Whatever you do for work, be true to you


A person with no children shouldn’t give advice to parents, but she’s entitled to make a few observations.

Your children see the world of work through your eyes. They see you come home from work happy and excited or so miserable you don’t want to talk about it.

They may see the long hours, dedication and worry of a business owner. They hear about the trouble caused by that dolt of a client. They hear about co-workers who help and those who hinder.

They see the effort it takes to stick with a job and the pride you take from a difficult achievement.

By the time they are teenagers, most kids will have heard what their parents have to say about work and career options and seen what their parents do. And they will adopt some or all of their parents’ ethics and attitudes about work. No long discussion is needed; it has been part of everyday life.

It would be wonderful if we didn’t expect a 17-year-old to be able to tell us what he planned to do with his life. At that age he may have ideas, but he has little real knowledge or experience, maybe a summer job or two. His parents’ work experiences will be a big influence in what he decides to do, and if he is lucky his parents will encourage him to take the time to explore and discover his own path.

But if he is unlucky, his parents have saved him the effort needed to set his own course.

They have decided where he will attend college, what classes he will take and what his career will be.

They may have friends who will provide him with a good internship or summer job.

And they are making the right connections to ensure he has a job waiting when he graduates if he isn’t going to join the family business.

That young man can sit back and float down the river of life; so long as he is happy with the direction the current is taking him everything will be fine.

But what happens if he isn’t happy with the decisions that have been made for him?

After spending many years talking with employees who could barely tolerate their jobs I have an idea about what happens when a dutiful son or daughter follows his or her parents’ advice out of a sense of obligation.

Years ago, a young woman working for me was taking longer and longer to get much of anything done. I asked what she thought the problem was.

“I would do this work better if I didn’t despise it,” she said. I added that to my file of favorite quotes.

Her father wanted her to follow in his footsteps. She attended his alma mater and took the classes he recommended. He had the connections that got her a job with my employer.

When she decided to change jobs and find something she would enjoy doing, I spent a little time helping her investigate other options. During that time she was glowing with happiness at the thought her misery would soon be over. She still loved her father; she just wanted to live her own life.

A few years later I watched a young man work diligently all day in a cubicle outside my office. He never smiled and he didn’t join in when my team was having a good laugh. I had to ask him why he was so quiet — was he that engrossed by the work?

He looked at me and told me that he hated the work. But his parents, both high school teachers, had sacrificed plenty and were so proud of his achievements. He had graduated from a big name school and now he had a job that paid more than either of his parents earned.

I asked him what he would like to do. He told me he wanted to be a teacher like his parents. But his parents told him that they wanted more for him and he didn’t want to disappoint.

When I began teaching intro to business for college freshman and sophomores I made every student research career options and write a report.

I have kept many of those reports — some hilarious, others are heartbreaking. What I love about those papers is summed up by one student: “I learned a lot about being a healthcare administrator but mostly I learned about myself.”

Virginia Detweiler of Walla Walla provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her consulting firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at hrpartneroncall@gmail.com or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.


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