Are you a parent whose child is unsure of their career choices? Read on.

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Are you a parent whose child is unsure of their career choices? Read on.

I often hear the common refrain from parents that their children are confused and unsure which career path they want to follow.

It would be great if, as parents, we stop wringing our hands in frustration and understand a few key reasons that are responsible for the confusion. after that, it is possible to play a supportive role and help/enable them to navigate through the maze. I will summarize the issue in three points and will offer a countermeasure also in three points. Let me state clearly that there is no magic pill.

Choices create confusion

From behavioural science, we know that more choices don’t result in optimum decision-making. There are two parts of the brain involved in decision-making; Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), responsible for evaluating the costs and benefits of the decision-making, are weighted, and the Striatum is in charge of calculating potential rewards. More choices result in more load on decision making. An optimum number of choices that the human mind can manage will be between 6-24, depending on the context and future implications. However, we live in a world of infinite choices like whom we choose as life partners and what career we decide to pursue. There is always a better option available around the corner. In his book, Paradox of Choices, American psychologist Barry Schwartz identifies two reasons for confusion: a) analysis paralysis and b) buyer’s remorse. It takes time to learn that to make a good decision; we must operate within constraints.

Sky high expectations

We live in a world where everybody wants to either be a billionaire or win a Nobel prize or marry a supermodel. Moreover, if you cannot fulfill your dream, then there must be something wrong with you and your efforts. In the hyper-connected world, youngsters see their peers having a “great” time all the time. It creates dissonance, and one starts leaving one’s ice cream, job, partner for a better mirage. This can set you on a perpetual cycle of misery.

A mismatch between aspirations and efforts

Excellence in any given field requires painstaking efforts over a long period. We tend to reward the outcome and not the efforts. The imbalanced spotlight on outcome often results in shortcuts and rash decision making. What deserves our attention is the unsexy, uncool part, better known as the effort and not the result.

Parents, adults, and CXOs, by design, need to set calibrated guardrails for youngsters and warn them on the allure of infinite choices. Here is my three-step guide:

1) Work with limited options

The most inane advice I hear from parents to their children is that you can pursue any dream and be happy. It is almost like demanding your child to be a polymath like Leonardo da Vinci – painter, sculptor, scientist, cartographer, botanist, etc. We can teach our children to work with limited options early on: a book a month, one toy in six months, one holiday in a year, one outside meal a week, a fixed pocket money every month (this deserves a separate article), etc. Parenting is not about fulfilling your child’s every wish but also about equipping them with techniques to make intelligent choices. Scientific studies and data confirm that the prefrontal cortex, the executive decision-making region of our brain, fully develops only by the mid-twenties. I recommend that parents help their teens to make decisions by providing them with 3-5 choices.

2) Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint

Due to an increased life expectancy, we have extended our overall work lives. Some estimates suggest that we can safely work for five decades. Planning, course correction, and endurance are required to last that long. Adults can help youngsters by focusing on holistic growth and not focus on subjects, grades, and degrees. We must let go of our inherent faith in degrees and focus on the process of learning. Climbing a ladder or a mountain has a simple three-point contact rule – out of four limbs (two hands and two legs), at any given point of time, three should be in touch with a solid platform. We all can be supremely ambitious and can aim for the stars, but keep three-fourth of you well-grounded at all times.

3) Efforts over Results

The seminal work of Hungarian American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (might need some help with the pronunciation!) on happiness has a clue in his Theory of Flow. Mihaly talks about the optimal experience where a person is entirely, physically, and emotionally engaged in a difficult task. Enjoyment and exhilaration come from intense efforts, not the outcome. This is where the onus is on us to shift the spotlight to our efforts.