fell in love with chemistry when I took it in HS. We had two years available then. My initial college major was med tech because it combined both my desire to help people and chemistry. When I took a light biochemistry course and (at a different time, )did volunteer work at a VA hospital lab, I realized that I wanted chemistry alone.

      I have either been studying or working as a chemist since then. Different areas of it, different parts of the country, and have found my niche. (I am over 65 years now)

    30. I Would Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I didn’t have a particular career picked out at 16, but I’m not doing any of the things I thought I would be.

      That said, I ended up in the same career as my mother, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I pursued a path I was familiar with. (We live in different countries, so it’s not a direct nepotisim thing as such, but sort of indirectly as I know the language and culture of the industry)

      As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned about different career paths that I think might have been good fits for me, but I never considered them because I wasn’t aware of them or because I had stereotyped ideas about what “sort of people” would be good at those jobs.

    31. FashionablyEvil*

      I thought I wanted to be a doctor—got the degree in biology, took and did well enough on the MCAT and then decided that $100k of debt, the long hours, and the years of being paid peanuts and often being hazed and harassed weren’t worth it. I still work in a health care-related field, but I don’t regret skipping med school.

    32. dear liza dear liza*

      When I was 16, I was a page at a public library. All the adults around me predicted I’d become a librarian. Heck to the no! My job was pretty boring! I wanted to see the world! I remember wanting to be a travel agent, or a journalist, or an interpreter. None of these happened because yeah, I became a librarian- who travels a lot in her free time.

    33. IndigoTeal*

      I am. I knew by that age that I wanted to teach, and at 47 I am indeed a teacher, and have been since I was 21.

    34. ICodeForFood*

      Nope! I’ve had the discussion with some of my high school classmates (we’re all in our mid-60s now) about how we have reinvented ourselves as many times as necessary in order to keep earning a living.

      1. ICodeForFood*

        Oops… wasn’t finished, but bumped a key…

        At 16 I wanted to go into fashion design. As an adult, I realize that what I enjoyed was the ‘engineering’ aspect of taking flat fabric and turning it into something 3-dimensional. I worked co-op jobs in fashion (including as a sample pattern cutter), but as an adult I have worked as a: researcher on a public project, a typesetter and graphic artist (including print production knowledge), a purchasing agent, a software developer, and (currently) a programmer retrieving data from a huge relational database.

        There’s no way I could have predicted ANY of that at age 15 or 16… but I’ve managed to make a decent life out of it (and I recognize that much of that is because of the privilege I was handed at birth…)

    35. Anonycat*

      No. I was going to be a physical therapist. I made some life choices and that didn’t happen, and now happily an HR Manager. There is no way in the world at 16 I ever dreamed I’d be where I am today. Much to my parents’ dismay (a disappointment that in the 90’s their child didn’t go off to college) I didn’t go to college until mid-30’s and my children were out of elementary school. Best decision for ME and My family, but at the time my parents were LIVID. Some of my highest paid employees don’t have a college degree.

    36. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      At 15 I was planning to join the army in an admin support role. I did a stint of work experience in an army admin office, and was thoroughly put off – not because of what it was meant to be, but because of how it actually was in real life, and speaking to women already serving.

      But I did end up in a job which is an admin support role. It’s in a field I didn’t know existed, and indeed my kind of job didn’t exist within that field until I was several years out of college.

      1. Good+Enough+For+Government+Work*

        I just want to say (while pissing by the door… ^_~) that I love your handle.

    37. Falling Diphthong*

      When my kids were young and we got Johnny Quest to watch with them, fond memories from spouse’s and my childhoods, it was embarrassing to realize how much of our image of What Do Scientists Do had been formed by this show.

      Spouse and I are both in fields somewhat adjacent to what we thought we’d be doing at 15. In some cases school opened us up to new things we hadn’t realized we’d like, and in some it opened us up to how the steps to Plan A (aka following grad school with a bunch of post docs) were completely unappealing now.

    38. Wishful thinking*

      Sort of. I wanted to be an archaeologist so I could spend a lot of time outdoors investigating stuff, that sounded amazing. I got a PhD in it and am still archaeology-adjacent – more on the regulatory side of cultural resource management now – but I do not spend any time outdoors investigating stuff. I often wish I’d just gone to law school to make double or more the salary to sit in front of a computer, or transitioned into UX research after grad school like my less risk-averse friends.

    39. Purple Cat*

      Sort of. I “knew” I wanted to study “business”, which is specific enough yet broad enough to say I did what I imagined. But the reality is that I didn’t really specifically imagine what that meant. I would give the reasoning that “I like math (true) and I like working with people (not really true) and so I want to combine them”
      As I’ve gotten older there are definitely other career paths that I think I could have been good at and enjoyed but weren’t on my radar screen.

    40. Magda*

      I wanted to be an author, but everyone told me that was very difficult and unlikely, so I went into a career in the sciences and wrote on the side. A lot of people pushed me towards being an english teacher (on the assumption that it was bookish but marketable, I suppose) and I’m so glad I resisted that as it would not have been a good fit for me at all, and is so disrespected by our STEM culture. Maybe a college professor but that field is such a mess that I’m glad I just found some sort of science thing I could do sort of. I did ultimately get published and TBH it’s possible that people were right … that’s a very unlikely way to make a living.

    41. HannahS*

      Yes, I wanted to be a doctor and am a medical resident. I’m happy with my choice, even though I hate a lot of things about my profession–I am in my 30s with a young child, cover the ER overnight with a supervisor available by phone only, and still make less than minimum wage. 24 years of education and counting. Never tell the person who sees you overnight in the ER that they’re in it for the money lol.

      I would say that my high school friends are split: a high proportion are physicians, but we have a fair number of people who work in fields that we didn’t even know existed, like UX, financial tech (still kind of don’t know what it is tbh,) etc.

      1. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

        I also decided in high school that I did very much want to become a physician, and now I am. It wasn’t necessarily the specialty I pictured that early (I don’t think I had a good idea of what different specialties did until medical school, honestly), but it is definitely the field for me.

        Now, would I recommend anyone else become a physician? No, probably not, and I think that’s a pretty universal feeling among my colleagues.

    42. Clisby*

      I did – I thought I wanted to be a newspaper reporter, got a degree in journalism, and worked for newspapers for about 14 years. Newspaper work was actually what got me interested in computer science, because I was working in newsrooms when computers were first coming into use. I took a couple of courses at a local tech college and liked it: I decided it was worth trying so I got a job working nights at a newspaper and got a 4-year-degree in computer science. (It didn’t take 4 years, because a lot of my undergraduate credit for journalism transferred – I mainly had to do all the math/computer science courses.) I was a computer programmer for about 27 years. As it turned out, my journalism experience was a big bonus in my programming job. It’s not all coding – I had to spend a lot of time on documentation, requirements gathering, that kind of thing.

    43. LizB*

      I am currently considering a total career change into a career that I wrote in my diary about wanting to do when I was 12! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But I never considered it as a realistic option while in college/in my first ten years in the working world.

    44. dedicated1776*

      Nope. Started college at 16 as a poli sci major. Wanted to be Chris Matthews. After one class, I knew that was NOT for me. At the same time I was taking economics. Turned out, I liked that! So I decided to major in economics, go on to get my master’s and PhD, and go work at the Fed. Turns out, I am not good at calculus (required for an advanced econ degree). So I graduated and had no idea what to do. I ended up at a CPA firm as an auditor and accounting turned out to be my passion! I am still happy I got my first degree in econ (I now have a second degree in accounting and am a CPA) but I am also happy I didn’t end up being an economist. For one thing, economists never have enough hands. ;)

    45. Llama Identity Thief*

      I’m still young in my career, but “statistics” was basically my career plan since 13, “statistics supporting scientific research” at 16-17, and that’s where I am now.

    46. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I said I was going to be a lawyer when I was young, but by the beginning of college, I wasn’t sure. However, I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, so I went to law school straight through. I think I’m unusual in the legal profession in that I’m super happy I made that decision.

    47. Your Computer Guy*

      Thought I was going to be a literature professor, made it as far as grad school. Now I work in IT as a systems admin/project engineer and I’m creeping into project management. Everyone praises my communication/documentation/organizational skills, and having an unusual BA hasn’t held me back.

      Leaving grad school and giving up on the plan/dream was real tough at the time, but steady paychecks helped me to get over that. With the whole situation over the past few years I’m feeling good about my job choices.

    48. Fives*

      I wanted to be a print journalist and went to grad school for it. I didn’t get into journalism but am instead a technical writer so… kind of close? I don’t regret the grad school one bit though.

    49. Jeebs*

      Hah. I am now an author; funnily enough, when I was 16, that’s what everyone BUT me thought I would be doing. I had a lot of teachers and family members pushing me towards writing a book or writing poetry, people asking if I would get an English degree.

      At the time, I saw writing as a hobby, and my math and communication skills as my real assets; I believe I wanted to go into marketing. Joke’s on me – turns out those are all skills that really help an author’s career, too. I wouldn’t go back and change the path I took to get here, though (started a degree in psychology – switched to economics – worked in banking for many years).

    50. Anon for this one*

      Sort of. I wanted to be an archaeologist, but now I am a librarian. Both career paths were in my favorite movie when I was a kid, The Mummy, haha!

    51. Petty Betty*

      At 16 I wanted to be a performer, but not as a career (because I wasn’t planning on leaving my home state and I already had a kid). I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been a performer for a long time.
      But career-wise, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I joke that being born wealthy was no longer an option to me. I ended up going into administration because I’m a born paper-pusher and I am great at office-type stuff and can learn databases and systems really well. I’m a great office person.

    52. nnn*

      I actually did!

      I’m in a profession that’s specific and kind of obscure. (Akin to an actuary in terms of being a specific skill set and being something a lot of people don’t think about.) I first heard of my profession when I was 16, and it struck me: I could totally do that!

      I’d never before in my life felt confident I could do a job, but this one I was certain about. I’m over 40 now, and at every turn I’m realizing this job is even a better fit for me than I was equipped to recognize at 16.

      Actually, this ties in with advice for OP: my parents were super resistant simply because they’d never thought about this particular career, and they were conflating “It’s not on my mental list of plausible careers” with “It’s not a plausible career”. So OP, if your kids suddenly develop a stronger than usual sense of “Yes, this is it!”, especially for something extremely specific, take it as a good sign!

    53. Twix*

      Sort of. I wanted to be a mathematician and studied math in college and grad school. Today I’m a software engineer who mostly does highly specialized mathematical modeling. More on the applied end of mathematics than the theoretical end, but same ballpark!

    54. Chemist by Day*

      I had my first chemistry class at 16, and it was love. It was the first time that everything clicked, and I just understood the material. Flip flopped with chemistry/chem eng in college, stuck with chemistry – and have worked as a chemist for 20+ years. No regrets.

      1. Friendly Neighborhood Auditor*

        Nope. I wanted to be a museum curator and a history professor. Hell, I *still* want to be a museum curator and a history professor. What I grew up to be is a risk and audit professional.

    55. Chidi has a stomach ache*

      Pretty close! Did my degree in religion, got a PhD, am doing ministry work now. But, I am looking for a career shift at this point. The job markets I was in (academia and ministry) were never money makers, and I knew that going in, but I didn’t understand just how stagnate salaries would be vs. cost of living (especially housing). Both were also hit especially hard by the great recession, and then COVID, and have just never recovered. The work I’m looking at now is the kind of job that didn’t really exist when I was 18 either. I think I also needed to be exposed to the kinds of research and work I did in grad to school, to realize how much I enjoy the methods and problem solving, not just the subject content itself.

    56. alienor*

      At 16 I wanted to be a playwright, then I wanted to work in magazine publishing. After I graduated from college with a literature degree, I got a job in marketing to pay the bills, and hated it, but thought it would be temporary. Twenty years later, I still work in marketing and still hate it. I can’t afford either the cost of more education or the salary cut I’d have to take to start over in another field, so I guess I’ll be gritting it out until I retire or die. I do have good benefits, though, so there’s that.

    57. Miss Muffet*

      I was completely sure I wanted to be an environmental lawyer, from about the age of 10. Halfway through college, I decided I didn’t want to do that and then basically had an identity crisis bc I had never thought of doing anything else. I finished my degree in Environmental Studies bc I couldn’t afford to totally rejigger it at that point, and then ended up doing an office job that has nothing to do with anything I studied but has been a good job for a damn long time.

    58. LtBarclay*

      Definitely not. I was sure I’d be a doctor, or at least do biomedical research. That got totally derailed when I dropped out of college first time around. Now I work in mortgages.

      Also, I’ve met *very* few people where I work who always meant to work in the industry. You don’t need a college degree for most positions (unless it’s something specific like accounting or IT) so a lot of people wind up here by accident in one of the entry-level positions (since they pay a livable wage with benefits). If they like the work and environment, they get trained into different specializations over the years.

      1. ferrina*

        In high school I wanted to be a spy- then I learned about what they actually did. Then I wanted to work as a diplomat- um, nope, didn’t have any connections for that, and didn’t know how to make that path. When I graduated college I went into teaching, but ended up getting frustrated with the politics and lack of advancement opportunities (it’s a really thankless job). Then I fell into my current industry by accident, and it’s a really good fit for my skills.

        In my 30s, I realized that all I really want to do is solve problems through logistical solutions and building teams (definitely love the people element), and there’s a lot of ways to do that. I’m not emotionally attached to one industry, but I know a lot about certain things just through my work experience. I now work in a role that was custom designed for me to be able to solve problems, and I love it. I’ve got a weird knack for making any role customized to my skills, and it’s served me and my employers well.

    59. Apt Nickname*

      When I was in 2nd grade, I announced I wanted to be either a scientist or an actor. I am currently a scientist who does community theater as a hobby. To be fair, I didn’t specify what kind of scientist so the target wasn’t hard to hit.

    60. Heather*

      I do, I’m a civil engineer and I’ve always wanted to do that since I figured out what it was. Now, the reality of the job is a bit different from what I imagined…way more technical writing and way less designing totally unique skyscrapers and bridges from the ground up. But I don’t think it’s that unusual to pick a lane when you’re in high school, is it?

    61. Gracely*

      I was really set on becoming a veterinarian until I took Biology in 10th grade. I sucked SO BAD at the dissection part–I wasn’t grossed out by it, but I just could NOT tell anything apart from anything else on the inside, and I knew that if I couldn’t do that, how the hell was I going to operate on living animals? I had been so set on being a vet that I had never even considered anything else before. So I flailed about until I realized I was really good with languages, and good at teaching languages to others (I made decent $ tutoring) and decided to focus on that. I did end up teaching foreign language for awhile, but I hated the admin/parents side of teaching, and I burnt out really quickly.

      I now work at a library, and I volunteer with my local animal shelter in my spare time.

    62. JustaTech*

      At 5 I wanted to be a doctor. At 7 I wanted to be an astronaut/doctor. At 10 I wanted to be a vet (thanks James Harriet!). Around 15 I wanted to be a physicist, and was still thinking that when I went to college, where “real” physics kicked me up one side and down the other, and then Differential Equations moved in with the coupe de gras.

      But I’d also wanted to do infectious disease and public health, so I did biology, didn’t get into grad school, went into industry, then academia, then back to industry, then went to grad school (third application was the charm), and now I’m still in the biotech industry and honestly glad I hadn’t transitioned to public health in 2019.
      So in some ways I’m still in the field I wanted as a kid (health and science), even if I’m not in a job I even knew existed then. And I learned one really important thing about myself – I’m not the kind of person who does people well enough to be a clinician. (Also, I like time off, sleeping, and not being poor.)

    63. Lizzianna*

      I’m very close.

      I wanted to do environmental law. I have a law degree, and while I’m not currently practicing, I work in environmental policy for a government agency.

    64. Nikara*

      I was introduced to the field I am now in (and love- emergency management) when I was 16. I didn’t realize it was what I wanted to do until I was 20, but that introduction at that age was key.

    65. Ginny Weasley*

      My response to this is yes, sort of! I’ve known I would be a teacher since I was very small. (Probably had a lot to do with both my parents being elementary teachers, but also, to toot my own horn, I’m pretty darn good at it.) What changed over time, is what subject I thought I would teach, and what age group. When I was 16 I wanted to be a high school English teacher, which I am actually licensed to be, but I wound up being an elementary library and technology teacher. So, while there was never really any question what field I would enter, the specifics have changed throughout my life.

