Saturday, May 16, 2015


By Mary Kennedy                    
Follow your dream!! Reach for the stars! Only you can make it happen! If you can imagine it, you can achieve it!  Sound familiar? This is the kind of thing you see all the time in "feel-good" advice columns; advice that sadly is not based in reality.
  When I won an award and $6,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for one of my teen novels, I had the opportunity to speak to middle schools and high schools in the northeast.  Many were inner-city schools and the students faced numerous challenges, both at home and in the classroom.

 As a psychologist and former college professor, I was looking forward to hearing about the students' career plans, their hopes and aspirations. Their teachers had told me privately that they hoped I would stress the importance of a good education, diligence, hard work and setting realistic goals. I promised that I would. After all, those were the same values that I wanted to emphasize! The teachers and I were on the same page.
Sadly, the students and I were not.  At the risk of sounding like "The Grinch-Who-Stole-Little Kids'-Dreams," I found a disturbing trend.
At one school, the girls (80%) wanted to be models. And not only models, but "Super-Models." Another 8% wanted to be actresses.  It made me think of that Hollywood expression, "She's an MAW." (Which means, model, actress, whatever.). Sad! One girl told me she "wished she could be a Kardashian." (an odd career choice, if ever there was one!) 12% wanted to be "on television," but couldn't identify a specific job.

When I told them I used to be a television news writer for a CBS affiliate, they groaned and said it sounded "boring." When I told them I was a copywriter for a rock radio station, right out of college, they admitted that sounded "sort of cool," but I don't think they really understood what the job entailed.
Over 60% of the boys wanted to be rap artists and roughly 30% planned on being professional athletes. The other 10% wanted to have a "cool career," but couldn't identify what it would be.
We talked about the importance of making good choices and I ran down a list of careers. No one wanted to be a doctor or lawyer, a veterinarian, a police officer, a teacher, a computer specialist. Not one! The teacher admitted that on "Career Day," these careers were seen as "too boring," or "too hard." I can see why the teachers wanted me to give these young people a pep talk!

I'd like to think I injected a note of realism into the hour I spent with them. The fact is, only a tiny fraction of people will make a living as a professional athlete, a model, a musician, or a rap artist. Most people will work 9-5 jobs, jobs that they may not "love," but jobs that will pay the mortgage, pay off their student loans and support themselves and their families. This wasn't what they wanted to hear but it was worth saying. On a more positive note, I was invited to come back and speak at Career Day. And this time my message will be the same. Work hard, choose wisely and make sure you can support yourself. You have a long life ahead of you and some day you may have other people depending on you. And please, whatever you do, don't wish you were a Kardashian!

Mary Kennedy
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