Oh Grow Up! or Career Choices for the Adult

After some reading this week I felt compelled to tweak a few details on my blog.  The most identifiable change is the prominent “Emerging Adulthood” label at the top.  This new title reflects the beliefs of psychologist Jeffrey Arnett that young adults in industrialized countries are experiencing a new phase of life affectionately known as “Emerging Adulthood.”  This phase chronologically encompasses ages 18 to 30ish, (not coincidentally, the approximate age demographics of this blog.)

For my Psychology of Old Age class at Salem State University I was required to read that article, entitled “Oh Grow Up!” and there was a time for the professor to field reactions of the class.  The opinions of the class spanned from surprise at this new “category” of adulthood to world-weary acknowledgement.  As discussion developed a few words relating to this new phase piled high.  Specifically the phrase, “there are so many choices now” was echoed repeatedly.

Since the class is composed mainly of “adult learners” (those over 22) most in the class are pursuing some form of career change, redefinition, or advancement.  Most have experienced the choice they made to start a certain job as less than satisfactory.  They would like to enhance their lives with more identity-based work, work more tailored to their interests, or perhaps work with a higher salary.

Thinking back to the career opportunities I envisioned at 17, these were cardboard cut-outs compared to flesh-and-blood jobs.  Two-dimensional at best, my ideas of careers were along the lines of “teacher,” “engineer,” “writer.”  They included little flexibility and a startling lack of knowledge for attending a fairly good high school.  Although I still recognize “Teacher” as a job title, I can also see that many people who describe themselves as such don’t view a traditional classroom as their domain.

Instead, “Teacher” has expanded as a path to include opportunities as a “Teacher’s Aide” “HR Training Department” “Behavior Therapist” “Employment Specialist” “Soccer Coach” and surprisingly “Technical Writer.”  These career choices wouldn’t have entered my definition of “Teacher” in high school.  These people make their living instructing others about how to do things that they don’t yet know.  They impart knowledge.  They Teach.  However, these job titles don’t necessarily involve traditional classrooms in elementary, middle, high schools or universities.  My definition of this career choice was far too narrow.  I suspect that many youth operate under similarly narrow definitions of careers.

So, when they pick their career at 18 or 22 and then work at it for two or three years, they become disenchanted when they realize they don’t like children, or teens.  They don’t like lecturing in front of large groups.  These crises experienced are not because they inadequately defined their skills or likes, but most likely because they narrowly defined a job.  As emerging adults, with fully formed brains they are more likely to see the discrepancies of their old definitions.  This usually means some sort of re-education, bringing us back to Salem State and Emerging Adulthood and choices.

Were all these career choices available thirty years ago?  I don’t know.  We didn’t cover that in my class, and I’m sure that I’m not knowledgeable enough to hazard a guess. There is no longer a single career choice which must be made, but numerous, each leading down a specific pathway.  And hopefully, each pathway clarifies the goals of the individual and provides more fulfillment and functionality.  In the meantime, each choice requires time, and this is reflected in new phase of Emerging Adulthood.


Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

7 thoughts on “Oh Grow Up! or Career Choices for the Adult”

  1. Pingback: Pro Blogger News
  2. Very thoughtful, I’d never come across this idea before, but it makes great sense! Towards the end of college (I was at mine for 5 years as opposed to your 3), I was just beginning to narrow down my interest in ‘history’ to ‘medieval studies’ and further to ‘Anglo-Saxon literature & culture.’ Had I continued down that road, there would definitely have been be a PhD ahead, and a specified career path. But instead I realized a call to seminary and had to start that career plan definition thing all over again. There are probably hundreds of ways to be a ‘minister.’ And even with the narrowed category of ‘pastor,’ there were still a lot of ways that I could have realized that. In the past year I’ve discerned that the more specific form of ‘pastor’ is Anglican Priest in a particular communion, but even then there are a number of roles that priests can take on. Fortunately I will have help in sorting out exactly where to go and what to do when I get to that stage.