    66. Jade-Skywalker*

      I am. We had to identify our top three career choices and research what the education/certification requirements were. I identified occupational therapy as number 1 (PT and SLP were 2 and 3). I was interested in all of them after watching my brother rehab from a head injury. The research led me to being most interested in OT and that’s what I have my degree and licensure in. Been doing it for 19 years.

    67. Atlantica*

      Totally. Wanted to work as a coder from being about 8. Still do it today in my 40s :) But it’s easy to follow your dreams when they are well paid, don’t require any exceptional hardship and are in an ever expanding field.

    68. TrixM*

      I wanted to be a doctor. I have a pretty strong dose of ADHD, and never even finished a batchelor’s degree. Or even a year of fulltime university studies, lol. Fortunately I figured out before uni that I can’t deal with puke or festering smelly things, and that would naturally be a large part of the job. I wasn’t aware of other jobs in medical science other than being a GP or surgeon, so that was that. Fortunately, as it happens, because on top of the ADHD, I have a strong aversion to the smell of blood, as it turns out.
      So I was 30 before I fluked into IT. And by “fluked”, I am not joking when I say the trajectory began when another woman picked me up at the gay bar where I was working when I was 27.

    69. GingerNP*

      I had wanted to be a physician since I was -8- years old and now I’m 41 and licensed as a Family Nurse Practitioner – not exactly the same, but functionally very similar, especially in the states with full practice authority for NPs, and it was a wild and wooly ride to get here but I’m still really excited about it.

    70. Pharyngeal Fairy*

      I did! My mom introduced me to the field of speech pathology when I was in high school, and I went to undergrad and graduate school for it. In high school I thought I wanted to work with kids, but my mind was very quickly changed and I love working with adults now. Getting to my current career path was a combination of analyzing my strengths and interests, then trial and error, which I would strongly encourage LW to explore with their kids.

    71. Laura*

      My husband and I always both knew we wanted to be scientists (biology); we got our degrees and are actively in the field, though our specialties didn’t end up being what we expected. Thinking about my friends from high school I think only a few are doing what they wanted to do at 16 (a doctor and a professional musician).

  11. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    I am curious what Alison’s answer to the interviewer would be if asked the question in letter #2?

    1. Pennyworth*

      I’d go with something like ”I have no idea who likes me the least because everyone in the office is very respectful and professional.”

      1. nnn*

        That’s what I was thinking – I genuinely have no idea who likes me least, because I don’t perceive anyone who dislikes me, but it’s far more likely that the people who dislike me are just being polite or quietly disregarding me or something.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      It’s an awful question because there isn’t a good way to answer it. If you say “I get along with everyone” or something like that, you sound like someone who’s unrealistic. If you go into details of who doesn’t like you, you end up looking petty. If you answer with a joke, you end up annoying the interviewer who thought they were asking A Very Serious And Revealing Question.

      Honestly, any interviewer who asks a question this bad should be prohibited from ever interviewing anyone again.

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        In a way I could answer it, because I know some of the things about me which can annoy people who are very different types – not necessarily universally bad things, often things which are useful in parts of my work, but things which wind them up the same way things about them wind me up. So I’d take it more as a generic weaknesses question than as asking you to name a specific person who doesn’t like you!

      2. Marion Ravenwood*

        Or you do what I’d most likely do and try not to cry (because honestly, the person who probably dislikes me most is me, and my brain would probably be telling me something horrendously mean about myself). Which then makes it horribly awkward for all involved and paints you as ‘too emotional’.

        1. Marion Ravenwood*

          Although, having thought about it, that could be a very extreme way to make them realise just how bad this question is.

        2. MurpMaureep*

          My spouse tells me “the only person who doesn’t like you is you” when he’s trying to help me fight my own dysfunctional and irrational self-loathing. And it might be interesting to spin that into a response about learning to combat impostor syndrome and/or engaging in some productive self-examination. That being said, it’s still an awful question that is quite fraught and shouldn’t be asked.

        3. Miss Muffet*

          Yeah I think I’d go with the employees that I’ve had to PIP or otherwise deliver feedback to who didn’t want to hear it. It’s easy to be “not liked” in that position, but also necessary as a manager.

          1. clearly a terrible person*

            Similar for me. There is a person, a former student of mine, who claims that I’ve “ruined her life.” She cheated on a midterm with one group of people, and even though she knew that she had been caught on that one, chose to cheat with a different group of people on the final. (These were online exams during COVID.) This is not only my opinion; our honor code board, which has professors and students on it, examined the evidence we each submitted and decided against her, both times. She failed the class and got suspended for a semester (which, I should note, is different from having your life ruined). But it is necessary to report obvious cheating so that people who actually learn the material are rewarded more than people who take shortcuts and don’t know what they are saying.

      3. MountainWalk*

        I think the best way to answer it would be to pivot to answering a question like Alison’s example instead. “I’m not sure what someone who doesn’t like me would say but I think something that a person could find frustrating about me is….” or “I’ve never had any serious conflicts with a colleague but I’m sure my tendency to X can be frustrating which is why I’ve been doing ABC to improve.”

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      I can take a guess at who likes me the least (former employee who saw herself as the victim in every situation, who refused to speak with me after I told her she needed to fix her timesheet because she had volunteered directly contradictory pieces of information about how she spent her time, and who sued the company for something after she quit among many other issues.)

      I can’t imagine how any of this would be helpful to an interviewer.

    4. hbc*

      I think I’d pretty much answer in a way that I’m not clearly dodging, but answering a better question. “The first person who comes to mind is the MSU fan who dislikes me because I’m a UM grad, but I don’t think that’s useful. But probably the number one work frustration people have about me is that I don’t move fast enough for them in some cases. Sales hates it when I delay a custom part rush order for a customer, but over a certain amount, I want to double check with AR to make sure we’re not building custom stuff that no one will end up paying for.”

      1. Charles Shaw*

        Totally agree, I think this is one of those questions that you just have to interpret widely and try to answer in a way that removes the weirdness of it. I’d probably say something similar, like that I’ve had work misunderstandings arise from not communicating as often or as clearly as I (in hindsight) could have or should have.
        — Signed, an MSU grad who has no issue working with Wolverines :)

      2. Your Computer Guy*

        Yeah, the person who probably most dislikes me would say that I’m pushy – because he’s usually trying to dodge tasks that his team has to do for our shared projects and I stay on top of the project task lists and hold everyone accountable so that we deliver what we promised to our clients.

    5. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      It’s a terrible question, and honestly, for me wouldn’t even demonstrate my weaknesses, because the guy I think dislikes me at work dislikes me because I’m too anal and careful. But I’m a lawyer, it’s my actual job to prevent the worst-case scenario. I think ideally I’d reframe the question as, “well, there’s one person who I sometimes clash a bit with because he likes to decide things quickly and move on and gets impatient when I raise potential issues for consdieration.”

      1. TrixM*

        Yep, the colleague I’ve had the most serious issues with is a known curmudgeon and he basically threw a temper tantrum about my trying to implement better IT security procedures, which meant his lax work practices would have to be less lax.
        “Anger at my doing the right thing” may not be the answer they wanted, although in an interview, I could probably BS it into a “how do you handle difficult situations” kind of response.

    6. dedicated1776*

      The only answer I can think of is, “I try to be respectful and professional at work at all times. If someone doesn’t like me, I’m not aware of it because I don’t seek out conflict.”

    7. Spiny Echidna*

      The question is obviously about people in the workplace, and I have some idea of who hates me and what our points of conflict are. So I would talk about that and how I try to handle it constructively.

      It’s a fine question. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s like asking what your weaknesses are. They aren’t interested in how you overspend at Sephora, they want to know whether you are self aware enough to recognize what you could do better at work and how you approach that. With this question, they don’t want to know about your exes and their opinions of you, they want to know how you get along with the coworkers that you have conflicts with.

      1. JustaTech*

        If that’s what they’re actually asking (about conflicts with coworkers) then at the very least the question should be phrased that way “Among your coworkers and professional contacts, what would the person who likes you the least say about you?”

        The way it is phrased is very open and many people, especially the literal-minded would go with people outside work, because honestly the people who like me the least, and that I *know* dislike me, aren’t my coworkers, they’re family members.

        Honestly I *don’t* know who at work likes me the least – I know what groups have had conflict with my group in the past, and I guess I could talk about that, but individuals? Who still work here? Nope, not coming up with anyone.

        But even with the different phrasing, what’s wrong with asking “tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker”?

        1. Water Snake*

          A lot of behavioral questions are hard to answer if you are literal. That’s why some prep beforehand to understand behavioral interviewing and what those questions are getting at is helpful. Even the most literal of people will know not to take a question literally if they have previous instructions.

    8. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I had a similar question in an interview (if we were to ask your current supervisor, what would she say is your greatest weakness?) and I answered it as if it was a normal what is your greatest weakness question. Because my current boss has only criticisms for me and has never once said the words “you’re right” to me, and if I were to tell you what I think her actual assessment of my weaknesses is we would be here all day.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        I like “what are you working on” or “what do you see as your developmental areas” to kinda get at this without “Weaknesses” which sounds more failurey and less, Hey we all have things we’re trying to improve. What performance goal for you this year was a developmental goal?

    9. Twix*

      I think if I were put on the spot with this question my answer would be something like “That person would be my ex-wife, and none of what she’d have to say about me would be workplace-appropriate or relevant to my job”.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yeah, I’d have “my brother would say that I don’t give him enough money or support him enough” or maybe “my husband’s aunt resents me for being 40 years younger than her”. Neither of which are even slightly helpful in a work context.

        1. Twix*

          Yep. “If you REALLY want to hear about all the different ways I don’t know how to satisfy a woman as a proxy for anger and embarrassment over a shitty situation, we can make that happen. But you might want to pull someone in from HR to make sure we’re discussing my sexual inadequacy in a work-friendly manner.”

    10. marvin*

      I obviously wouldn’t say this, but the first thing that came to mind is that probably the people who dislike me most are TERFs who take issue with my existence. Not really something I would be thrilled to have to think about during an interview.

    11. Koifeeder*

      I know what my answer would be, and that’s that my fifth grade teacher hasn’t seen me in years and probably hopes I’m dead.

      Which is not the answer the interviewer wants, I think!

    12. Lizzianna*

      Because I’m a supervisor and work in compliance, there are a lot of people who don’t like me, or at least don’t like being told they can’t do whatever they want, and take it out on me personally. I stay professional, treat everyone respectfully and fairly, and follow policy, because that’s all I can control. If someone is mad I won’t let them fraud, I can live with that.

      1. Lizzianna*

        (I would say, that’s not the people who hate me most, but it’s the answer I’d give in an interview. I don’t think it’s relevant to my job to hear about the drama around the implosion of my friendship with roommates in college, but I have on good authority from a mutual friend, one of those roommates still hates my guts 25 years later after she stole from me, and I tried to get my money back by calling her mom, and it started a chain of events that lead to her fiancé breaking up with her and her parents cutting off her unlimited financial support because it came out that she was a pathological liar and I wasn’t the only one she was stealing from.

    13. Lulu*

      I think I’d go with a gentle joke pointing out the absurdity of the question, with a quick pivot to a more typical “weaknesses” answer. “Well, my third grade playground nemesis aside, I think I can frustrate coworkers sometimes with my excitement at new projects. I’ve learned to take a step back before jumping into something new, to make sure I have the resources at hand to accomplish it well and within a reasonable timeframe.”

    14. Omskivar*

      If I were trying to answer this question I wouldn’t even get past identifying who likes me the least — my brain lies to me and says everyone hates me, and if I try to ignore that I find I can’t think of anyone who actually acts like they dislike me! And if they wanted honesty, my husband definitely likes me but would probably have the most constructive criticisms of me since he lives with me.

  12. Calamity Janine*

    bad advice for lw3:

    acquire a small dollhouse office chair that roughly matches the one under contention.

    present it to your coworker with the utmost sadness, as you explain you were trying to freshen it up for him but you accidentally put it in the dryer on high and it shrunk like a wool sweater. perhaps by a handwritten note for him to find on his desk, with the 1/12th scale chair, so you don’t have to worry about not busting out laughing while giving this little speech.

    then await the pure comedy that will be your colleague’s next mass email describing how he is disgruntled at the situation

  13. Dark Macadamia*

    #3 I’m loving that this guy sent out an email about the virtues of healthy conversation instead of just having a healthy conversation! Also, it’s weird that his idea of healthy conversation is apparently for you to interrogate him about his motives instead of just asking for the chair back.

    1. Cat Tree*

      His behavior is so bizarre! He could have just unprompted said that he didn’t realize the chair was spoken for and that it was unintentional. It’s the most natural thing in the world to say, “sorry, I didn’t realize it was yours” without someone specifically asking that.

      The whole email is just so strange but at least OP will have an interesting story to tell for years to come.

      1. Magda*

        I think this situation with the chair tapped into a very primal emotional thing I’ve noticed, which is that office workers revert to weird behaviors under a scarcity principle. It’s the same reason they FREAK OUT about free food sometimes. I think Fposte mentioned “caged animals at the zoo watching other animals get fed.” This guy had a chair he liked and you took it. He felt some kind of way about this and didn’t know what to do about those feelings. It felt like a dominance display to him and now he’s stuck with a less good chair over there stewing. It doesn’t necessarily mean OP did anything wrong, it just struck a nerve.

      2. Cait*

        This really just reeks of male fragility. His female coworker pointed out he had taken her chair and asked for it back. Should’ve been a no-harm-no-foul situation. Instead, his fragile male ego couldn’t stand the fact that he he was in the wrong (however unintentionally) and was being called out (however subtly) and so he blew it way out of proportion. As if the OP had accused him of stealing her lunch and punching her dog in the face. I’d hope that everyone who got that email just scratched their heads, made a mental note not to engage with said male coworker unless they absolutely had to (lest they also be accused of shaming him in the most obscene fashion), and went on with their day.

        1. ferrina*

          Disagree. I’m not seeing any evidence that sex or gender played a role. Just because a man has a weird and inappropriate reaction doesn’t automatically mean it’s “male fragility”, in the same way a woman having a weird and inappropriate reaction doesn’t automatically mean “hormones”

          1. marvin*

            Those aren’t really the same thing. Male fragility isn’t inherent to the male condition, it’s just something that can happen when you’re used to being accommodated all the time. That being said, I agree that there isn’t enough information in this letter to be able to say if it’s a factor or not.

        2. TheAG*

          I read it as the potential sign of a serious mental illness. It’s such a complete break from what I have to believe almost anyone would consider acceptable/connected/professional/logical/appropriate.

          However my workplace did have a mass shooting in 2020, perpetrated by a coworker who it was discovered after the fact, had many such disconnected responses to everyday interations. So my perception may be skewed (nevertheless knowing what I know now I would forward it to HR in case it’s part of a pattern).

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        And they way he says, “If you have questions or issues in this regard, I am happy to discuss or resolve them in person or at the coming weekly meeting” makes me wonder if he’s going to confront OP by Wednesday of next week or at the weekly meeting.

        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          I wonder if the OP wasn’t the only one that he took something of? And so OP was the straw that broke the camel’s back?

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        The weirdest part to me is that I feel like asking if it was intentional or unintentional is kind of inherently at least a bit of an accusation. I’m sure many people would just assume it was unintentional, and I can’t imagine why he would suggest they shouldn’t assume that and should specifically ask lol.

        Definitely so odd all around that no one will think anything of OP.

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Yes, all of this! I also felt like Guacamole Bob took her chair because it was such an over-reaction. I’m sure if she had asked him that question, his email would have complained about her interrogating him.

      This is why in my office, people need permission from a higher-up to use the All Staff email.

      1. ferrina*

        I’m sure if she had asked him that question, his email would have complained about her interrogating him.

        Right?! It’s so weird that thinking an interrogation over motives is better.

    3. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      RIGHT? Like he’s sO eMbaRraSsEd about what happened that he… sends an email to everyone exposing what he did? I want to spend a day in this person’s head just to see what it’s like in there. I bet it’s weird.

      Don’t apologize to this person, LW3. You did nothing wrong. He should apologize to the whole team for making you waste 60 seconds of your lives you’re never going to get back reading his stupid email.

