Will We Develop Or Suppress Our Children’s Future?

I was giving a keynote speech entitled, The Art of Change. During the question and answer session, a rather dignified and well-dressed gentleman vigorously raised his hand. His body language seemed uncomfortable and angry. Of course, he was my first pick. He asked, “What do you have to tell these young people who want to pursue a ‘feel good’ degree like environmental science?” I paused quite a long time, wanting the question to sink into the audience. Then, it came. “Well, actually, I was thinking that environmental science is a rather courageous and vital career choice.”

Continuing, I shared that since today’s college graduates are going to change careers four to six times we need an entirely new approach to prepare our children for the future of work. Many of the jobs our children will pursue have yet to be invented. And, in a world of constant change, we ought to be helping young people identify what they love and what is meaningful to them. For those of us who grew up in the Industrial Revolution, this must sound like pig latin. But, the importance of finding work that we love applies equally to adults today. Successful change and reinvention require wakefulness, learning, engagement and new skills. While change requires courage, we ought to be far more frightened of living with ambivalence or even hatred for our work. Without love and even passion, the probability of successful change becomes dramatically lower. More so, the state deadens our senses, our imagination and consequently our ability to move on.

After the speaking event came to an end, the same man stridently walked over. He brought up the possibility of my coming to speak at an organization he serves. We asked him what it was and he said, “I run two career development programs for (name withheld) high school.” It is one of the most prominent charter schools in America. I thought of this well-meaning man dishing out advice like this in one of the country’s more sophisticated communities. But, such advice is often automatic and taken for granted. The problem is it can either create a new assumption or support the mistruths young people are getting from other sources.

Today’s huge central “flip” that must take place in how we plan and drive our careers is to derive security from our growth. Today’s four-year or graduate degree isn’t an endgame, it is simply a license to learn and it is an introductory course to active learning. Does that sound like a lot of needless work? It is actually what healthy, vital and the most pursued employers look for – first and foremost. For those of us who’ve successfully become active learners, the experience introduces us to a world of growth unlike anything before.

So if you are a parent, make sure your children are getting healthy and realistic career development support at school and at home. Tomorrow will be filled with more entrepreneurs, disruptors, problem solvers, teachers and jobs that have not been invented. Creativity such as design and writing will be in demand. Actually, an MFA is far more salable today than an MBA. Empathy, the ability to connect with others is also a significant trend that will only grow. More importantly, we need to teach our children to sell, to draw healthy attention to themselves, to learn how to connect with others skillfully and quickly, to present others effectively and to build support systems or better yet, communities that are tailored to their unique mission, vision and purpose. Quite frankly, the country’s entire educational system is running from these skills! Sadly, many parents have run from these critical success skills as well. If the world is rapidly changing every day, how on earth will our children thrive without these skills?

Kevin Kelly, author of The Inevitable (Viking) tells us the rate of change has sped up to point where there is no destination. We are “becoming.” In other words, we are learning and moving so quickly that we are always growing into someone new. In front of us are worlds that few parents recognize, especially if they got hammered into shape by their elder’s career advice. But, telling our children to do something they didn’t really want to do or even worse, didn’t really care about, was always a soul killer. Today, it can be a career killer. The “addiction” of telling young people “don’t be you” is a cornerstone of the traditional rebellion that often tears families apart and pits teenagers against their parents. Why? If we work against the truth, eventually that truth will do whatever it takes to break free and if necessary, the spirit will go to war.

Once, I was interviewing Jack Canfield and I asked him what he did to prepare his two sons for work. He responded, “I always told them to do whatever makes you happy. Then, I centered all of my attention and energy in instilling the confidence they could deal with anything life dished out to them. Jack intuitively helped them become good with sales, communications, asking for help and engaging with others. Success and happiness came their way.

Our children need new voices and our parents need a new language and mindset. If we can’t find that, at the very least, have the courage to tell them, “Don’t do what I did.” At Inspired Work, we are studying children these days and find they have far more wisdom than we give them credit for.

In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion they are already ahead of us.

Within every child is a mission, vision, and purpose that is probably beyond our understanding. What is going to happen when we apply our energy and love in helping them discover that purpose? What kind of world will we live in when we teach them the life skills to thrive and succeed as unique human beings? With unique problems to solve?

Life will certainly become more interesting.


David Harder
David Harder
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.

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  1. The job represents for a person about one-seventh of life. Yet everyone, family, school, government, media, etc., are concerned to prepare and facilitate youth to the work, and no one bothers to prepare him/her for life that, in addition to work, includes leisure, culture, emotional relationships, the social commitments, civil growth, a range of information about the factors that, today, govern the individual success.

  2. Understanding how to reconcile our own talents, our own desires, our expectations with the world of work and with a project of the future. Therefore, in order to prevent the problem of unemployment, it is essential to choose the type of study that best fits our own inclinations, but which also looks carefully at the labor market, so as to understand how to direct our own professional future towards employability.
    Communicate “employability” to avoid the frequent distortions about the expectations and the actual opportunities. An orientation that before, during and after the course of study will allow to change mental orientation, or become aware of new professional environments or to find another, because not all studies “liked” give concrete openings. That encourages young people to a deep reflection about their selves and to develop expectations tailored to the realities of employment.

  3. If I were advise kids today, I would have them focus on building three skills — engineering, ethics, and storytelling.

    Engineering are skills around how to think analytically. Taking theory and objectively making it work in the real world. How to analyze and solve problems through research and systemic processes.

    Ethics are skills around how to make the right decisions. Determining all the options and who they impact. Have empathy for those people and understand the true benefits and costs of a decision.

    Storytelling are skills on how to influence, teach, and communicate with stories.

    Then, I’d tell the kids pick a subject area / discipline they are passionate about.

  4. David you are so right. The world and future is changing so rapidly that we are always evolving into someone new. And, the ability to do so is what will save our children from extinction. In a world that is evolving at the speed of the internet, our intuition will play a bigger part in our choices so a degree in Environmental Science is part of “feeling” our way through it all.