How Do I Turn off this Damn Contraption…?

How Do You Turn Off This Damned Contraption?careers section

My wife and I were at a dinner recently at the home of a friend of mine whom I have known since freshman year of high school. With us was my friend’s two teenage daughters, one 17; the other 18. Also there was another friend whom we have known since college.

To provide an important context, it’s important to know that the two girls were adopted from overseas when they were about 8 to 10 years old. They have both struggled, first, to learn English which affected them academically but with a strong network of friends, supporters, tutors and diligent parents, they are both “typical” suburban New York teenagers. They have reached the age that whenever they hook up with the “older” generation, (that is, “us!”) the conversation invariably turns to “what’s up with college?”

One of the girls is hopeful of receiving an athletic scholarship while her sister is interested in doing something in the service field. The conversation hasn’t yet gotten to the level of “what happens after college?” It’s pretty much “let’s take this one step at a time.” However, you can feel the question hanging in the air.

The age gap hit us when the girls went out for the evening and left the TV on playing music through their Apple TV set-up when we realized that there were four professionals in the room (we old guys) and not one of us knew how to turn off the music. Fortunately, the volume was low enough so as not to be a bother. But that’s another story.

Let me switch over to the older guys. Our friend whom we have known since college has a son who was in college majoring in physical therapy when, after two years, announced that he didn’t like the field and wanted to switch over to engineering. My friend was annoyed at the money that they’d spent just to have him change majors.

My own son did two years of college and decided he was considering a career in the U.S. Navy with a specialty in the emergency medical field. To that end, he’d enrolled in a basic EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) course and subsequently passed the written and practical exams and received his EMT Certification. Some of the stories he’s told us after his trips with various hospital ambulance crews are gruesome. In fact, after one particular night, he came home and told us “I saw things tonight that I hope I never see again.” Yet, every week, he continues to do the overnight shift at a local volunteer First Aid Squad.

What dawned on me and the group at dinner was how getting into and attending college for a large segment of the population seems to be taking a back seat to getting a skill that is immediately “usable.” No more agonizing over “what should I do after I graduate?” Or “what am I going to do with a degree in Anthropology?” (which was my son’s question recently). The general consensus seems to be that “I’ll get a skill and a job first; college will always be there.” And, as on-line schools grow in popularity, who knows what will happen? I don’t know the numbers but anecdotally, it seems to be growing.

Then, there’s the larger population – recent college grads – who are still seeking their “first” jobs while doing time (poor choice of words there!) at restaurants or lower paying jobs. Sometimes, it seems to me that the biggest casualty in all this is motivation. They seem to be losing their drive. This is exacerbated for many of them whenever they find the courage to remind themselves of how much they owe in student loans.

This leads me to an old concept yet one that can be a crucial one: Coaching. Think about it: every sports team has coaches. We have personal trainers to get us into shape. Life coaches to help us find our way. Corporate mentors. Animal Coaches (for the humans in dealing with their pets not for the animals in dealing with their owners. Although, there might be some money to made there!) And so on. More to come next time. I have to consult my writing coach first.

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