      1. Here for the Insurance*

        He’s so embarrassed he figured the best thing was to share that embarrassment with everyone else. Yeah, that totally makes sense, good job, dude.

        Do not apologize, OP. Never reward bad behavior like this with attention. It just encourages them.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          This is one of the few situations where a non-apology apology is appropriate. “I didn’t mean to upset you” or even the dreaded “I’m sorry if you were offended.”

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        Yeah, no. I agree.

        What I’d do is probably a non-apologetic one line saying something like “I didn’t ask you because I presumed it was unintentional. I simply needed it back. That’s all”

    4. Eye roll*

      Well, the obvious conclusion is that he feels attacked and thinks he should have had a chance to explain it was an accident is because it wasn’t an accident and he absolutely intended to steal someone else’s chair. And I’d be side-eyeing anyone who sent such an email for the rest of their employment. And around here, years later someone would be commenting on the time he stole a chair and send a wacky email to deflect.

    5. Hills to Die on*

      At my office, we would honestly have the best day laughing about this. There would be chair jokes for years to come.

    6. FrigidLizard*

      I am guessing that the coworker is insecure about their reputation and wanted to get ahead of any rumors. “I didn’t mind that I had to apologize or had to leave the chair but what bothered me the most was that she didn’t care to ask if I took it by mistake or unintentionally” reads to me as someone who is concerned that OP is spreading the story that they deliberately took a chair.
      I worked with someone like this years ago. Any little comment about their behavior, even teasing, was met with a broad announcement about what had really happened and how people needed to come to them directly with questions and not gossip.

    7. münchner kindl*

      I see another case of “the way to see intentions is not from the original action, but from the reaction to the first action”.

      A normal person would not act in bad intent, so would not assume that returning colleague was accusing them of bad intent, esp. if returning colleague (LW) didn’t say anything out loud (communicating clearly).

      Defending himself against an imagined accusation makes him look worse than the original act which was assumed harmless by LW and other colleagues.

    8. yala*

      I think my favorite was: ” My apologies for bringing it up but I felt embarrassed having gone through this situation.”

      So…he decided to share that embarrassment with the whole class when being quiet was an entire option?

      This dude is *weird* (and i’m kinda creeped out?)

  14. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (chair) – “a healthy discussion is the last we can expect” but he sends a passive aggressive email instead! (A few hours after the ‘incident’ no less, which means he’s been stewing on it for all that time…)

    Usually I am in favour of apologising etc to maintain harmony, but I wouldn’t in this case. I wonder if he will bring it up again at the team meeting and invite questions? (If he does, that’s the place I’d make that little apology!)

    Is he sensitive about silly things and difficult to work with normally – OP didn’t state but it would not surprise me to hear he often sends emails like this about all sorts of subjects!

  15. Briefly coming out of lurking*

    #1 I asked a question at MetaFilter about supporting a fifteen-year-old who is deciding on a career – people might be interested in the responses there to add to the comments Alison makes. Here is the question.

    1. Harriet Wimsey*

      Thanks, for the helpful article. We’re tackling subject choices with our teenager right now.

    1. Gen*

      Being autistic and easily thrown off by weird questions I’d probably say something dumb about the woman in France who sent me death threats because she didn’t like my art style

        1. Water Snake*

          Well, it’s a job interview, so they are asking about things in the workplace. I’m also spectrum, but even spectrum people can be taught what the context is and what the question actually means.

          I don’t doubt that the question threw you when you heard it, but that can be chalked up to inexperience with that type of question. Answering behavioral questions is just another skill. Just like anything else, it will be easier for some that others.

    2. Phony Genius*

      In my case, the person who likes me the least would say that they refuse to waste any time talking about me.

    3. ferrina*

      This. I worked with a woman who decided that she just didn’t like me and there was nothing I could do about it. I tried to ask which behaviors I could alter or what it was that she didn’t like, and she said “It’s just your personality and there’s nothing you can do.”
      Um….haters gonna hate, I guess?

    4. yellow haired female*

      Yeah like… I can think of a few people, and they would definitely lie or exaggerate or conveniently leave out parts of the story.

      But also… I don’t actually know what they think of me, and my anxiety-related intrusive thoughts make it to where I can’t really be objective about it.

      I have no idea what I’d say if put on the spot, but probably something like, “I try not to spend time thinking about what other people think of me.” That’s probably not the answer they’re looking for, and it might make me look like a jerk? But that’s probably what I’d say!

    5. OP2*

      Exactly – the way it was phrased, kinda felt like everything that came to mind was more about those people’s opinions and feelings toward me rather than my job performance…..

      1. Water Snake*

        A point that we make on this blog repeatedly is that getting along with people at your job is part of job performance. You don’t have to get along with everyone, but the people who hate you should at least be able to say, “You know, Lucinda drives me absolutely batty, but I will say, she treats everyone professionally and with respect,” as opposed to, “Lucinda writes top notch TPS reports, but she also holds grudges.”

    6. Lcsa99*

      I would have no clue where to go with this one – I don’t know how many people actually don’t like me and which ones I’ve convinced myself they don’t when they’re just vanilla on me.

  16. Carp*

    OP3 – your colleagues email was unnecessary and embarrassing for him.

    I kinda see why he was ruffled though. You took the chair in advance, didn’t label it or tell anyone (as far as I can tell), weren’t there on moving day, then rock up when he’s comfy and say ‘it’s mine’ and he has to find another chair.

    His email was wrong, but I see why he might be annoyed.

    1. Lisa*

      Yeah I was wondering why there was no mention of a label or if indeed the labelling was only in OP’s head. I would feel very weird and wondering if we were back in school. I don’t even know why OP wanted this particular chair.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I was also wondering if there was a label or sign, or if it just materialized out of storage. If that’s the case, I can see how Coworker thought it was up for grabs.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          I wondered if it had been labelled but at some point the label had fallen off and been thrown out – that’s easy done.

        2. Lily Rowan*

          It’s just all such a non-issue, and it sounds like that’s how the OP handled it. OP thought it was hers, Coworker thought it was up for grabs, OP asked for the chair, Coworker handed it over, the end!

    2. BubbleTea*

      Yes, I was thinking this. I don’t agree that the colleague is the one being “Milton with the red stapler” here. LW is the one who seems to be unusually protective of a chair that doesn’t belong to them personally and they hadn’t told anyone was specifically set aside for LW. The email is indeed a bit weird but the whole situation is weird. Office furniture isn’t something you can call dibs on unless there’s an actual reason to need it. “I coordinated the reorganisation” doesn’t mean “so I get first pick of the chairs even though I’m not there when it actually happens”.

      1. Magda*

        Agree. Unfortunately the coworker hurt their case with the email (although he probably felt like he was being professional and thoughtful by writing a “polite” email instead of yelling, the email was in fact over the top).

      2. Jeebs*

        Is this really how y’all live? I would never think it was okay to just take a coworker’s chair/swap chairs without asking.

        Obviously the guy didn’t initially do anything wrong if he didn’t know the chair was spoken for, but it seems absolutely standard to me that if LW had put that chair aside for herself, she would go let him know and get it back.

        1. no one reads this far*

          If it was obvious it was the LW’s chair then yes, Milton would be out of line. His reaction is still over the top but I don’t get the impression that the LW made it obvious they had claimed the chair.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*


          While office chairs may look similar, a person’s actual chair is often adjusted for them, and sitting in a similar, but un-adjusted chair is noticeable.

          At places where people have to fight tooth and nail to get anything other than the ill fitting “average” (cheapest possible) chair to accommodate musculoskeletal and ergonomic issues it feels like abuse to have people “appropriate” your chair, even if it’s supposedly “temporary”. In a job past I’ve found my specially fit ergonomic chair halfway across the building as a second chair in someone’s cube. The damned thing had my name on it with a piece of tape, FFS. “Oh can’t you just use another one?” “No, it’s ordered to fit me, the regular chairs hurt and I need to sit in it for almost 8 hours a day. Your office guests can sit in a generic chair.” I had to threaten to get the ergonomics and HR folks involved.

          1. Heffalump*

            “Oh can’t you just …” in any context never fails to infuriate me. My answer is some variation on, “If I could ‘just do X,’ then I would ‘just do X,’ and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

    3. londonedit*

      I do think the email was a bit OTT, but I don’t blame him for being put out – as far as I can tell, he picked up a chair from the basement that no one was using, used it for a couple of days, and then all of a sudden the OP came along and said hey, that’s my chair, I’d reserved it for myself. OK, if there was a note or something on the chair saying ‘Reserved for OP 18/11/22’ then he’d be in the wrong to take it, but it doesn’t sound like there was? It just sounds like the OP had mentally reserved that particular chair for themselves.

      It’s not great that their colleague initially seemed to be absolutely fine about the whole thing, and then decided to email the team about it – he could have said ‘Oh, there wasn’t any kind of reservation notice on the chair so I assumed it was free. I don’t mind giving it to you if you really need it, but as far as I know it wasn’t reserved and really I’d prefer to keep it’ or asked if the OP could order another one or something. They should have said something in the moment if they weren’t happy. But I also sympathise with them because it sounds a lot like the OP just went up to them and asked for their chair.

        1. londonedit*

          The email from the colleague says ‘As part of the move, we were told to take whatever was needed from the original office space. I took an additional chair from the office thinking no one is using it…The chair was not actively used in the basement and if that was wrong then she could have looked for it on Monday or Tuesday’, so it sounds to me like the colleague got the chair from the basement in the original office and moved it to the new work space. It’s not like they nicked it from the OP’s assigned desk or something.

          1. Jane*

            Hi, OP here. Our original office space was in the basement (we moved upstairs), so he meant he took it from our old office to the new office. He and I are the only ones who share the particular office where the chair was.

            1. londonedit*

              Don’t get me wrong, I think his email was an overreaction and he should have just spoken to you about it at the time if he was put out, but I still don’t see how he can really be blamed for using the chair. Unless it was quite clearly yours, or quite clearly some sort of special chair that looked like it had been bought specifically for someone, I think a lot of people would spot a chair that wasn’t being used and think oh, I’ll have that one. Or even think ‘I’ll swap these chairs over, that one looks a bit better’ if they’re the first one into a new office. People tend to assume that things like office chairs are just chucked into place by the company rather than being assigned to particular members of staff.

              1. Ellis Bell*

                I don’t understand why he felt blamed though. He was told “hey that’s my chair” not “how dare you”.

          2. Birb*

            The letter writer clarified the basement was their shared office space, she had taken the chair and put it in the office to use after the move when she got a desk it would fit under.

            To me, it sounds like he knew it was wrong and is intentionally using language that makes that ambiguous. If he’d used her real name, people would have known that they shared an office in the basement. If he’d said “in our office” instead of “the basement”, people would feel less like it was being unused in storage.

            The real story is

            “I think you will agree with me when I say that no one in the office has any intentions to claim somebody’s stuff in their absence. As part of the move, we were told to take whatever was needed from the original office space. I took an additional chair from the office (THAT I SHARE WITH LETTER WRITER) thinking no one is using it. Today (THE PERSON I SHARE THAT OFFICE SPACE WITH EXCLUSIVELY) asked me to leave (GIVE BACK)the chair that I was using, mentioning it belongs to her. I first apologized and then put away the chair and said I didn’t know it was hers. I didn’t mind that I had to apologize or had to leave the chair but what bothered me the most was that she didn’t care to ask if I took it by mistake or unintentionally. The chair was not actively used (BUT INSTEAD APPEARED AT RANDOM NEAR MY COWORKER’S SPACE) in the basement (THAT THE TWO OF US SHARE AS OUR OFFICE) and if that was wrong then she could have looked for it on Monday or Tuesday (WHEN SHE WAS NOT WORKING ON SITE WITH US TO KNOW I TOOK IT). My apologies for bringing it up but I felt embarrassed having gone through this situation. A healthy conversation is the least that we can expect from each other. I firmly believe that it’s not a few, but we all are giving our best for the workplace’s success. If you have questions or issues in this regard, I am happy to discuss or resolve them in person or at the coming weekly meeting.”

            It’s wild seeing people assume that the letter writer is in the wrong here or was unclear, and I wish the updated info could be added to the original post.

            His use of “technically” true language at the expense of reality (His coworker suddenly brought a chair into their shared office space but didn’t seem to be using it and wasn’t there that day to “actively” stop him, so instead of asking why she had the chair (which is fairly obvious with a move coming up) he waited until they were gone and moved the chair out of an office used exclusively by the two of them… Which is why OP is rightfully suspicious, and why they felt like they didn’t need to label it. There were only two people in that office space. Letter writer moved the chair there. Of course he knew it wasn’t his, and of course he knew exactly who he could have asked to clarify why it was there and not being used and if his old office-mate minded if he took it. Of course he knew the likely reason to have claimed a chair before a move. He wouldn’t be so defensive and specific and misleading otherwise.

            1. MrsThePlague*

              Agree with you entirely, Birb.

              And even *if* the LW wasn’t clear at some point that the chair was hers, the only thing that needed to happen was a conversation between Coworker and LW. That’s it. That email wildly inappropriate and there’s no justification, however small, for him sending it. I would not apologize at all. The most I’d say is something along the lines of “hey, so I was under the impression that this issue was settled, but in future, I’d appreciate if you just talk to me directly if that’s not the case, thanks.”

    4. hbc*

      Yeah, OP, it sounds like all the words might have been non-accusatory, but it also doesn’t sound like you think this was an innocent mistake. “Even if he didn’t know it was mine, he knew it wasn’t his.” That sounds like you think he did a bad thing, and that probably came across in your approach.

      If there were a bunch of witnesses to the chair reclamation and/or you’ve complained to others about his absconding with it, he might be very uncomfortable. A team email is a lousy way to address the discomfort, of course. But I’d strongly consider going to him in person and saying you know he didn’t do anything wrong.

      1. Jane*

        Thanks for this note. I have had some issues with him taking things in the past that weren’t his to use because nobody else was using them, so why not. (As I noted, I’m the equivalent of the office manager, so it does fall to me to keep those kinds of things in line.) That definitely may have bled into my feelings re: the chair! However, I absolutely do not think it was done maliciously, and it wouldn’t be bad to clear the air on that.

        1. Marna Nightingale*

          I was thinking that in your shoes I might reply to

          “she didn’t care to ask if I took it by mistake or unintentionally. ”
          “I didn’t ask because it never occurred to me that there could be any other explanation.”

          And, certainly if you brought it from storage into a shared space and didn’t use it or tell anyone what your plan was, “Jane clearly thinks this perfectly good chair is going to waste in storage, I shall try it out” isn’t an unreasonable interpretation.

          Also, can an identical chair be located or is it unique? I am becoming very curious about this chair.

          1. Marna Nightingale*

            Replying to myself is probably bad form but:

            His reaction was over-the-top, no question.

            But it’s probably worth asking yourself, or him, or both, WHY he thought you questioned his motives. Your coworker thinks you assumed he was acting in bad faith. Maybe that’s just What He Is Like, or maybe you’ve given him the impression that that is what you think about him.

            If it’s the latter, you don’t want that seed to sprout and grow.

            1. Jane*

              I don’t know if it’s bad form, but I think it’s good advice!
              I think the chair is left over from when they redid the conference rooms in our buildling (it looks similar), and it is definitely nicer than my older office chair. There are definitely more chairs in storage (I tried out a few before picking this one), but I don’t know if they have any more specifically like this one. (Or he could steal one from the conference rooms; I doubt anyone would notice!)

        2. hbc*

          That makes a lot of sense. Previous history probably colored how you sounded, how he heard it, and how he responded.

          In that case, how I responded would definitely depend on what I thought of his behavior as a whole–a little lax on following procedures in general (which affects you when there’s suddenly one less printer in storage), obnoxiously thinking he’s above having to coordinate with you, always rules-lawyering to get the best for himself, etc.. He might get anything from “Sorry if it sounded harsh, I assumed it was an innocent mistake, zero hard feelings” to a pointed “I’m confused why you sent this to the whole office when you could have just told me directly it was an accident, given that you value direct communication.”

    5. to varying degrees*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking this. Calling dibs on something without letting anyone know and then taking it away from a person actively using it is a little annoying. Yeah the guy did not respond well, but honestly I may not have given the chair to you (depending on how you approached me). Any you can still use a chair even if it doesn’t fit under the desk. My current chair doesn’t really fit under my desk and my last chair didn’t fit under my desk at all.

