The question I have a question related to my daughter. She graduated high school, International Baccalaureate program in the top 5 per cent rank 43/45, and has very good study habits. But the problem is that she can't make up her mind for a career choice. We are in the process of applying to universities but there is a lot of controversy in our household over what she should choose. Can you please give us some advice.
The answer Well, like most parents, I am sure your intentions are very well-meaning and that you want to see your daughter choose well so she can set the foundation for success. However, sometimes a parent’s perspective of what’s right for their child might not be what the child believes is truly best for them.
While your daughter may not yet have a clear view of what she wants to study I wonder if her indecision might reflect resistance to the path you are advocating for because it doesn’t feel right for her. Sometimes it’s easier to know what you don’t want to do before discovering what it is that you might want to do.
In your email, you refer to ‘what she should choose.’ The ‘should’ word prompted some questions for me that I encourage you to consider as you reflect on how you might best support your daughter as she chooses where she’d like to apply for university.
Are you letting her top marks limit her career path choices or potential to expand her options? Having top marks can open certain doors that would be unattainable to lower-performing students but what if those are not areas she is interested in? Is there an expectation that because she can likely get in to a particular area of study or university that she should go for it? What if her heart beats in another direction? What freedom are you giving your daughter to listen to her heart and explore other options that she may be curious about and or have an interest in exploring?
Beyond grades – what else are you both looking at to explore what’s right for your daughter? Having great marks can be a blessing and a curse. I know someone who once had the “misfortune” of being so smart and capable that she got accepted into every program she applied for including law, dentistry and medicine. Trouble was she still couldn’t choose. None of those options resonated with her. She was hoping the admissions process would tell her what she ‘should’ do. One needs to understand themselves to be able to make good choices for themselves. In your daughter’s case, her high marks and study habits are admirable and will serve her well. But there’s more to her than marks. Where does she shine most brightly? In what pursuits does she come alive? What are her unique talents, strengths and aspirations? There’s a deeper exploration that is needed here to help your daughter learn more about herself so she can use this as a compass for choosing her path. Don’t squelch her opportunity to dream a little and plan with eyes wide open.
Are you adding to her pressure or supporting her? This is a time of great pressure for young people trying to sort out their next steps. Are you and your daughter holding the belief that this one choice will define her entire life and career? While choosing well is important, it’s important to remember that it’s not uncommon for people to pursue numerous career paths in a lifetime and that there could be several appropriate choices. There are careers today that didn’t exist years ago. Your daughter is still learning about herself and will do so in the years ahead. You can encourage her by helping her see that while this is an important decision it needs to be considered with balance and perspective. This will be one decision of many more in her journey. In her career and studies, she will have time for exploration, course-correction and change if she needs to. The key is to make the most out of her experience regardless of whether it turns out to be the perfect fit or not.
It sounds like your daughter has tremendous potential. If you want to help her actualize that potential, I’d encourage you to be willing to let go of your notions of what is right for her and give her more freedom to express herself and learn more about what makes her tick. Have faith that her smarts, resourcefulness and tenacious work ethic will likely serve her wherever she goes. If her school offers career coaching or counseling, I’d encourage her to seek that out so she can further explore her options and learn more about herself and then safely come back home to discuss what she is discovering. And celebrate the fact that she does have options and has earned this ‘dilemma’ of making a choice.
Eileen Chadnick is a work-life coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto