I want to thank you all for your help. Last Saturday, when I posted my question, on what to do about choosing a college major and how to sustain oneself in the early years, I was not sure if it was a good idea. But over 75 people answered in the comment section, and a few more sent me emails.
Your stories and opinions have helped me build a framework in which to have a better attitude, and therefore a better discussion with my son. Thank you.
If I think back to everything you wrote, here’s my analysis.
- Some young people have a clear early path. Maybe they want to make money and don’t mind choosing a major and entry level job that takes them towards that goal. Maybe they have an interest they love and pursue right out of the gate, wherever that takes them. Maybe they just love work, engagement, projects, and it almost doesn’t matter what they do.
- Others will take a more wandering path. I see 4 primary happy, if less directed, ways.
- You wander around trying stuff, earning what you can, until you find what you love/are really good at.
- Or wander around trying stuff, earning what you can, until you decide that you want to make a good salary. This will often involve going to graduate school.
- You can major in something practical, get out of college, earn a good if mundane living, and in your 40s or 50s change careers to something more fulfilling.
- Or major in something practical, and achieve fulfillment in your hobbies, and recreation. Your job remains just that, a job.
The unhappy paths are several. If you wander around young, there’s a chance that you may not get back onto the mainstream path, even if you want to. But that outcome is usually caused by drugs, alcohol, a difficult temperament, or cognitive issues. Which would mean that no matter which path you take your course will be somewhat difficult.
If you settle down young, there’s a chance that you will find yourself needing to throw off the traces later in life. The risk is that you may be stuck at that point, with a mortgage, and kids to put through school.
I think in the end these decisions are all about temperament and risk. Our own personal risk calculus. All happy paths are just that, happy. Like unhappy families, unhappy paths are different.
Which unhappy path is worse? Depends on the person. Never settling into a career that generates a good living, security, and social esteem? Or settling into one that does, always restless against its constraints? Different people feel differently. Some people can go to work every day and come home happily to hobbies. Others would feel brutalized by that life. Some people can wander, others would feel far too much anxiety with the lack of structure and security. It’s a good exercise, understanding your calculus, either for yourself or for your kids.
The key piece I was missing, (the constant in the equation if I push the metaphor) before you all were so generous with your stories, is that work to sustain us during any wandering-around-trying part is available. It’s possible to build a peripatetic life of minimal but not dangerous subsistence, with hourly wages, roommates, and friends.
As a parent of young adults I prefer to act as consultant. To assume that while I have knowledge and experience my kids are not me and I am not them. So rather than one single answer, I needed a framework. Again, thank you very much.
Have a wonderful weekend.