    6. Jane*

      Hi, OP here. This wasn’t a random chair hanging out in the office; I’d pulled it from surplus a few weeks before the move and put it in our office (he and I are the only two in this particular space). You’re right that I hadn’t labeled it; definitely something to do in the future. As to not being there on moving day: I was still in the old space doing all of the heavy lifting (quite literally), which was why I wasn’t setting up our new office (which wasn’t ready until Wednesday).

      1. Qwerty*

        Wait, you two share an office or cubicle? That makes it way more obvious the chair wasn’t his. His email sounds like he’s trying to CYA and play the victim here. If a random piece of furniture showed up in my office, I’d ask my officemate about it and/or assume its theirs.

        Originally I thought he was being overly dramatic over a misunderstanding – there was a random extra chair laying around so he went for an upgrade during the move and it was all unintentional. Still didn’t excuse the email, just a lower level of weirdness and maybe some sympathy for getting his hopes up about a nicer chair.

        Even if you were super demanding about getting your chair back (not saying you were!), a normal person would say “oh sorry, I thought it was a spare”, you’d respond graciously, and everybody would move on. Maybe Milton would ask how to get one too since he liked it so much.

  17. Varthema*

    LW1, my husband is from Italy, where career choice and funneling starts much earlier – already at 14 they choose which type of secondary school to attend (a vocational one, or a college-bound one, which could in turn be classics-focused, STEM-focused, language-focused, or art-focused), and then, like in most places in the world, they enroll in a university program generally tied to a profession or field. My husband enrolled in architecture at 18 because he didn’t know what to do and his girlfriend suggested it because he was good at drawing.

    It wasn’t necessarily the worst choice; from the outside, one would say he’s successful – he works for a big firm with good pay, he’s got a great eye for design, and he even architecture in a general kind of way. But increasingly it’s feeling more and more like a poor fit, he’s stressed and bored, it’s hard to tell if the problem is just his workplace or the entire career path. But it’s SO hard for him to even begin to rethink his career path because he’s been on this train since he was a teenager, never having gotten the opportunity to explore other interests or to happen upon a college elective that changed his mind.

    So, that is the downside of pressuring kids to consider career too young… Work experience is great, but career thoughts should honestly come later. Much later.

    1. Saraquill*

      I grew up in and live in the US. A lot of children’s media I was exposed to involved focusing on adult careers, grownups asking “What do I want to be,” and so on. In the high school I attended, your career path was already assumed, school was just their to polish you college resume and help you on your way to making disgusting amounts of money.

      Of the people I still keep track of from high school, none have jobs that netted piles of cash, not even in the sciences we were told were the path to wealth.

      I’m pleased with Alison’s answer. Being career minded from an early age didn’t benefit me or my peers.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I’m a careers counsellor, so I am just very interested in people’s careers (both in the “careers/jobs” way and in the “careers/what you do and where you find fulfilment and make a contribution, whether it’s paid work or not” way). Apparently this has rubbed off on my kids because my four-year-old told me the other day she is worried that she doesn’t know what she’s going to be when she grows up “because she’s good at EVERYFIN.”

      I am not too worried about her. ;)

  18. Not in your timezone*

    Re the 15yo’s. I have a 14 and a 17yo. When 17 was 14 I remember fretting over the fact that he had no idea while choosing school pathways. Current 14 is exactly the same. By 17 he still is a bit shaky about the specifics but at least is confident of the general area of study and industry he is interested in.

    I think a lot happened in between to give that confidence. He did some part time work. His studies become more specialised (ie physics vs biology vs shop). He became a lot more socially aware about what adults do and more aware of his own sense of self identity.

    We did some online quizzes and he saw a career counsellor but I don’t think they played that large a part. I think those years are really fundamental to finding out who you are and the gap between 15 and 18 is huge. All to say, don’t worry too much.

    Also, I’ve tried to keep a rein on any worries around career. Your kid might not value a higher pay packet and that would be ok.

  19. Luna*

    LW1, I’m currently in my early thirties, I *still* have no idea what kind of job, let alone a ‘career’, I want! I’ve had ideas of things to do, but as soon as I tried them out as jobs, I realized it was not what I enjoyed doing. In fact, I’d rather take a job doing something I like or tolerate than doing something I really enjoy, simply because I know from experience that as soon as something I enjoy becomes Work, I start disliking it.
    Now, my mom was the type of kid that already knew at age 15 what she wanted to do, and she’s been doing that for fifty-odd years. Good for her, and I’m glad it worked out for her.

    But kids are just different. Like with your twins, some know exactly what they want or have a vague idea of it, while others don’t think about it at all or still don’t know for years. Best thing I suppose is to continue to let them be kids still, but be there if they want to discuss work topics or career paths. Don’t try to force anything.

    LW2 – “Whatever they were to tell you would be heavily biased based on their dislike of me, so why would you believe them?”

    1. OP2*

      See, that’s the kind of snappy response I usually think of when I’m lying in bed later that day. Lol!

  20. Construction chick*

    LW 1 I work in construction and I am female. Its a job my dad did. He would bring my brothers on site but never me. He showed my brothers how to use tools but not me. I LOVE what I do and if I had been exposed early enough I think I would have loved working in the trades. I ended up in my career late and took a roundabout route instead of direct one.

  21. Harper the Other One*

    To LW1: one thing I’m doing with my younger teens is talking a lot not about specific careers but about the way they like to live/work.

    For example, kid 1 loves making things, either physically or virtually (currently teaching himself Blender 3D modeling), and he hates anything he considers make work. If he picks a desk-based job he’ll want it to be something where he feels like the output is meaningful, and I suspect he’ll be happiest in a career where he’s producing a result beyond paper reports. If he didn’t know that about himself he could end up really dissatisfied with a field even if it interested him in other ways.

    So, talk about things like: do you want a desk job or a more physical one? Routine 9-5 or night shift? Do you like public speaking or would you do everything by email if that were an option? Would you be happy to spend a whole shift without interacting with another soul, or do you need regular social contact throughout a day?

    1. ecnaseener*

      +1. Also things like do you need variety & intellectual stimulation in order to not be bored to tears, or are you perfectly happy doing fairly mindless work? These questions will be more useful than career path questions in figuring out short term decisions like “should I pursue a four year degree.”

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      +1 (+1 million)

      Even something that seems to be a simple choice isn’t. Doctors do a hundred different kinds of job – ER, orthopaedics, OBGYN, dermatology, paediatrics, geriatrics, oncology, but also histology, research, etc. All the roles attract very different kinds of personalities!

  22. Ann Ominous*

    OP3: you could tell Milton something like ‘I wonder if you came away from our conversation with the sense that I was accusing you of taking the chair intentionally, and it seemed very important to you to make it clear that it wasn’t intentional. That didn’t occur to me – it didn’t feel malicious – and I just wanted to let you know I am sorry you felt that way. No hard feelings here”

    I don’t think I could resist naming it in that way, as well as giving him the non-apology of being sorry he felt that way (as opposed to being sorry for something you did). He sounds like a tool, but this sounds like it activated something for him.

  23. Madame X*

    LW#3 His behavior was over the top. Sending a passive aggressive email to your entire department is an immature way to handle this misunderstanding.
    That said, it’s unclear to me how he would have known that the chair was yours? Was it marked with your name or put aside as “reserved”? If not, I could see why there was confusion and why he was annoyed to have to give up a chair that he was currently using.
    If there’s ever another similar situation where office items can be claimed ahead of time it would be a good idea to ensure that they are clearly marked as reserved.

    1. Jane*

      Thanks for this suggestion! Several commenters have noted that I could have made it more clear that the chair was mine. It was in an office space that only he and I share (which is why I made the note that he knew it wasn’t here, but I failed to note that it’s just us two in the office), but labeling it “Jane’s chair” from the jump would have negated this whole issue.

      1. JSPA*

        1. It hadn’t been yours, to his knowledge, either, though? In that case, depending when he came in, relative to moving upheaval, someone could reasonably think that a spare had been shoved in.

        2. Is it actually possible that someone else snagged yours, and either put it back where it had been, or they took it, and he snagged a look-alike? If so, I can see him being more than a little nonplussed!

  24. Asenath*

    I think a discussion that goes well with the career discussion is one on money – budgeting, saving, what it costs to get various types of post-secondary education, what the parents can contribute, what other sources of support are available and their advantages/disadvantages. As for careers, sure, make suggestion and encourage them to look into things that catch their fancy – but also to keep the money side in mind, because so many people go for the dream while piling up debt that will plague them for years, and quite often discovering at some point that their dream field is more of a nightmare for them. Point out that if they do change their minds, it’s not the end of the world, particularly if they’ve got a Plan B. My parents encouraged me to think broadly of what I wanted to do (keeping in mind that (a) I was going to SOME kind of post-secondary education and getting a job, not sitting at home doing nothing and (b) they could see me though two years of whatever I chose (well, it would have been more had I chosen a cheaper option), and then I’d have to get loans/part-time job etc. After dithering a bit, I decided in my mid teens that I wanted to be a scientist, specifically, a chemist. That lasted about halfway through the program, at which point even I had to admit I was miserable, and most chemists are much better at math than I was. I wasn’t bad at the more basic types of math, but I really struggled with the higher levels. I got a job for a year or two and thought things over, then decided to train as a teacher. It is a very bad idea to take up a job, particularly one like that which tends to be demanding, just because you think you can do it and it pays a lot better than your current one. After bouncing around a bit more, I ended up in an office job that I liked and stayed in for nearly twenty years. I don’t think I was wrong to decide early that I wanted to be a chemist and to go for it, but I also needed to accept Plan B. And C, if needed. It was a good decision for me to get out of university, get a job that kept the roof over my head and think a bit about what to do next rather than keep on piling up the tuition bills. And then to do the same when Plan B didn’t work out either.

  25. bamcheeks*

    LW1, one thing I would add is: be crystal clear with them about how money works, especially if your tenth-graders are female. A thing that I really saw amongst my (middle-class, white) female friends is a vague assumption that our incomes would never be the ones which paid for a fully functioning household– that we would have jobs, like yours, which supplemented “the” family income and paid for nice stuff but which weren’t sufficient to maintain a full middle-class lifestyle. So we were free to say things like, “Money’s not that important to me, I’d rather have a job I enjoy”– but with the assumption that we could make that decision and would be compromising things like fancy holidays, expensive shoes, lots of eating out, not things like owning our own homes, having pensions, not having a major panic if there was an unexpected £1500 bill, kids need new winter coats etc.

    I only started unpicking some of that in my late twenties and early thirties, when I realised that as well as facing external barriers and sexism in our careers, quite a few of us had made decisions based on a framework of “wealth & luxury vs work you enjoy and are passionate about” rather than “financial security and not having to worry about bills vs work you enjoy and are passionate about”, which is very much not the same thing.

    It is fine and good if they decide that money isn’t the most important thing to them, and that they want to pursue jobs they find satisfying and enjoyable. You just want to make sure they realise that that comes with risks around financial security and aren’t working on an unspoken assumption that there will be a [male] income paying the “real” bills.

    1. BitOfAWanderer*

      (OP) Yes! I agree 100%. As much as I want them to find joy, I really don’t want them to struggle with food/housing/etc security. It is so satisfying to know we can handle unexpected expenses without headaches.

      1. JessicaTate*

        I agree with this, and sometimes wonder if learning about how household finances work, how debt works is just as important in the future-choosing education as likes/dislikes. If you understand what it costs to run a household that you are familiar with, it can start to prompt the math around “What you need to earn to live this way.” And… being really clear that after a certain point, you are expected to support yourself and need to make grown-up choices accordingly. They don’t need to be perfect. But they need to be made.

        This may be controversial, but one thing my parents did that helped spur me to a mindset of self-sufficiency was be clear about an expectation that, “After college, you’re on your own.” In truth, they absolutely were a financial backstop in the early years, but with a light touch. But what was important was that they set the expectation that I needed to figure out how to support myself pretty much immediately. It wasn’t a negative thing! It was an empowering thing. At 22, it would be time to be an adult. I could be as aimless or ambitious as I chose, but I’d need to support myself. (And BTW, I had no effing CLUE what I wanted to do as a career when I toddled off to college. But I knew I had four years to figure something out. And I did.)

        Maybe it was because they had come from poorer, blue collar background, where there was no chance in hell your family could support you beyond age 18. And I was well aware of how they both made their way, which let me have a much more comfortable childhood. And as harsh as some people think it sounds to be “kicked out,” it came from love, and I can’t tell you how important it was for building my strength and mindset around jobs, careers, and my own self-sufficiency.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I knew a few people a few grades richer than me in my twenties who just sort of pinged around because they had independent incomes and they could. I didn’t envy them! I was in a similar position to you in that it was expected I would support myself, but I didn’t have to support my parents and I knew I could go to them in emergencies. But I definitely feel like having to have A Job, even when it wasn’t The Job, or A Career, was way better than that kind of trying different things that I didn’t have to stick to if they got too hard/ frustrating/ didn’t like my boss etc.

    2. londonedit*

      This is very true! When I was a teenager in the mid-1990s my life plan was move to London, do an English degree, most probably own a little flat in Notting Hill or somewhere by the time I was 25. Because that seemed fairly reasonable then. And then I graduated in 2003 and discovered what salaries in publishing are actually like (£14,000 in my first job), and then 2008 happened and I was made redundant, and since then the cost of living has gone up so much that I’ve had no chance to save and the amount I’d be able to get as a mortgage based on my current salary wouldn’t cover half the price of the small flat I currently rent. Little flat of my own at 25? I don’t think so, past me.

    3. Overeducated*

      I think this isn’t just a gendered thing, I think it’s also generational and geographic. I never assumed a man would pay for my needs so my income didn’t matter, but I grew up in a LCOL area living a modest life with parents whose experience was that *any* job requiring a college degree would *of course* pay enough to live on. I wound up in a pretty niche field that doesn’t pay highly…with very, very few jobs available in LCOL areas. And there’s the rub. It’s not the same as being a nurse or teacher or something where you can move somewhere your salary goes further. Also, the ratio of housing cost to income is VERY VERY different now than in my parents’ generation.

      Anyway, this is just to say that it’s trickier than I realized, but I may emphasize earning potential to my kids more than my parents did to me, because I’ve struggled in ways they haven’t due to where I lived at what point in time.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I have certainly read about the middle class anxiety parents are facing as they realize their kid now has to be in the exceptional top category to enjoy what was formerly considered a regular middle-class life. It drives a lot of the panic around education and college.

      2. JSPA*

        Portability, flexibility, openings–some jobs are harder to predict than others, but having some sort of reasonably portable certification and/or hands-on skill is a valuable fall-back.

        Even if it’s niche and a passion thing (literally grooms llamas; surfboard shaping), if it’s in person, not easily doable by a bot, and something that at least a small subset of people will always want and need, it’s a useful fall-back. (That goes double for things that are not everyone’s cup of tea.)

        I can even see gamifying or rewarding the collection of fallback skills / low-level certifications (and in any case, separating those out from their main educational path, if they want to focus on something they love, in their main path).

    4. Magda*

      I encountered this from my friend’s mom who had daughters who had both gone into the arts, and she was so proud of them. Then one wanted to marry a man who was also in theater, and she flipped out. She had always expected they would find husbands to support them! My friend was like, “so if one of us had been born a boy, you wouldn’t have let us do this? We would have had to be a software engineer or a lawyer or doctor??”

    5. Daisy*

      This is excellent advice! Also, I think many of us grew up thinking almost any full-time job paid enough to live at least a lower-middle-class lifestyle. This is obviously not the case. I blame TV sitcoms that have young folks with low-wage, part-time jobs living in fancy, fully-furnished apartments and dithering if they can afford designer shoes. You don’t see the characters dithering if they should go to the doctor about a changed mole, putting it off, then dealing with metastasized cancer (that isn’t a comedy, but a tragedy – but is something way too many folks deal with).

  26. bamcheeks*

    LW2– I quite like the idea of asking something like, “If I talked to a colleague who has had a recent disagreement with you about a project or policy, what would you say?” I think that could be a good question at a reasonably high-level and strategic job where managing conflict and persuading people who think differently from you would be inevitable, and it keeps it very firmly rooted in the workplace.

