Career Mindfulness: Why does it Matter?

Parents & Career Mindfulness

If your child said to you at 5 years old, “Daddy, I want to be just like you when I grow up” – what would you say to this? And what would you say, if your 15-year old said “Mom, I want to study to become a doctor like you. I so admire you”? Gratifying, perhaps – but what should one say? It is essential that a young person views their future as their own, and not anyone else’s. Yes, of course, it is a good idea to take your child to work whenever possible so that they understand what you do, how you do your job, and how you are respected at work, and what responsibilities you have, and what those mean – how you cope with the challenges of your position. How you negotiate for more challenging, more compensatory, more meaningful work – which is of course essential to your mental health over time – all three of these factors. If your child sees that you have chosen work that is not meaningful to you, not challenging for you, this sends a damaging message to their sense of self. It sends a message that a] you do not value your time nor your person, b] that you lack the courage and intelligence and imagination to find work that is meaningful to you, and 3] it tells them that somehow you believe that you do not deserve work that matters to you – work that you could actually love and value. This is destructive not just to you, but to your child. 

The one thing as a parent you hopefully never do is give your child the impression that it is okay to become robotic in your work environment, or hopeless, or despairing. To stop growing and improving and learning in your work environment, in other words, is absolutely destructive to your own mental health and development, and to the development of your child’s career mindfulness. This statement is true no matter if you are a garbageman – or a doctor. 

What is Career Mindfulness? 

In essence, that is what career mindfulness means: to be fully aware of what makes life worthwhile in your work world – of what you as an individual need and want to be doing with your life at any given time – essentially, how you want to give value into the world. Not for the money per se, not for the fame, but because you love the work – and because you understand that you bring something special to that work. In order for a young human to understand they have the right and the need to progress in a mindful way in choosing their career path, they need to see and understand this while still children. And they will need to be exposed to as many different life experiences as possible in order to discover their loves and interests and talents – their specific joys. Children should be taught to reflect on why they love doing a certain thing – to think about what it is about that activity that specifically brings them joy, fulfillment, or a deeper satisfaction. 

Children also need to see their parents and others close to them enjoying their work, thriving in what they do. They need to see and understand that gradually over time, by intentionally choosing work and activities that bring deep meaning to their lives, steadily building skills they want to acquire, or things that they want to excel at, or can grow to be competent at, young people can begin to understand their destiny – what they could choose to become. If a person continues to choose in this way throughout their lives, choosing always what will challenge them, they will continue to grow exponentially. If young people choose their career path mindfully, they will continue to grow and learn in fascinating ways over their lifespan – and they will thrive on that growth process. They will also meet people who interest them. Curiosity, self-confidence, and an insatiable drive to learn – these are probably, aside from honesty, intelligence, and an awareness of just how much there is to learn – these are the building blocks for a child, and then a youth, to stride towards to a more fulfilling future, and to a successful career that never ceases to fascinate and challenge – always growing. 

How do we teach our children career mindfulness? 

Perhaps this is best accomplished in a process that aids your child to better understand themselves, and their family members, in a learning process that helps them to acknowledge and value who they are now, and also who they have the capacity to become. This needs to be a positive message – discovering what they can do well, and how they can improve if they apply themselves. Encourage your child in sports and in the arts – in any specific skills or activities they show an interest in. Perhaps they love horses? Perhaps they are excited by soccer, or beading, or chess, or ping pong? Maybe they love to read? Help your child do what they believe they want to try to achieve in. Buy them books in their areas of interest. Celebrate their accomplishments. Do things with your children – play with them, read to them, laugh with them. Create wonderful memories, because wonderful memories are the bedrock of all strong relationships. If your child can build and enjoy strong, loving relationships with family members, they will be able to build them at work and at play – everywhere. Developing confidence in oneself as a child is the key to achievement as an adult. 

You, the student – how to choose with career mindfulness? 

All of this growing and learning is in preparation for you, the student, to decide on a career direction in the last year of high school – a career direction – if not a career per se. It may be too early for you to choose a career path.  If you are not ready to choose a career direction, the cost of forcing yourself to choose a program then may be high, in every sense. Not choosing the right program for yourself – one that seriously interests –  this can result in poor grades, low motivation, feelings of frustration, boredom, anger, fear, depression…the gamut. If you have not been properly prepared for that program, or have misjudged what the program is and its interest level for you in the actual content of the program and the way it is taught, or if you do not possess the skills, nor the temperament for that career trajectory, nor even the will to become that kind of professional, you will soon realize it was a big mistake, your selection. This could become a costly lesson. Suffering low grades in a particular program because of low motivation – unhappy with the program – this can ruin a student’s eligibility for other programs, all while chalking up serious debt. 

Would a Gap Year make you a more successful student – one ready to make a sound career direction choice? 

For greater maturity in your study, perhaps it might be better [rather than to choose prematurely] for you to take a gap year and seek a job in the industry you imagine you want to enter. Not where your parent wants you to work, but where you see opportunity for growth and greater meaning in your life where you know you have a deep interest, even perhaps a passion. This should not be a haphazard, simple choice, but rather a thoughtful one. Gaining one or two years of solid work experience in a sector of interest, and possibly some travel too, while taking an online course of deep interest – these can become positive stepping stones in choosing a college or university program, or a trade, or a pathway for career progression – and one chosen with high motivation. In that gap year, you could seek to shadow with a successful professional working in a career you are directly interested in. And the choice of whom to shadow is critical. This choice could well help you to choose wisely your own path, and you could perhaps gain a mentor in that particular profession before beginning your studies. If you have already shadowed professionals you admire while in high school, you probably will be ready to choose a direction for yourself when you graduate. But every individual has their own pathway – and making that career choice or early career direction is the right of every person. A parent in the end cannot choose for their child – not without causing serious harm to their son or daughter’s psyche. 

What is essential for a young person to understand is that mindfully choosing their career path is really a dance. 

It is trial and error to know what one excels at and what one wants to excel at. Motivation to learn is just as important as innate skill or talent. If you want desperately to learn something, find a way to learn it. Even if you learn from that attempt that not everything is going to come easily to you, then this too is a valuable lesson. Sometimes we achieve satisfaction from understanding something fully, even if that also means we learn that others may have a greater natural talent at that particular skill. But we can still usually become quite competent at any given skill, and that also is an important lesson for us to understand. Never discourage yourself from attempting to achieve just because you believe you won’t excel immediately at a particular task or skill. Adults, just like children, need to learn for themselves.

Learning how to learn, for each individual, is in itself a key skill. If you can master that skill – for yourself as an individual – then you can learn anything. 

Career Mindfulness as a lifetime practice…

Curiosity, resilience, patience, and thoughtfulness – as well as persistence: these are the building blocks of career mindfulness. If you did not learn these qualities as a child, you still can as an adult. Moreover, career mindfulness should continue as a practice throughout one’s life, even well beyond retirement. Because no human should ever stop giving back to the world their own special gifts, and those gifts may change over time. Because essentially, with career mindfulness, you are growing to understand what gifts you have to give the world, and what gifts you want to give the world. Career mindfulness means to never stop learning how to give both to others and to yourself – and to give in more deeply meaningful ways.