As a career coach, I meet many people whose parents advised them, "Learn something you can use," or, "Good grades will lead to success." Here's what I would tell a teenager, based on life experience, research, twenty years as a college professor, and a diverse group of coaching clients.
1. Focus on freedom, not security.
These days, no job is secure, and no skill guarantees employment. In my youth, we were taught that teachers and typists would always have jobs. Stay marketable so you can avoid being locked into a job by bosses, layoffs, market changes or your own debts.
2. Get comfortable with your strengths, even if they don't seem important now.
It is easier to build on strengths than to overcome limitations. And who knows? Today's limitation may be tomorrow's strength.
3. Honor your own values.
Many mid-career transitioners are shedding careers that no longer fit their value system. They were taught that being a lawyer is good, being an artist is bad -- or vice versa.
Choose a major based on your natural abilities and passions, not "what will get me a job." Claudia Kennedy, the Army's the first female three-star General, majored in philosophy. Carly Fiorino, famed CEO of Hewlett-Packard, majored in medieval history. And Michael Lewis, financial writer and best-selling author of Liars Poker, was an art history major. Successful people know where they belong. They walk into an interview and say, "I don't fit here." They have learned to tune in to their own inner wisdom.
4. You always have choices.
Few doors are closed to a young person, unless they get arrested for a felony. Yolanda Griffith, WNBA basketball star, dropped out of college when she became pregnant. She never gave up. Many people make changes in mid-career. Your first choice needn't be a life sentence.
5. Getting into a top university will not guarantee success.
My own schools were first-rate and I'm grateful for my education. However, I've met Ivy League graduates who were unemployed and broke. And I've met people who have gone on to prestigious careers after graduating from schools I'd never heard of.
6. Straight A's are useful only if you want more school.
Graduate schools look at your grades -- but some make allowances for special circumstances. Focus on achievement, confidence and motivation.
7. Get used to success.
Do something outstanding, and do it early. Make the honor roll. Get selected for a play, a club, or a team. Get elected to office in an organization where you had some competition. Get hired for a competitive job. Once you've tasted success, you'll know how it feels, and you will want more.
8. Make decisions based on, "How will this path lead to more freedom?"
Choose a job that will give you skills or credibility to get the next job, or, better, to start your own business. If you find yourself becoming less marketable, take action fast.
9. Look forward, not backward.
Expect to make mistakes. Recover by focusing on what you want, not what you don't want. Find a way to experience some joy every day. If you keep repeating a pattern of discontent, find the underlying cause and fix it. Most likely, you have lost touch with your own inner wisdom, or you never learned to listen in the first place.
10. Get comfortable with uncertainty.
Success comes from knowing how to take enlightened risks. Expect coincidence and luck to influence your career at least once. You can't avoid an occasional failure, but you can learn bounce-back attitudes before you need them.
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. author, coach, speaker Helps mid-career professionals move to career freedom Nine Magic Keys to Career Freedom [www.movinglady.com Web page is parked].