    1. OP2*

      OP2 here — I agree, as I was reflecting on it after the fact I can see how there’s a seed of a good question in there… and the role I was interviewing for *is* one that would require a lot of relationship building… but in the moment I was just distracted by thinking about all my personal baggage. Not the most positive way to end an interview, that’s for sure!

      1. Water Snake*

        “in the moment I was just distracted by thinking about all my personal baggage.”

        A lot of us bring our personal baggage into the workplace with us. I think what you should take from this is that you need to do more work on leaving personal baggage out of open-ended questions. You will definitely get more of those, so work on remembering that they are asking everything in the context of the workplace, not your family, not your romantic life, not middle school.

      2. JSPA*

        I wonder if they’re testing for self-awareness and rough edges (as we all assume) or if they’re actually testing whether you can hold things together in the workplace when feeling stressed or distracted by externals, as the question seems more designed to test that.

        I suppose it’d be more effective and less problematic than, “pretend you’re involved in a nasty divorce, how would you hold it together in the office?” But that’s way too psy-ops-y for any routine job interview.

    2. Overeducated*

      I like this question because when I’ve been asked “how do you handle conflict at work?” I think “Conflict? We’re adults, I think we can discuss work issues without entering into conflict,” which to me implies fight or something personal and emotional. But I can certainly give plenty of good examples of having to work out professional disagreements!

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        In my field there are a number of strong personalities. When I get asked “How do you deal with conflict?” my go to is “Humor”. Yes, I have a strong personality too, but I try to be a bit self deprecating and don’t take myself too seriously.

        Some people have actually “warned” me about people who don’t have a filter. I usually laugh to myself because I only barely have a filter after 40 years in the workforce. No, it doesn’t bug my when people cuss or are blunt.

  27. Professional crafter*

    LW1: I have three teenagers, and have tried to prepare them for this decision by encouraging them to try different jobs and to pursue clubs/hobbies to see what they are interested in. I’ve also stressed that there is no one path they must follow – consequently the oldest took a gap year to travel in a van before starting, the middle will attend community college culinary school, and the youngest is looking at a traditional college path.
    Also, my husband and I work jobs where we don’t make a ton of money, but have excellent quality of life, and have always made it clear to our kids that this was deliberate, and that there are things just as important as money.
    I work with a lot of teenagers, and they rarely know exactly what they want or how to get it, and it is a fine line to encourage and assist without pressuring – good luck!

  28. Saraquill*

    LW1’s letter brought back a lot of memories about high school and the career prep drilled into me and my classmates. Most notably someone I dated at this time who was determined to become a robot, and new just the major that would make it happen (neurobiology.) The undergraduate college he chose had no such major, but he enrolled there because the school’s prestige was sure to get him to a graduate school where he’d gather the knowledge to transform himself.

    All of which is to say what we choose as adolescents shouldn’t determine the rest of our lives.

  29. Justa Rando*

    LW#1 – encourage your twins to visit college and career fairs. Our public school districts have them at the coliseum. Or a job fair sponsored by the city or county or even a large employer in your area. Our local community college career center has an activity they do with students, asking a series of “would you rather” type questions that start very broad and get narrower in focus until the student is left with a couple of numbers on a post-it note. Then the facilitor explains that “number 3” is college of science and “number 6” is college of art. There are counselors from each college department there to talk to students about course offerings and career paths specific to each one. This really opens the eyes for lots of students who had no clue about what careers were even out there.
    10th grade is the perfect age to start school tours. Not just 4-year schools, but trade schools tool! Blue collar jobs pay waaay more than you probably think they do. 4-year college is not for everyone!

  30. ecnaseener*

    I had an even weirder version of the question in #2 when I interviewed for a summer cashier job once: the interviewer asked me “What would your enemies say about you?”

    I managed not to say “I don’t have enemies, what kind of life do you think I lead” and came up with “They’d say I just don’t know when to quit!” which was completely made up (and possibly implied I was engaged in several long-lasting bitter feuds), but it worked and I got the job. So there’s a free bullshit answer to a bullshit question if anyone needs it.

    The only halfway reasonable explanation I can think of is that she just wanted to see if I could think on my feet without getting flustered if a customer said something bizarre or got confrontational. Which really didn’t happen much at that job.

    1. Overeducated*

      LOL, good one! Keeping that in the back pocket if I ever get asked something that ridiculous….

      I was in a job interview the other day and was asked “why should we choose you over anyone else for this job?” as the last question. It’s not a crazy question like “what would your enemies say,” but I was leaning toward not really wanting the job at that point and not motivated to market myself, so I just said “that’s up to you! You shouldn’t choose me if someone else is a better candidate!” Talk about a failure of thinking on your feet!

      1. JSPA*

        That’s a charmingly fair and collaborative take on the situation, and should make you more hireable, for any job you’d actually want.

  31. Anonycat*

    #1 I do a ton of outreach with this age and even younger. I’ve only been HR in Manufacturing but exposing them to different careers will give them ideas will guide what classes they should be taking in high school. (Many careers where math is important, for example). See if they can job shadow! My daughter decided from a very young age she was going to be a nurse. 4 years of college and 4 years of nursing and she wishes she would have done something else. My 24yo son still doesn’t know what he wants to do for a career, is exploring different careers without a college education and doing just fine.

    1. Daisy*

      The unhappy nurse may want to think about transferring to regulatory and inspection agencies, administration, medical/science copyediting, food safety, and teaching health/science classes. Many of these may not pay as well as nursing but have better work/life balance. She definitely has valued skills from nursing including awesome people skills, medical/scientific vocabulary and knowledge, the ability to follow written directions and maintain files (probably with computerized systems), and regulatory knowledge.

  32. Nene Poppy*


    I dad a similar question many years ago when I interviewed for the post of EA to the CEO of a major consulting firm. The CEO’s first question was so out of line and borderline illegal that I decided there and then I didn’t want the job. Watching him and his soon to be ex-EA glaring at each other through the glass partition confirmed my decision!

    The interview went on with equally outrageous questions where he got short-shrift from me but here was his last:

    CEO: If I asked your friends and family to tell me about Nene Poppy; what would they say?
    Me: They would say exactly what I tell them to say.

    He was taken aback, and even more so when I told him it was a silly question.

    After the interview, I spoke to the HR manager and told them exactly why it was a big NO from me.

    HR called back the next day – “He thought you were great – are you sure you don’t want the role!”

    The person who took job later sued successfully for bullying and harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination – he had fired her when she announced her pregnancy.

    Come to find out later, quite a number of people in the industry knew he was like this.

  33. ICodeForFood*

    LW1: Your teenagers are intelligent and hard-working… they will figure it out as they go, and may well work in a number of different areas before they find what they really want to do… They will manage.

  34. LadyProg*

    OP1, your children are old enough for learning how to code, and if they like it they can pursue a career in tech! Now while I agree that it’s way too early to really figure out what they want to do as a career, coding skills are really useful in many career paths these days. I’ve been in tech for 20 years and I love it, I try to tell young people about it whenever I can!

  35. EvilQueenRegina*

    Anyone remember that letter a few years back where some company asked for references from “people you didn’t get along with”? #2 definitely makes me think of that!

  36. Olivia*

    #3 – I can’t help but notice that this guy says he is sending this email because he didn’t like feeling embarrassed (he’s basically saying that he was made to feel embarrassed, although it doesn’t sound like the LW did anything of the sort)–and yet, the letter is designed to embarrass the LW. Unless this chair conversation happened with a rapt audience, no one else probably knew about it. But he felt the need to make sure that everyone on the team knew that the LW made him feel bad, and suggested that she was acting accusatory towards him. This guy doesn’t care about not making coworkers feel embarrassed. He just has a fragile ego and poor judgment.

    1. ecnaseener*

      And the whole “I guess we can’t just have a respectful conversation!” angle. Like yeah dude I guess we can’t, if your idea of respectful is passive-aggressive email blasts.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      I have a coworker who I could see doing something like this, and I think you’re spot on that he sent the email because he felt embarrassed.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Because in his mind the embarrassment is currently in the wrong place. He is embarrassed but believes he shouldn’t be, so he’s trying to push that embarrassment on to the person he believes is at fault. Unfortunately, the result is more likely to make his coworkers think he’s weird and overly sensitive, which he would probably be even more embarrassed about if he was aware of it, but going by Jane’s posts here in the comments I don’t know that he has the self awareness for that.

    4. Daisy*

      He may have thought it would do that, but I consider sending such an email much more embarrassing. He just notified the whole company about the misunderstanding.

  37. Colette*

    #1 – When I talk with teenagers about careers, I talk about keeping your options open. Take the maths and sciences if you can, try out clubs, etc. If you don’t know what to do in university, take a wide range of classes and see what you like. Narrowing your choices at 15 is likely to make your path more difficult; if you can try out a bunch of things, you will probably find something you like – or at least something you don’t like.

    1. Colette*

      Oh, and the other thing I talk about is that it is OK to try something and change your mind. You don’t need to be miserable for your entire working life because you thought you’d like it when you were 18.

  38. Purple Cat*

    LW1 this is SO timely for me! Spouse and I were just talking with our 15-yr old sophomore about this the other day. Our approach is to not get him to “commit to his future”, but just to start thinking about what the possibilities are. Heck even identifying the things he knows he DOESN”T want to do is a start.

  39. Anon for this*

    To LW 1, it’s okay if your kids don’t know what they’re doing now. In fact, I thought I knew what I was doing all through college, and then actually working in the field I thought I’d be good at turned out to be completely different from what I was expecting in terms of work life balance, and now I’m in a completely different, only slightly related field. For now, encourage your kids to focus on learning their strengths and weaknesses (if they’re bad at grammar, they’re probably going to need a lot of work before they can successfully pull off a job that requires a lot of proofreading, for instances) and figuring out what they want in life, and looking for potential careers which line up with what they want and what they’re good at.

    I understand your anxiety. College is expensive enough now that if they decide to go the college route and choose a degree that doesn’t match with what they want to do, that could seriously set them back, but you can address that by encouraging them to avoid picking up student debt.

  40. Oh hello*

    I found this O*net resource below really helpful when I was exploring a career pivot after graduating college with a broad major. It’s run by the US Dept of Labor and this Interest Profiler quiz is really interesting for understanding the types of work you like. It might help your teens and you understand more broadly what type of career they might want some day.

  41. Laure001*

    My husband works in AI in video-games. My son works with robots in cosmetology. My other son is a successful, well successful enough, streamer on Twitch. These jobs would have been impossible to predict ten years ago, or maybe fifteen. You just can’t predict the future job market.

    I guess my advice would be a mix of, let them choose what they are passionate about… if this passion doesn’t get them too far into debt. And let them experiment. A lot. A lot of hobbies, a lot of passions could turn out to be their livehood later… Like video-games for my husband and second son. Who would have thought?

    1. Susie*

      My son has a successful Twitch channel as a side hustle. He gets probably 50 or so messages a day from people asking him to help them beat a level or do a challenge. When I was a teenager I would never have dreamed that is something that could make you money. My son is mid-20’s.

      1. JustaTech*

        One of my friends from high school has an apparently successful career as the CEO of a company that does e-sports coaching. (Trying to explain this to my parents was hilarious, as I don’t play any video games because they raised me with the belief that video games rot your brain.)
        I always thought this friend would be a fantasy author (in the vein of GRRM), but after college he did a stint at a management consultant company, then got an MBA, then did something for a major toy company before doing e-sports. I don’t think e-sports even existed when we were in high school, so there’s always something new.

  42. Mostly Managing*

    As a mom with kids ranging from 12 – 22, I have stopped asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. They really have no idea.
    I ask young kids what they like to do for fun.
    With my teens, I ask them how they see themselves earning money in their 20s.

    “Whole Career” is too big a concept for a 15 or even 19 year old to manage. Earning money in their 20s is something they can see themselves doing.

  43. Ragged and Rusty*

    LW 1: Please let them know all options, that it’s not just expensive college to lock you into the same field forever. I graduated with a BA in Products and now I’m working as an infrastructure engineer, but I could’ve looked further into vocational schools and gotten an excellent career as a repair technician or a plumber or electrician… there are high earning options that aren’t all white collar.
    Go into it, let them know that you’ll be proud with their decision, and lay out how far your support goes. Are you expecting them to support themselves, how long they can live with you after their post-high school education…

  44. Ana Gram*

    I speak to high school students as part of my job and my answer is always pretty basic. Go to college if you want to and don’t spend a ton of money doing it. Community college is a great way to explore different careers!

    I have a degree in English with a minor in paramedic studies. Now I’m a cop and work as a recruiter and background investigator. My degree obviously isn’t directly related but I learned many skills that have been incredibly helpful in my job. I suspect that’s true for many of us. My plan for my career after law enforcement is HR. College is helpful but it rarely determines your life’s path.

  45. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    I haven’t seen this called out specifically as options, but don’t rule out community colleges! Public ones are often set up so that the work you do to get an Associate’s degree will directly transfer to the first two years of a Bachelor’s degree at a related college/university. They also tend to be less expensive, which means that pivoting to a new area is not as financially prohibitive as it would be at a four-year college.

    1. just another queer reader*

      Yep! I was ASTOUNDED when I learned how much my friend is paying for their full-time master’s program at community college: it’s just a few thousand dollars per semester! A fraction of what it would cost at the state school, and as far as I can tell, a high quality program that will prepare them well for the certification and career.

      1. doreen*

        What do you mean by “community college” – I’ve always heard it to mean a two year college which would not grant master’s degrees but it’s clear that you mean something different.

        1. Jeebs*

          Most community colleges only offer two-year degreed, but that’s not what defines a community college. A few do offer bachelor’s degrees and even master’s.

          1. doreen*

            Not that it matters – but then what does define a community college that wouldn’t apply to any other college without dorms?

            1. alienor*

              Low tuition because they’re funded by taxes, and minimal admission requirements because they’re open to the public–just a high school diploma or equivalent, and if you’re just taking a few classes and not enrolling in a degree-granting program, I don’t think you even need that.

  46. Susie*

    If I received and read the email in #3 I would think the coworker is being super dramatic about a chair. As long as OP pointed it out calmly and professionally, an email over a chair mix up is… well dramatic.

  47. Minerva*

    OP1 My husband works in higher ed. and he has said something that rings to true:

    “The average life span is nearly 80 years old yet we expect our kids to decide on a “career” when they are 18.”

    Provide them a robust, well-rounded, affordable education and a solid work ethic, and the rest will take care of itself.

    ~Signed the Theater Major who Now Works In Finance.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Cosigned, the Art History Major who Now Works in Healthcare IT

      I will always be glad I studied art history. It exercises a lot of critical thinking muscles. I did intend to go into it further but, you know, life.

  48. ABCYaBYE*

    OP1 – I haven’t read all the comments, but my very first thought was wondering if there are CTAE courses either at the high school level or through local community colleges? We had a superintendent explain once, as our school district was starting Career and Technical Education programming, that giving students an opportunity to get hands-on education helps them determine whether things that interest them are either absolutely things they want to do, or lets them find out before spending money and time in post-secondary education programs that they DON’T want to do something. If there are opportunities for your children to participate in something like that, it would be worth suggesting it.

    In my high school, “tech ed” was for kids who weren’t necessarily the highest performers. Now, I wish I’d have had the opportunity, as I’m not specifically in a field that matches my degree. I’m all for CTAE programs and hope that my kiddos dip their toes in when they have an opportunity.

  49. GlitterIsEverything*

    OP 1, as a mom to two recent grads with very different paths:

    1. Take advantage of the career counseling offered at their high school. Talk to the student counselors, and her their opinions.

    2. Talk to your kids favorite teachers. They have some great ways to get kids to think about what they might be interested in.

    3. Please don’t limit your kids to a 4 year college experience. There’s plenty of great options that don’t involve the cost of a 4 year school. If your high school is partnered with a community college, suggest they spend a summer taking a vocational course. My local community college is free to high school students, even in summer, including books.

    5. Don’t look at their choices as “what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives.” That’s a lot of pressure on a teenager, and I guarantee lots of other people are putting that pressure on them, too. Give them the freedom to ask what they’re interested in *right now*. I kept reminding myself that Stan Lee was 40 when he wrote Spiderman.

    All the empathy, momma. This is a hard time for you and for them, and with twins you’re dealing with double the worry – and it sounds like very different pathways. Give them room to discover themselves, and try to sit back and watch occasionally. You may be surprised where they take themselves.

