Articles > Need Career Advice, Take a Tip from a Teenager

Need Career Advice, Take a Tip from a Teenager
Globe & Mail, February 22, 1999

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

Sure, they think you have the IQ of a pine cone, their room is a mess, and your only perceived value is your plastic. So you may not want to show this to your kids, but the truth of the matter is, by studying what teenagers do naturally and spontaneously, you can learn some valuable life lessons -- and some useful career strategies too.

Aggressively evaluate the effort-reward equation (or, "I want to do this because . . . ?"): Teenagers are careful about how they expend their energy: "Will killing myself for this course get me a good grade? Do I care? How much money will I make if I shovel the snow? What am I giving up?" Like a teenager, evaluate every time commitment in terms of what personal needs and priorities it will satisfy and the costs associated with honouring it. The problem with most people is not that they are not working hard enough, but that they are working too hard. With over 80 per cent of Canadians experiencing stress in balancing their complicated work and personal lives, one may well wonder about the productivity benefits of 80 hour work weeks. Be more thoughtful about what you undertake, and learn how to say 'no' to excessive demands. Be reflective and conscious of what you do and why you do it -- what you hope to attain, both personally and professionally.

Cultivate artful sloth: This may not be a career-friendly strategy but it is life-friendly. With so many of us allowing work to take first priority in our overcommitted lives, you will be better off demanding respite, or just taking it where you can. Do you work to live or live to work?

Target your message ("So I want to talk to you because . . . ?"): Last week, I had several requests which went on the order of, "Hi. I am researching occupations in the financial area. Could you please call me back with names of job titles, financial prospects and organizations who may be hiring? PS: This request is confidential." Remember, every time you talk to someone, you are competing with five thousand other demands for their attention. Think what's in it for them to respond to you. Imagine the teenager's exaggerated eye-roll before you make your pitch and tailor your pitch accordingly.

Challenge received wisdom: Be irreverent. A teenager has no particular loyalty to, or understanding of, how things are always done or should be done, nor much taste for established authority. The best ideas and solutions do not come from corporate-think but are truly inventive by virtue of their independence. Your greatest insights may come from the fact that you don't know the rules, and so are not constrained by them.

Celebrate your personal style: Refuse to hang up your personality at the corporate door. Be yourself, express who you are. Life is too short to repress your "personhood" and it won't get you what you want anyway. Don't worry about being outrageous; worry about the psychic costs of repression.

Keep your options open: Like a teenager who doesn't want to make a commitment in case there's a better party or concert around the corner, you can maximize your career opportunities by ensuring you're not locked into one job or industry or client. Have a fallback position, so if things don't work out in one arena, you can still move on.

Does it feel good? We spend so much time at work, and work plays such in important role in determining how we feel about ourselves, that it should be a source of fulfillment and satisfaction. It doesn't have to feel great all the time, but at least it should feel good some of the time. The consequences of being miserable ?- depression -? are too serious for yourself and others. Demand to have fun.

Worry that you don't have enough money: Teenagers are chronically cash strapped. Right now we may be in a boom economy, but remember: there's always another recession coming. And then there's retirement to consider (more than 10 per cent of Canadians describe winning the lottery as part of their financial plan to fund their retirement). You would be wise to ensure you've got money for downturns in the economy, for dry spells between work, and the long-term.

I am owned by me: Take a lesson from the teenager's fierce sense of personal autonomy. Recognize that you are in charge of how you chose to spend your working time. Design your work to reflect your needs. Manage your own career and take responsibility for your successes and failures. You have a lot more power to control your working situation than you think you do. There is no "they" out there.

Be loyal: Just as kids are capable of tremendous loyalty to their friends, be loyal to colleagues, clients, suppliers, managers and friends who have been good to you. Work is personal and social. Stay connected with friends and colleagues who are part of you personal history, and cultivate your relationships so that they have a future. Don't think of your relationships with people simply in terms of whether they provide effective leverage for your career.

Be passionate in defending your point of view: Fight against injustice, corporate abuse, petty politics and time wasters who pump up bloated egos. Be prepared to go out on a limb, be expressive and articulate what is important to you.

Celebrate your birthday: This is your day, the only one that uniquely belongs to you. Don't do anything you don't want to do. Better yet, celebrate your birthday week. Make time for yourself.

So your kids may be right after all - your life would be a lot better if you would just put yourself in their hands.