Career Night Dilemma

I was flattered last Sunday when I was asked to speak at a career night organized by the youth leaders of my church. But I have no idea what to tell these kids?

The young men and women were polled to discover the top ten careers they were interested in and “Writer” was one of the results. I was the closest thing the planners could find. The invitation made me happy because it’s taken a long time to get from the point where I perceived myself as a writer to the point where others also perceive me as a writer.

Nevertheless, I am torn over what to say. Part of me wants to give a pep talk, tell the kids to follow their dreams, change the world, be artists, and ignore the sage advice of their parents. The other part of me wants to tell them to expect a long, hard, lonely road, full of discouraging setbacks. I’d like to encourage them to carefully evaluate their own talent and other career options before committing to the life of the writer–is that wrong? The last thing I want to be said of me is that I discourage the dreams of others.

I’m soliciting advice on how to approach this. By Tuesday night I need to know what to say. So, everyone please help me out. If you chose a risky career do you wish you’d been better informed? If you didn’t choose a risky career do you wish you’d been encouraged to take more chances?

In the end, would any career advice have made any difference?

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10 thoughts on “Career Night Dilemma

  1. Dude, go with the pep talk. No kid wants to hear the reality! And believe me, they will have plenty of doses of reality before they make their final career choices. I mean, you went into your career with eyes open, regardless of youth speakers and pep talks. Have some faith in their capacity to see through the bull, and let ’em rip.

  2. I would encourage them to get all the education they can. There should be little trouble working that into the schematic of their dream. In fact, an education will be necessary to accomplish most of the career dreams that they might throw at you–or at the very least you’ll probably be able to show them how an education will enhance their dreams even if it isn’t absolutely necessary. One way or the other, an education will go a long way to secure their success even if they end up doing something different than what they had origially intended–that ought to satisfy “the sage advice of their parents”.

  3. I agree with Jack. I’d also tell them that they don’t need to major in English to become a great writer or even a journalist. You can major in another discipline (esp. the hard sciences and the social sciences) and still become a writer. And that way you have more career options.

  4. Brian, don’t discourage them. No matter what field they go into, polishing their writing skills will serve them well. I wish I would have been more courageous in planning my career, and I think a little dose of experienced optimism would have helped me. The fact of the matter is, there are people who do make their living by writing, and there is no reason that this should be put into the category of impossible dreams like becoming a pirate or modest supermodel.

  5. Brian, perhaps it would be best to give them a combination of the two messages. Tell them they should purse their interests and dreams and develop their talents. Also tell them they should prepare to face any challenges that might rise up during the process. Perhaps provide them with examples of people who pursued their dreams and experienced failures as well as successes. There’s always that oft-quoted statistic about the number of strikeouts Babe Ruth had, as well as his record number of home runs.

  6. I’d be sure to emphasize how very few writers actually support themselves solely on their writing. Writing by and large doesn’t really pay, but it brings influence and opens other doors.

    On the flip side, you should emphasize that it’s very difficult to make it big in any field without being able to write well. I remember what a revelation it was to read David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest and realize that the people who have the most influence on national policy are pretty much the ones who write the best memos, not necessarily the ones with the best ideas.

    You should definitely tell them they should all be blogging if they want to be better writers.

  7. I think you should split them into two rooms, girls in one and boys in the other. Encourage the girls, because writing is one of the few “careers” that really can be carried on from home with kids around. Discourage the boys, because writing is so inconsistent a source of income.

  8. The most important advice would be to dream with your feet on the ground.

    You want to enter a feast-or-famine profession of piecemeal freelance work? That’s fine — but for the love of all that’s holy, have a safety net. Following your dream shouldn’t mean that you’ll find yourself somewhere in your twenties and thirties unable to support your family because the markets aren’t looking for your kind of creative output right this minute and you have no other marketable skills more advanced than pushing a broom.

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