    But this begs a good question – is there a way that we can help teenagers and college students to refine their goals and visions? Granted, a lot of that process can be and should be self-guided, but is society at large generally helping or hindering that process of growing up?

    1. I have been thinking about this all weekend and I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer. Since I’ve been reading a fair number of “how to get a job” type books and “different careers in (x field)” I suppose I could say that what should be emphasized by parents, role models, and guidance counselors is what a youth is interested in, but also the “transferable skills” that go along with this.

      For example, one of the reasons I like “teaching” is because I like analyzing sets of skills that people need for certain situations. In this case, Analyzing is the transferable skill that can apply to a variety of “teaching” situations. I think its important to recognize that young people know generally what they like to do, but are not really aware of very many career choices. Particularly because up until 18 they are limited to teachers and the jobs of their parents as roles. Often the jobs their parents have has gotten them into a particular community where a vast number of their friend’s parents have the same jobs. What I mean is, their socioeconomic status has a huge impact on what jobs they will be exposed to. They are also not very aware of what transferable skills are, or how they can use them in “real jobs.”

      Also I was thinking about how instead of emphasizing some fields as “money making” fields, emphasize that there is money to be made in all fields, it just depends on what part a person is particularly in. For example, there is money to be made in music, but not always as an indie rock star. However DJ-ing, producing, promoting etc are perhaps more viable options if making money is the goal.

      Another way I was thinking that parents and counselors are letting their children down is perhaps not emphasizing the very symbiotic relationship between hobbies and jobs. One doesn’t need to get a job in their hobby field (again, let’s use music) as a way to be completely fulfilled/ earn a living. It’s possible to do both.

      All this to say, statistically I have read that guidance counselors are stretched very thin (with case loads of around 600 students), so all the burden cannot fall on them, hence why parents have a role too. However it must be recognized that a parent’s social network only stretches to so many career fields that are available because of the choices that they have made in their own self-knowledge process. That is why I’m not sure I have a “yes” or “no” answer to society as helping/hindering.

  3. I’m sure glad I still like teaching after about ten years in the field, and before that I was training adults and young people alike in less formal settings.

    While I teach a subject outside the radar of most politicians, for which I’m grateful, I’m still concerned that school reform is doing students more harm than good and scaring the best people away from the profession. There’s always room for improvement in education, it’s just that the wrong people are setting policy. Urban kids need stability in their lives, not a steady rotation of new staff and admins every time scores come up low. (I teach in an urban system).

    I also can’t support myself on a full time teaching position alone. I have loans I took out in order to reach “Highly Qualified Status.” The only problem is, the profession doesn’t pay enough to offset the costs of qualifying. I use my other interests, “hobbies,” to try to supplement my income. Funny Beth should mention it, one of those is DJ’ing. I also know young teachers who bar tend, waitress, work retail jobs, which makes for a tough next morning. If we want better teachers, and expect them to constantly further their education, they should at least be able to live off of their day jobs so they have time and money for professional development.

    Sorry to rant, but nobody wants to pay teachers more or provide more in benefits, but everybody expects teachers to work miracles against a culture that’s increasing anti-intellectual, students who constantly move in and out of the system, un-involved parents, gangs, refugees, etc. Actually, we are performing miracles and reaching new milestones every day, just not so much on the MCAS, our state’s favorite real estate value assessment tool. (and boy am I glad there’s no section for my subject..)

    If I’m forced to leave this profession that I love, it’ll only be because I can’t afford to continue, or because of misdirected school reform hysteria.

    1. Ah well, I’ll have to reevaluate my views on DJ’s, darn. Went to a wedding this weekend, and I heard that wedding DJ’s can command an eyebrow raising price.

      Also, I have heard over and over from teachers that stability is what children need, and many of the teacher’s I hear it from do work retail jobs at least a couple nights a week. Teaching is definitely an undervalued skill.

  4. Beth, I don’t do many weddings because I’m not a top40 DJ. I’ve done a few, though, where clients have wanted something other than the typical event DJ shtick. I can’t sell out that much, so getting back to the topic of this blog, maybe I’m not completely grown up..

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