  50. KatEnigma*

    LW4: Just because Emily claimed to fire the maid for being a clomper, that doesn’t mean that is what the maid was claiming in her wrongful termination suit.

    But if Lorelei told the truth, she’d actually help her mother’s case by establishing that she’s a horrible boss who fires everyone for any reason, rather than for being a member of a protected class.

  51. Not Today*

    #1 – I really really recommend (to everyone) the Working podcast. Each episode interviews someone about their job. There are jobs I never really thought about or knew existed, and often it gets into the fine details about what this person actually does throughout the day. I think its a great way to get exposure to jobs you’d never have considered, to get insight into what specific jobs *actually* entail, and oftentimes that the path that leads to a specific job or field isnt a straight line, that people take all sorts of various routes to get there – that (in most cases) a degree in one thing does not lock you in to that career path or preclude you from exploring other things.

  52. Dr. Doll*

    OP 1, whatever else, please encourage your twins to keep on taking as much math, Physics, chemistry, and programming as possible. Even if they go into humanities fields, these skills and ways of knowing will be invaluable. Try to encourage them to go past the requirements. (If they run into a professor or a teacher who’s an assh-le, which is almost guaranteed, then they will *also* gain the skill of dealing with and persisting through that for the length of a semester. )

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Unless they hate it. I was great at math in school and my math teacher tried really hard to get me to sign up for the hardest math class the school offered in my senior year. But even though math wasn’t very hard for me, I really hated it. I talked to my mom about it and she said just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it for the rest of your life if it would make you miserable.

      1. Dr. Doll*

        I didn’t say for the rest of their lives. I said go beyond the requirements, because those skills are valuable.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Right, but what I’m saying is that for some people, completing the requirements is the right thing to do. There are other ways for kids to learn critical thinking skills beyond just taking math/physics/programming. For kids who are interested or don’t mind, then yeah, going beyond the requirements is fine and can even be fun. But if a kid is miserable, don’t make them go beyond the requirements just for the sake of it.

          My high school did dual enrollment with the local community college. The last math class I took was in 11th grade (age 17), because I had already completed the requirements for both high school and college. I took some statistics later on because it was a requirement for my degree, and that was actually fun enough that I took extra classes and pushed my degree from a BA to a BS. But actual math? Haven’t done it since I was a teenager and it hasn’t harmed my career path at all.

      2. londonedit*

        100%. I wasn’t brilliant at maths at school but I was OK – but the way it worked was that there were three tiers of maths paper that you could take at GCSE. The Higher paper had more advanced stuff on it and would allow you to achieve a grade between A* and B; the Intermediate paper didn’t include the advanced stuff and allowed you to achieve a grade between B and D, and the Lower paper was slightly less advanced again and would allow you to achieve a grade of C or below (the way the grades work has all changed in recent years, but when I was at school the minimum qualifications all schools were aiming for their students to get was 5 GCSEs at C level or above including English and Maths; that’s pretty much what you needed to go on to any sort of further education or training). Anyway, I was in the top tier for every other subject where we were split into tiers and so the school tried to insist that I had to do the Higher papers for my GCSE exams. I knew I couldn’t do it, and I knew that if I had to do the Higher papers I’d never manage a B and would therefore fail completely. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer to do the Intermediate paper, where I knew all the things I needed to know and was confident of a B, rather than attempting the Higher paper and having the very real risk of ending up with no Maths GCSE at all (which would have been fairly disastrous; I’d have had to retake over the summer before I’d have been allowed into the Sixth Form, even though I wasn’t doing Maths at A level. In the end I did so badly on the mock papers that they relented and let me do the Intermediate for the real thing – lo and behold, I got my B. But it was so frustrating that they were trying to force me to take an exam I knew I was likely to fail, just because they couldn’t conceive of a top-tier student *not* getting A* and A across the board. So yeah, if a student doesn’t like Maths, don’t try to force them to do it.

      3. KatEnigma*

        Yep. Me too. My counselors were shocked when I outright refused to take Calculus and Physics my Sr Year. I already had good scores on the ACT/SAT as a Jr and I HATED math despite my A in Trig and B+ in Chemistry. Do you know how to turn people off STEM? By forcing them to take advanced classes in a subject they already hate. If it’s “useful” later on, they can pick it up in college. Or not, because it’s doubtful they’d go into a degree that requires advanced math or physical science if they hate it.

    2. ecnaseener*

      I would argue that all the major subjects can be invaluable in unexpected ways. Humanities are invaluable to people working in STEM. Absolutely try to get a well-rounded education, but it cuts both ways.

    3. Saraquill*

      I was forced into a STEM obsessed high school despite having dyscalculia and other cognitive issues. Rather than gaining a solid STEM background to further future jobs, or learning how to cope and persist, I got depression and C-PTSD. I do not agree with your advice.

      1. no one reads this far*

        THANK YOU.
        I always struggled with math and spend years being told I was dumb and wouldn’t amount to anything because I didn’t understand algebra.

        So fuck that noise.

  53. Everything Bagel*

    Number 3 is great. “A healthy conversation is the least that we can expect from each other…” as he blasts the entire office to notify them of OP’s wrongdoing. Maybe the right thing is to privately apologize to him for his being offended, but I think I’d also want to just let this go entirely. The problem is who knows what odd behavior he’ll resort to in retaliation to not getting what he wants which is clearly some attention for his hurt feelings.

  54. CTA*

    For LW #1, I think you can help your kid figure out what interests them, be supportive of their interest, and help them be realistic about their interests.

    Being realistic might turn into being discouraging, but remember that being realistic comes from a place of kindness. I had a friend who completed her degree in Finance. After she graduated, she told me her next goal was to get a paid internship. I don’t think she understood that paid internships are filled months in advance; she was used to working jobs where you show up to an open call and are told then and there if you’re hired. I have no idea if she even spoke to the career counseling center at her college. I had to explain the reality to her: she wasn’t going to get a summer internship (it was already June) and she wasn’t going to get a fall internship because employers are likely already interviewing and may have closed the position by now. I also don’t think she understood that Finance required long hours. She also had an alcohol dependency issue. She also had a very large tattoo on her hand; it was of an elephant, so nothing offensive but very hard to cover up.

    You never know where a kid’s interests will take them. When I was that age, computer classes were an elective at my school. I decided not to take any one of those classes because I didn’t like the teacher. I missed out on gaining important computer skills, like coding. However, life did give me another shot. In grad school, I had to set up my own website. At my internship, I used my small website builder skills to gain more value with my boss. That led to taking free classes at the library. Then I went to a coding bootcamp, which I honestly should have skipped because they were crooks. Then I got some freelance jobs. Then, I got a full time job. I’m a Web Developer now. I didn’t see that coming. My whole life, I think my mom was prepping me to be an admin assistant because it was decent work for decent pay. I think she thought this would make me happy.

  55. Sally*

    When I was 17 years old, my church high school youth group asked us to complete forms about our future goals. I got in trouble for one of my answers, even though it was the only thing I knew to be true at the time.

    The question: In 25 years I will be _____.
    My answer: 42

    You know where I was at 42? Not anywhere close to where I could imagine at 17. So many possibilities had opened up for me in the 25 years that nobody in that group could envision.

    Now, I’m 55. And I’m doing quite well in a career I didn’t know existed *when I was 42.*
    And I’ve got my sights set on some new possibilities for 5-10 years from now in careers that don’t actually exist yet.

    The things that helped me get here are learning to write really, really well. Learning to express myself clearly. Self-awareness and soft skills. Creativity. Determination. Critical thinking. Commitment. Reliability. The ability to learn new things. Curiosity. Help your kids develop those skills along with their interests, and they’ll be better able to find jobs that work for them and to shift to new ones as they and the world change.

  56. LizB*

    Everyone else has provided really excellent constructive advice for LW#1, so I can point out a slightly different part of the letter that stuck out to me:

    I want them to find a career that more than pays the bills — enough to live comfortably, have some fun, and retire at a decent age.

    I want that for your kids too, LW (and everyone’s kids), but I’d be cautious about how you set your expectations around these things. The kind of economic security you envision here is getting harder and harder to achieve, and living comfortably may look very different in a few years than it does today. Retiring at a “decent age” will almost certainly look very different. You’re approaching this whole conversation very thoughtfully, so I’m guessing you’ve already taken this into account, but you don’t want to eventually be the equivalent of a parent today going “I afforded my college tuition by working in the summers, why can’t you?!”

  57. Sylvan*

    LW2: Super weird.

    I know exactly who likes me least and their reasons are bonkers. I know what the usual reasons people don’t like me are, and I’m not about to tell an interviewer those. Like why? I’m lazy, stubborn, and judgmental, please hire me anyway!

    LW3: Weird. Because it was an all-team email, I’d be tempted to send an all-team reply, but that would probably provoke more weirdness. He seems determined to “go through” a “situation.”

  58. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #1 Have your kids talk to adults in their circles with varying careers. Neighbors, parents of their friends, people they interact with regularly (dentist, etc). What do you do, what’s do you like about it, what did you have to study in school, what was the hardest thing about getting into the career, etc.

    That’s how my brother decided on his career – friend of a friend who was an optometrist.

  59. You can call me flower, if you want to*

    Q1 Alison’s advice is spot on. I didn’t pick a career until after I graduated college. I studied what I loved (I was an English major) and found a career that would use many of the skills I learned (PR). You don’t have to know what you want to do at 15 or even 18. I think a lot of young people stress about this or at least many who I’ve talked to do.

    If you need another suggestion for exposing your kids to different careers, I’ve been really into some podcasts that interview a wide-range of experts in different fields. You could suggest one of these podcasts and listen to them on long car rides and discuss the different experts and what their jobs are like. Try (0logies or Getting Curious).

  60. Mom of 3 High Schoolers*

    LW1 – setting, the expectation of choosing a career as a 10th grader is a bit on the young side. Many, many students enter college, as undecided for their major. And a significant chunk changed their major not one, not two, but three or more times. I would just encourage your daughter to have a good relationship with her college advisor at the high school, and take advantage of any programs that they have an interest in. Go to any college presentations at their school they can. And when the time comes, your some colleges.

    1. Zephy*

      There is also not a linear relationship between one’s college major and future career, certainly not anymore if there ever was. A bachelor’s degree is not a Magic Job Ticket. Majoring in X does not guarantee that one will have, or indeed even like, a career in X.

      If LW1’s kids don’t know in their heart of hearts that they want to do something that’s going to require a Master’s degree or equivalent level of postsecondary schooling at minimum (like law, medicine, social services, or laboratory science), then they may not need to go straight on to college after high school. A BA is the new high school diploma, so if their interests point in a direction that doesn’t necessarily require extensive specialized education/certification/etc, they should get a bachelor’s degree as cheaply as they can, in a subject they can stand to be immersed in for 2-4 years and talk about in an engaging way. They’re entering 10th grade; they may be able to dual-enroll at a local college starting this year or next year, which will do a few things:

      1. Show them what college is like, see if they’re up for a few more years of that.
      2. Start them off a semester or two ahead of schedule for their BAs, which will give them flexibility to take a bunch of Intro to X courses and dip their toes in a variety of disciplines without wasting time and money when they do get to college, assuming that is the plan. ALTERNATIVELY, if they’re able to take all those Intro to X courses while dual-enrolling (although IME most dual-enrollment setups restrict the course options available to high schoolers), then they have a better idea of where their interests lie even if they do have to take all their gen-eds on the expected schedule.
      3. Give them an opportunity to talk to more people than their parents and parents’ friends about career paths. This includes fellow students as well as resources within the college. Sure, college career centers may not have the best resume and interview advice, but what they do have (or should have) are industry connections.

  61. Ama*

    OP 1 – this is more of a follow-up questions than a response to your question, but what’s the best way to expose your teens to different jobs? I keep hearing “job shadow” like it’s something you can just sign up for on a website. If your social circle includes people doing all the same kind of work, you can’t really use it to organize a diverse set of experiences. Also, a lot of jobs are complex enough that following someone around for a day isn’t going to really let you experience the parts of the job that make it different from other jobs – especially a bunch of generic “office jobs” that could be anything from law to accounting to IT to front desk worker.

  62. El+l*

    OP1, the biggest thing I’ll encourage you on is:

    Expose them to as wide a variety of careers and jobs. As much as possible without forcing it too much, and without giving them too many preconceptions.

    Because too many people pick particular careers because they’re adjacent to what the parents do, or that society regards them as a default choice. Finding a career that matches their particular skills, interests, and psychology will require some trial and error. I’ve had many friends who had 10-15 unhappy years in the wrong career because they didn’t do this until their late 20s.

    That’s the best you can do here.

  63. El+l*

    We’ve seen this one before, and as usual it’s a clumsy attempt to get people to demonstrate some self-awareness in a job interview.

    It’s the same intent as the standard “What is your biggest professional weakness?” question. So just provide your prepped answer for that.

  64. calvin blick*

    #4 – Surprised that there’s only one comment about Gilmore Girls on here. I’d have thought there would be some overlap between GG and AAM fans.

    My hot take is that Lorelai is just as entitled as her mother, generally behaved like a spoiled brat, and Emily was generally right in their conflicts. However, Lauren Graham is so charming I can understand why the townspeople love her so much and I would probably be right there with them.

    Rory is just the worst. She may have been raised by Lorelai, but she is definitely Christopher’s daughter.

    1. Sylvan*

      Rory is the worst. It is known.

      I don’t know if I agree about Lorelai, but maybe I just like Lauren Graham a lot!

    2. nona*

      I don’t think Emily was always right, but they definitely don’t have a healthy dynamic (which generates the conflict that provides compelling television). Lorelai definitely seems like a natural outcome of having grown up with Emily.

      Lorelai’s ultimate failing is buying into the idea that an Ivy League education was the only way for her daughter to succeed and thus prove to her parents that she (Lorelai) wasn’t a failure. Rory would have been fine if she’d stayed at Stars Hallow High and gotten a scholarship to some state university and had to deal with some real life failure without a safety net (aka Emily).

  65. Moonlight*

    OP1 / LW1

    For what it is worth, I wanted to do a job as a 15 year old that I 100% do not do now but I am still well educated with good career prospects (think planning to be a doctor and ending up as a lawyer instead), not that multiple degrees and a high earning potential are the necessary criteria for happiness; I read about research that said that a person needs to make X 5 figure income to be happy on the basis of what comfort money can provide and that anything after that is just dressing and not actually really going to add to it, meaning that, say, Y lower 5 figure income is enough to live on but will likely come with some financial stressors – notably, this is research from about 10 years ago, so the incomes are likely higher at this point; you could probably look it up for peace of mind.

    I know many people who are like this; people who wanted to be doctors but are engineers instead, people who wanted to be a teacher but are work in HR, people who wanted to be accountants but are electricians. Heck, I have a list of at least 7 to 10 career paths that I seriously considered. That’s why I think Allison’s advice about exploring their strengths and interests with them can be useful.

  66. Kesnit*


    When I was 16, I knew I wanted to be a chemical engineer. I checked out engineering schools, and ended up going to one. I did get my BS in chemical engineering, but during my last semester of co-op, I decided I didn’t want to work in a chemical plant. I started thinking about what I did want to do – and a few days later got a recruiting letter from the Navy. Since I had wanted to go the the Navy when I was in high school (I seriously considered USNA) and thought about trying for an NROTC scholarship after I started college (the person I was then all-but-engaged to said they didn’t want to be a military spouse), I decided that letter was a sign.

    Before getting out of the Navy, I did a shore tour doing force protection at a Naval research command outside DC and loved it. At the time (2004), there wasn’t a career path for officers in force protection, so I went to the federal government. Then my job became emergency management, which I didn’t like.

    In trying to decide what I did want to do, I decided I wanted to be a prosecutor. 10 years after my BS, I went to law school. Now 10 years out of law school, I’m a public defender – a job I said in law school I could never do!

    It’s perfectly OK for a 16 year old to not know what they want to do. I went from chemical engineering to law over the course of 20+ years and finally feel like I am where I belong

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I knew of a man who went from engineering (I think transformer design) to being a Franciscan priest. While we never talked about it, I actually knew and had worked with the transformer manufacturer.

  67. HappyGilmore*

    OP#1 this is going to be buried, I’m sure. But when I was 16 and felt pressure to figure out what I wanted, I joined the Army. If I hadn’t done this, I’m sure I wouldn’t be where I am today but if I didn’t feel that pressure, I’m sure I would not have joined. I ended up at a desk job and worked my way up and now am an HR manager, which was not even a career I thought about while I was in high school.

    Try not to put to much pressure on your kids. They’ll figure it out in their own time and the ultimatum of “go to college or find a career” doesn’t usually lead to thought out decisions.

  68. Moonlight*

    OP5/ LW5:

    GILMORE GIRLS!!!! Yay! Emily is the worst.
    I feel like there are a lot of… hmm how do I say this nicely… crappy employment practices in Gilmore Girl’s. Like when Mitchum Huntzberger (Logan’s dad) fires Rory from her job at the newspaper. We get a lot of conflicting information about how successful Rory really is; the show seems to spend a lot of time talking about what a brilliant, sweet, awesome person she is, but sometimes we get evidence that, actually, she’s maybe 50% as great as everyone claims. But she’s still on the newspaper at Yale; she started out not so great, but clearly learned and became the chief editor or whatever it’s called and she was rehired at the paper after Mitchum fired her by the guy who she worked with, which I take to mean that the show is saying Rory is, in fact, good at being a journalist and that Mitchum was just an asshole who wanted Rory to be a housewife instead of travelling to be a war correspondent or whatever it is she wanted to do. Rory seems to be struggling with work in the reboot, but that seems potentially normal too, in so far as someone who had a contract job as a political correspondent and is between jobs. What I am trying to say is that Mitchum clearly had ulterior motivations, but even if he didn’t, it’s super crappy to barely work with a college student who’s just starting their career and therefore learning and then firing them with no coaching because “they don’t have it”. Taking away the ulterior motives, did he even know her work that well? Bad Boss Move!

    1. KatEnigma*

      Mitchum’s point was that Rory did an awesome job as a PA, but she was interning to be an investigative reporter, not a PA… He wasn’t wrong and seems to be the only person in the entire show that didn’t blow smoke up her rear. Yes, he knew her work- because she’d become his PA! He didn’t want her to be a housewife or whatever- he tried to break up Logan and Rory.

      Also, from what has been said between the lines, the Sherman-Palladinos were terrible people to work for, so it’s not shocking that workplace weirdness as normal is reflected in their writing.

      1. calvin blick*

        Just curious…do you know of any articles, etc about the Sherman-Palladinos? I do enjoy Gilmore Girls, but it’s such a weird show in many ways. Like Lorelai is portrayed as a strong independent woman, but her actions are largely entitled and privileged. It’s a show you’d expect to be positive about sex, but bad things usually happen after people do it. I can’t tell if those are supposed to be the takeaways or not.

    2. Leslie Hell Knope*

      Actually, Mitchum never fired her, and she was, in fact, interning as a PA. His feedback, given towards the end of her internship, was that he felt she was a great PA but that from his observation during their time together, she “didn’t have what it takes” to be a reporter. According to him, she should have been more vocal and gone after journalism assignments. The fact that she “just” stuck to her responsibilities (even though she excelled at them) signaled, for him, a lack of gumption.

      1. Gumby*

        I agree that the firing was probably based on his feelings about her personal life rather than reasonable expectations of the PA job she was filling. But, OTOH, later on we did see that she had *terrible* instincts about reporting. She managed to be desperate for a story to write while ignoring one that could have been interesting and compelling right in front of her face. I don’t have any background in journalism but even I was ready to scream at her.

  69. follow your dreams (but have a back-up plan)*

    LW #1
    I think at your kids’ age, it’s not realistic to start hatching a full-on career plan. The best thing you can do is frequently talk about their interests, how that could turn into work, and what they’d need to do to follow that path. It’s good to talk about what’s realistic (if you become a painter, you might need a day job as well), but it’s also important not to squelch dreams too early.

    I felt a very strong push from family to do something practical, which is great in a lot of ways – I was able to get a well-paid job immediately after college. But I hated it! And the hours were grueling. Just because I could do it didn’t mean I really wanted to spend 10 hours a day doing that work.

    I had always known I had a passion for a field that most saw as impractical for a career. I’m getting my master’s degree in that field now and have been freelancing in my time after work. I’ve been relatively successful because I am very good at it *and* I’m passionate about it. I don’t regret having a pragmatic back-up career, but I do wish I had pursued my passion earlier and treated my practical career as a back-up rather than my main.

  70. Sister George Michael*

    It’s always the person who sends wild all-staff emails who says things like:
    “A healthy conversation is the least that we can expect from each other.”

  71. Sotired*

    LW1, It is good that you had a partner to rely on such that you did not need a steady job, but your DDs cannot count on that. I would expose them to careers you might now be comfortable with. Ask their HS, do they have career nights, what type of adults speak to them? I would explain to them that their job right now is HS, and to take the most rigorous program they can handle.

  72. Jellyfish Catcher*

    My dad asked me the most crucial career question :what do you want for your life? Start there.
    Example: for me, weekends are for outdoors. So, a predictable schedule is important. I’m a “social introvert”- love people, but not every hour all day, so teaching is out.
    There’s a lot in aam about bad interns, but early experience, in a well run job, with kind people, teaches so much. A family friend connection is fine- if everyone agrees that the teen can be fired, if needed That was the deal for my first job. It didn’t end up being my career, but it taught teamwork, reliability
    and confidence.

  73. ArtK*

    While I agree with Alison that 15 or 16 is too young to commit to a career, our society forces at least a tentative decision in 11th grade. Assuming they’re going on to post-secondary education, they’ll be applying next year. Choosing what schools to apply to is a decision that can depend on what direction they want to go in. An artist wouldn’t apply to Harvey Mudd (engineering), while an engineer wouldn’t apply to Cal Arts. I’d temper all of this by letting them know that picking a school or a major isn’t a lifetime commitment. Make sure that they know that you’ll support them if they change their minds. Case in point: My eldest went to school for mechanical engineering; it turns out that the way it was taught, and the general academic background wasn’t for him. He resisted changing, feeling like he was giving up, but eventually went on to machining, where he’s quite happy now.

    The advice to talk about work in general, and to read/learn about various careers is good.

  74. nonprofit writer*

    Re LW3, there are a lot of comments mentioning that it seems like she wasn’t clear about the chair. Maybe she wasn’t, but that email is so, so over the top! I’m imagining being one of the people copied on it and absolutely cringing. I had a similar thing happen recently when I got copied on an email chain by one of my clients about a project I am involved with as an external consultant. Someone wasn’t providing the info needed, and being rather obnoxious about it, and my main contact there chewed him out in the group email. Even though I agreed with my contact, I hated being on that email and it made me so uncomfortable. I wrote him privately and said I don’t need to be on those kinds of messages. Of course, then the original offender (not having seen my private reply) replied all to the group with an even worse message, refuting the criticism point by point. SO UNCOMFORTABLE. One of the perks of being a consultant is not having to be part of internal office drama. It really makes my skin crawl to hear other people’s arguments even if they have nothing to do with me.

    So really, regardless of how she asked him about the chair, this guy is definitely in the wrong for how he communicated. If I were his boss I would have serious concerns about his professionalism.

  75. Qwerty*

    OP1 – Search for Purpose Venn Diagram. It helps break things down into what you are good at, enjoy doing, can get paid for, etc to help differentiate between career options vs hobbies vs lifestyle.

    As your teens are choosing colleges, I’d encourage them to pick colleges that have options to explore new topics or change majors if they change their minds about the career they want. Get summer jobs doing different things – maybe its a restaurant one summer, stocking a grocery store over winter break, a garden center the next summer – they’ll learn different things about themselves by being out of the school environment.

  76. Avery*

    Pretty sure this has already been said in some fashion, but I have two pieces of advice for #1:
    First off, if they show interest in a particular career/field, getting some hands-on experience in that field–whether volunteering, shadowing a worker, or outright entering the field in what capacity they can–could be very useful not just for resume-building but for getting a handle on what that field is actually like day-to-day! I went into college thinking I was going to be a teacher, but a bit of student teaching at a local school taught me that it wasn’t right for me, and that was valuable information for me to have.
    My other piece of advice is to make sure to encourage all sorts of career fields, not just the well-known ones. Sure, your kids know they can be doctors or lawyers or teachers, but do they know they can be ultrasound technicians or paralegals? (I’m the latter, a cousin who floundered a bit in finding his path as a teenager is the former.) There’s a whole world of jobs out there, including tons that often just aren’t on kids’ radar, and those jobs deserve to be dream jobs too!

  77. no one reads this far*

    LW1 Don’t put too much pressure on your children (keyword: children. They are still children, not adults) to figure out their future right now now now. This tactic will not lead anyone to success and possibly could lead to resentment toward you.

    Encourage them to research the things they are interested in. But let your kids be kids. They literally have their entire life to figure it out and “I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was 30+” stories are a dime a dozen.

  78. Parenthesis Dude*

    LW#1: Honestly, make them work during the summer at some job that typically doesn’t pay well. For high schoolers, that’s probably everything. But whether it’s food prep, or retail or construction or camp counselor the point you want to tell them is that the pay doesn’t get much better even if you do it full time.

    Charge them rent and board for the summer. This strategy will not make you popular. But if your kids will still talk to you after the summer, have a discussion about how it went and point out that without a well-paying job their lives will be like this. After the summer is over, either give them back the money, or put it in a school fund of some sort, or do something for them with that room and board you charged.

    Depends on the kids obviously. But I have friends that worked in factories for minimum wage for the summer. It was a learning experience for them. They knew they didn’t want to do THAT going forward, so they found a way to leverage their college experience into doing something else.

    1. MeepMeep123*

      Or make them work for the summer at some job that pays well enough, so that they can learn at that job and develop marketable skills. My parents did that. When I was 16, I did tutoring (which I loved) and was a piano accompanist for an elementary school choir (which I also loved). Both of those teenage jobs taught me marketable skills that I was later able to leverage into successful self-employment as an adult.

      My wife and I run a law firm, and we plan to hire our daughter when she’s old enough to work. That way, if she ever wants a legal-adjacent occupation, she already knows something about it.

  79. princessbuttercup*

    Hi LW 1, I am a career advisor who works with older teens and students, so I have some thoughts.

    There’s a lot of great suggestions in the comments here, I hope you read them. A big thing I see is the stress teens show up with in sessions about disappointing/pressure from their parents. I didn’t get that “vibe”, but it’s still worth noting that the greatest thing you can do is act as a support and cheerleader for THEM to do their own exploring and decision making – trying to do it on their behalf is rarely helpful.

    My other suggestion is to google “CERIC guiding principles of career development”. This will bring up a Canadian resource with (free PDF) discussion-based toolkits for different groups of people, including a toolkit for Youth. This is intended for teachers and career professionals (like me!) so it’s not something you need to become an expert in by any means! There will be more info than you need for sure, so skip the stuff that isn’t helpful. But it might help give you some insight into what are age-appropriate career development tasks and activities, and includes the sort of things a professional advisor would think about when helping 15 year-olds. (commenters: if there’s other international equivalent resources, please share!)

    Lastly, maybe a more personal note, but I hear a ton of “I don’t want [my kid] to go to college and graduate without a career path”. I support kids and teens to avoid this scenario (of course), but I also used to work with adults and a VERY large percentage of them went to/graduated from university WITH a career path/job prospects, or did not go to university and found strong careers through training, apprenticeships. They show up in our offices in droves (droves).

    The best way to ensure job prospects and a successful career path is to develop skills of exploration, decision-making, goal-setting, strengthen self-esteem, and find/use supports. There is no “safe”, guaranteed success choice that will override the need for those skills (if you want to be happy with your job).

    Good luck to your and your twins :)

  80. McS*

    LW3, I of course agree that the email is crazy. He is concerned about your communication style being received as an attack and his response is to… communicate in a way that will be received as an attack. He is certainly not modeling the “healthy conversation” he wants to see. That said, it sounds like you think he did something wrong and should have known better when in reality he made an honest mistake. You don’t know what the person at the new place who seemed like they had the answers told him on moving day. No public apology necessary, but on your end personally, consider being more generous in your assumptions and judgements of others.

  81. 30-50 Feral Hogs*

    I have a really strong opinion about #1, which is in addition to everyone else’s advice, I also think we should encourage young people to ask themselves what they want their (whole) life to look like. I think too often we focus on career paths, and I’ve seen multiple people I know who focused to their own detriment on achieving a certain career path only to not have that be compatible with the kind of lifestyle they desired.

    For example, I almost became a veterinarian, but after doing some extensive shadowing I realized that the type of vet work I wanted to do was not compatible with the life I wanted to live – I did not want to live in a rural area, work holidays, and have severe challenges and restrictions on the type of vacations I could take. So I headed in another direction towards jobs that enable me to live in a greater variety of places, take vacations I want to take, and be home every night at a given time to live my personal life.

    I think another benefit of this approach is that it a) reduces the “the one” thinking that we often thrust on young people, where there is a “soul mate” career they should pursue, rather than many different opportunities with different pros and cons; b) invites the young folks to think about their holistic idea of how they want their future to be and how their other interests mesh with their professional ones; and c) allows the adult in the scenario to form a deeper understanding and connection with the younger person by learning about the other dreams they have for themselves. We don’t all dream of labor!

  82. Pinky Pie*

    This is how I frame the conversation with my 11-year-old. I talk about temperaments- what a person likes in terms of people contact, and dealing with data, things, and ideas. Indoor or outdoors. How much education does she see herself getting? I’ve given her a vocational interest profiler test- found free at We’ve looked at some of the results and watched videos about the jobs. Next, we are focusing on completing merit badges related to her interests, she’s in Boy Scouts. At age 13, I’m going to push more talks and merit badges, branching out some and hopefully talking about immerging fields. At 15, our conversations will include informational interviews and what a true starting salary can buy, with a realistic look at the pay. We will start looking at what’s actually out there, what the competition is for the jobs and what the training for these jobs will entail- cost, time investment and continuing training. And, importantly, we will match her academics to the job demands. It’s good to know if she can handle the needs of the training, and that gives us time to improve anything she needs. I know her brain won’t be mature until age 26, but I can start her out with a good foundation for making choices.

  83. Once anon a time*

    Alison, what were some good answers you got when you asked the “what would your employees find frustrating about you?” question? That sounds like a really good thing to ask (and it reminds me of the classic interview question of “tell me your weaknesses.”)

    1. OP2*

      Ooh, upvoted! Would love to hear some of the responses Alison got with her *actually good* version of this question!

  84. HannahS*

    For OP1, the kind of self-knowledge that I think is helpful for young people are questions like the following:
    Would I rather work mostly alone, or mostly with others?
    Do I prefer to work mostly with my body/hands or mostly with my mind?
    Do I prefer to build a concrete object/work on distinct projects or work longitudinally?
    What kind of life do I want (family/travel/hobbies) and what sort of schedule/income does that require?
    Do I like to have a hand in multiple pots at the same time? Or focus on one thing at a time?

    Obviously the answer is almost always some combination thereof, but I think it’s a good reflective practice.
    These types of questions can lead to careers that are not necessarily prescriptive in terms of how much schooling is required (enjoying working with your hands can encompass construction to airplane repair to surgery to crane operation; enjoying working in a service profession can go from front-desk admin to geriatric medicine to teaching math.)

  85. Gilmore or Less*

    In my limited experience it seems like household domestic workers are usually paid under the table. Wouldn’t this also limit the legal action a maid could take for wrongful termination if the job itself isn’t above board? Asking bc I have no clue.

  86. HiHi*

    OP #1. The main thing I will say – do not force them into anything. Once it is time to graduate high school, don’t force them to go to college if they don’t know what to do with themselves. My brother wanted to take a break between high school and university but my dad didn’t let him. He ended up selecting school and major based on where his friends were going. Now, he does not use the major and has struggled with jobs as he does not want to work in the field he has a degree in. One year, he told me he wished he did a different major but didn’t know at the time that’s what he was into. Now, he is in his mid/late-30s and it seems all of this could’ve been negated only if my dad let him take a break and let him figure himself out.

  87. Kim*

    In advising students, I use a shopping metaphor. When they decided to attend this college, they picked a mall. When they selected their major, they picked a store. And then they spend several years trying things on, deciding what suits them.

    So with teenagers, talk to them about the type of mall that they will feel good shopping at. What kind of learning makes them happy? Where do they feel most comfortable?

  88. Ibis*

    #1: Teach them to be resourceful and good at seeking information about careers and jobs in general. No offense, but parents are usually the worst people to give career advice. If anything, they are the source of a lot of career issues because they give kids a lot of rigid career advice and then give them shit when they fall remotely outside of it, causing mental health issues for the kid. The best advice you can give your kids is to ask professionals in THEIR fields for advice and make decisions accordingly. Also, career challenges are inevitable and normal and not a sign that they made an inherently bad decision. People sometimes have trouble getting hired. People get laid off. It happens.

    When I was in high school, my current field didn’t exist and we were told to be lawyers and go into tech. Well, many people with law degrees never found a job and look at what is happening in tech now. It doesn’t mean they made bad decisions, but it just goes to show that the economy is always in flux and anything can change. You have be nimble and flexible. The lawyers who didn’t find jobs found other opportunities to exercise their skills and talents. The currently laid off tech workers will also eventually have to make it work.

  89. glouby*

    Are there fields besides becoming a professional musician where it is critical to commit as young as the teenage years?

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      Athlete. Or dance. But I do not think I would advise any kid who didn’t already have an absolutely burning and single-minded determination and absolutely no interest in Plan B to embark on either.

      I think there are fields for which you really want to have taken all the science and math you can in high school.

      But that’s interpreting field *very* broadly, as in “I probably want to do something STEM-ish.”

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        It’s helpful but not critical to take stem super seriously in high school and still go into stem in college. I started college as a music major (you can believe my high school career focused on the arts not stem) and ended with a chemistry degree and currently work as an engineer in research. I did just fine without any fancy high school science. I had just basic high school sciences. No AP or anything and nothing super specialized. So yeah… sure it would’ve been nice to skip like college trig and move right to calc, but it was fine. I did fine. It’s definitely not a deal breaker to not have specialized high school stem. :)

  90. Ah Yes*

    LW1 — I feel like there is a LOT to unpack here.

    It seems like you’re deeply afraid of your kids will follow a similar path to yours in which you had a lot of jobs, but maybe not a “career”, as you would call it. You want to protect them from something you perceive as a mistake (note: I’m not calling it a mistake – but I feel like you think it is). In doing so, I’m afraid you might be projecting a lot of your fears in the form of pressure to pick something and, not just any “something”, but something GOOD (the “good” here being what you define as suitable). This is a lot for a 15 year old. They may feel like they have to have it “all figured out” and I venture that many of us fully-formed adults don’t have it all figured out.

    You’re worried about your kids, and I get that. It’s in our nature to worry about our kids, but I think it’s important here to recognize that your fear here is based on your own experience and your own desires (you seem like you wanted that career path – is it really too late to pursue that?) and not based on THEM. Oftentimes fear that stems from our own anxieties, while it exists in an effort to protect our kids, can actually harm them. If you project this fear onto them, it may have the opposite of the intended effect — it may push them into a career that they hate, but instead of just admitting that, and moving on to something else, they may think they just need to stick it out for fear of not having a career at all. This is what happens when we make OUR fears our children’s fears. This is not a fear that was born out of their experiences, but ours.

    People choose careers, then change careers. Same with majors, partners, etc. Life is change. The best thing you can do for your kids is to trust them to sort these things out, expose them to all sorts of different things that may pique their interests (and let them pick things up and drop them at will — experiment! That’s the exciting thing about this time in their life is that they DON’T have to commit!), and, most of all, teach them resilience. Life may not always go the way they picture it. In fact, it probably won’t. If they’re resilient, they’ll know they can find something else.

    Also just want to push against the idea that everyone needs to like their jobs — some jobs are just ones that need to get done, and they’re highly valuable just for that. Americans tend to believe that your career should represent everything you are as a human being (kind of like we also glorify our partners as our “soul mates” and believe that they have to be EVERYTHING to us). That’s just not realistic, even if you have your “dream job” or “dream career”. Sometimes, it’s just something you do to pay the bills. There’s nothing wrong with working for a paycheck, and exploring your true passions elsewhere, if that’s what works for you.

  91. Not A Real Manager*

    What I really, really wish someone would’ve told a 16 year old me (or a 26 year old me) was what a career/job can offer beyond money. For example: a 401k, PTO, flexible work schedules, paid meals (sometimes or all the time depending on the job), health insurance, paid leave (sick, maternity, etc.). Also be honest about salaries and what different fields and organizations pay for similar work and how much it costs to have housing, groceries, and a family.

    I have an advanced degree and was working for near minimum wage, hourly work with no benefits because it’s all I thought I deserved. I think because I was well educated people assumed I was choosing that life. I just didn’t have any idea what a professional job should look like! My dad was never forthcoming about his salary, benefits or work culture. My mom was a SAHM most of my life. Even though we were a middle class family, no one, from my parents to college guidance counselors, ever sat me down and explained what a white collar job should look like and that I qualified for one. I’m still mad I worked so hard for so long for so little.

    Of course, maybe your kids don’t want a desk job. That’s fine too, but you should at least show them the options.

  92. marvin*

    I think now is a time when intergenerational advice is in a particularly difficult place. I’m in my thirties, and almost no specifics from my mother’s career trajectory are in any way applicable to my life, and almost no specifics of my life are likely to be applicable to a current teenager. Everything has changed too much.

    I think in times like this, it’s more helpful to teach values like respecting yourself, knowing your rights, cultivating healthy boundaries, being adaptable to change, and supporting other community members. I want to believe we’re at the beginning of a resurgence of unionization and worker’s rights, so educating your kids on the value of unions and the process of collective action would probably benefit them a lot.

  93. MeepMeep123*

    In these uncertain times we live in, I think the only advice I’d offer a 16 year old is to develop multiple marketable skills and to be prepared to pivot depending on circumstances. I’ve had a varied career path myself (engineer -> tutor -> attorney, with some music work and translation work and other assorted freelancing in there somewhere), and I don’t think there is such a thing as a stable career anymore.

    When I was 16, I started doing some tutoring to help out my mother, who was a teacher and had some students who needed tutoring. That marketable skill saved my bacon when I was 25 and got laid off from a failed startup – I was able to spin that into a full-time job and make a comfortable living for 3 years on just tutoring.

    Other marketable skills I’ve ended up using during various periods of unemployment were piano playing (I’m a good ballet accompanist and that pays well), translation, and so on. After I got the patent agent license with the USPTO, I was able to do patent work while still in law school retraining for my latest career change. And all those marketable skills are still with me, and I make a point of picking up new ones.

    There might be such a thing as a stable job at this point, but who knows what’s going to happen when that 16 year old grows up. It’s good to be flexible.

  94. Goldenrod*

    “It’s very Milton with the red stapler.”

    100%. He was being weird. At the very least, he should have talked about it with you in person, instead of weirdly sending an email to everyone.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I’d set my profile on the in-house messaging system to “Chair Hogger” and I’d gleefully send the email to anyone who asks why.
      I actually did this on a forum with a guy who once accused me of being an “evil baby” (I think we’d been discussing whether children are born good bad innocent or clean slate). Any time someone asked, I’d send the link to the discussion and they’d usually come back with “wow LOL” and “right I know to avoid that jerk”. He could totally have written that note.

  95. WillowSunstar*

    Since most of the younger generation seem to prefer video content these days, for #1 I would suggest looking on YouTube for video about jobs, explaining what people do, perhaps practice interviews, things of that nature. I would be willing to be there are some information interview-type videos out there. At least, they could look for how-to videos on certain things and see if they might like to do that thing for many hours a day to get paid.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      willing to bet* sorry, this laptop has some sticky keys and it wasn’t me who made them sticky.

  96. Flare*

    #1 I also think it’s worth trying to cause some scenarios to happen where 100% success isn’t possible, and let your less-self-directed teen flounder about how to determine where to place effort — well, or these situations might happen organically, where it has become physically impossible to be at both the track meet and the yearbook staff meeting on Tuesday evening especially given there is a test in chemistry, their least successful subject, on Wednesday…

    I think as an adult this is a skill I had no idea I needed, but I do, all the time, and not (always) because I sucked at planning. I inadvertently taught one of my kids this during a particularly rough patch in their teen years, and I cannot begin to describe how often it plays a role in their resilience as an adult and their ability to take step one of the prioritization decision tree, which is recognizing there is a prioritization decision tree. I’m not thinking about anything devastating, of course, but besides the above example, like, you have $26.14. You need to stop at the store for groceries to feed five people for the next two days, and in that time three of the people will need their lunch to be pack-and-carryable both days, while the other two will be home all day. Assume you have ordinary spices and oils, but not much else, and that at least one person specifically wants steak tonight. Go. So, bang-for-buck, least-worst options, choices about whether to have steak and then a lot of ramen or ditch the steak, etc, choices about whose interests are of highest value (e.g., if you make your sister’s favorite meal, which you sort of hate, is she likely to kick in for pizza tomorrow night).

    The point is to help your kid know some of the pieces of how to persist in making SOME things work even when it’s not possible to make ALL things work, and how to work out when it’s time to start diverting resources from something that can’t work. Life skill taught nowhere because a lot of school and a lot of parents are like, You can do it! Go you! and like, no, sometimes, you can’t do it all, and when that happens, you still usually can do it some, but not if you aren’t aware there are choices other than all and none.

  97. Chickaletta*

    #1 – The best advice I’ve heard, and wish I heard it myself when I was young, was to pick a career that supports your dreams, not your dream career.

    Too many people end up unhappy because their job doesn’t allow them to live the way they want. Think the surgeon who doesn’t have time to spend with their kids, the ER nurse who misses hanging out with friends on the weekends, the teacher who can’t afford ski vacations that she wants.

    My uncle was very wise. He grew up poor on a farm and wanted nothing more than to be rich. Even though he didn’t care about law, he became a trial attorney so he could afford what he wanted. And he did: a nice house, a small plane, a sports car, vacations in Aspen. He’s been very happy with his life.

    Ask your teens what kind of lifestyle they want. Is it a big family? Time to travel? Nice things? To live in a remote cabin by a lake? Once they know HOW they want to live, you and them can start narrowing down careers that will help make that a reality for them.

    1. Ibis*

      This. A lot of people don’t factor in the lifestyle they want into their career decisions when that should be the primary consideration. Some people care less about work life balance while others care about it more. Some people care more about earning a lot of money while others can do with less. Some people want something that involves physical activity while others would hate something like that.

  98. LittleMarshmallow*

    LW#1: As AAM says, it’s ok if they don’t know as teens. It’s great to help them learn about options, but one thing that really helped me was my parents giving me space to try some things and choose my own path rather than insisting that I pick one thing and stick to it forever. I started college as a music major which they didn’t love, but let me give it a shot anyway. I quickly, on my own, decided I didn’t want that to be a career and shifted to STEM stuff (I was never interested in that in high school but wasn’t bad at it either). I still took a few tries to find the field I wanted (and even now, I would’ve actually picked a different but adjacent field if I knew then what I know now). I ended up changing my major 5 times (mostly within the sciences so a lot classes overlapped).

    I’m currently working in the field that is adjacent to my actual degree that I should’ve actually done in college so even if you choose wrong its important for them to understand that they can still make different choices after college if they do choose college (that takes some of the stress out of making the “right” choice). It’s taken some time to break into the alternative field without going back to school but there are often multiple paths to the same end. :)

    I love my job. I’ve loved my journey to this job too. The journey doesn’t ever really end… it definitely doesn’t end after college. I’m 38 now so I’ve been in the working world for about 15 years and still learning and growing all the time!

  99. Luva*

    For #2: I’ve used a question that I think gets at the same information but in a useful way. “Tell me about a person, department, or function that you found very challenging to work with.” And a followup: “What do you think they’d tell me about you, if I asked them?” I want to hear what the candidate has found to be challenging, how/if they’ve been able to work around it, how they’ve compromised (or not) when needed, and how they can identify problem relationships but stay professional about it. And for the followup, I do want to hear about their self-knowledge: did they make the relationship easier for the other party, did they work with them to solve the underlying problem? Sometimes people say that the other party probably didn’t like them much, personally, but that they would probably be relieved that they found a way to work productively together. I want to hire people who see past “this person doesn’t like me” and who has been able to find ways to work with people even if the relationship is challenging.

  100. Dawn*

    “I just don’t want them to go to a four year college and end up without job prospects and a career path.”

    Then maybe let them know it’s ok not to go to college right out of high school, rather than try to convince them to decide on the rest of their lives 15 years before their brains are fully mature.

  101. Comment Period Has Closed*

    OP#1 Make sure you’re exposing both kids too various options. I was the high schooler with a whole career plan (foreign service with the us state department). It was thought through and cogent. I even got scholarships to go to conferences etc relating to foreign policy. People assumed I had all the relevant info to decide this (late 90s so few internet resources) so no one questioned it at all. Chose my university on this basis. Then, my second year of university I got a serious reality check on what that job would actually look like and it was not right for me. So, I switched to law which made logical sense except for the fact that I loathed being an attorney. I’m now in a master’s program for food science and it is thrilling! I’ve never felt so intellectually engaged. No one in my or my family’s orbit worked in anything related to sciences, other than nursing, so I didn’t give anything outside of social sciences any thought.

    In short, even the most solid plan might not work out and it’s good to have broad exposure.

  102. Raida*

    3. My coworker sent an upset all-team email after I asked for my chair back
    I’d probably go with something like
    I didn’t ask if it was an accident or a mistake because I simply assumed you didn’t commit an act of selfishness or spite.
    I assumed it was accidental, I assumed you didn’t know I’d arranged the chair to be pulled from surplus and moved.
    I saw this as *obvious* that you were unaware, and obvious that, as bore out in person, you’d be gracious in returning the chair.

    (and then bite my tounge to avoid saying something like “but now I know in the future that you’d rather I question your integrity than give you the benefit of the doubt, I don’t want to see another email to everyone when that happens complaining that I didn’t have faith in you.”)

  103. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    OP3 reading that email, I noticed that it was pretty incoherent. For me, this is the hallmark of a toxic narcissist, trying to make it all about his pain when in fact you did nothing wrong and he definitely did.

    I’d turn it into a joke, sending myself up as the “nasty chair hogger”, just to remind everyone of that ridiculous email any time he might be able to charm them into forgetting about his weird rant.

  104. Elm*

    #1: Beyond exposing them to as much of the world as possible and teaching them about financial responsibility, stay out of it.

    I have a theatre degree and probably would have resented my family if they tried to talk me out of it. Plus, you never know what doors a specific degree can open. I’ve gotten seemingly unrelated careers, like my current content writing, because they knew theatre meant I had interpersonal soft skills and dedication. My friends with history or philosophy degrees get jobs because the degrees indicate critical thinking skills.

  105. Somewhere in Texas*

    2 separate thoughts…

    LW1: As someone who has been through a few random career changes, I think there are a few things that carried me through that. The first has been being very involved in things I was interested in, both in high school and college. I have a variety of skills that I honed over the years that keep paying dividends. I think having conversations about the skills you use in the workplace and how you learned those will be a good start. A few of my job changes started with me focusing on what skills I enjoyed using/was best at and it led to great opportunities. Also learning how to spin a skill learned elsewhere into an asset for a job is a great skill.

    Re: Gilmore Girls-Can we please have more pop-culture work scenarios covered here? It was a fun thought exercise and I’d love to debate other ones!

  106. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    LW #1 – Be proud of your “IDK what I want to do” kid. With an exception of a very small percentage of kids, they are the one who is on the right track. I taught a college & career readiness class to 10-11th graders. Maaaaybe 5% of those kids ended up going into whatever they came up with to answer the assignments.

    Kids pick job interests that make them sound smart or cool and/or to make their parents and teachers excited. Then they and/or their parents get fixated on that being the only thing, looking at schools that have great XYZ programs when the student rarely ends up with an XYZ major anyway.

    Literally, I told my undecided son that I was proud of him when he bemoaned that he was one of two kids in his 200-person class that didn’t have a major listed next to their name on whatever senior list the school had. More than half off those kids will go into that area of study, like my daughter who looked at schools based on being a biomedical engineering major, ended up enrolling with an English/Technical Writing major, and is now a kindergarten teacher at 26. If only she’d have embraced that area first, before she had to go to grad school. But her dad really like to brag on her being an engineer, so she didn’t.

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