Choosing a college major

Dear Torie,  How is my son supposed to choose a major?  He is applying to colleges, some of which won’t let him change his mind if he applies under a certain major. He’s stressing out which is making me stress out! How the heck is he supposed to know what he wants to do for the rest of his life when he has had so few life experiences? It seems ridiculous to ask this of a 17 year old and I feel unsure how to guide him. It seems silly to hire a life coach for this but I’m wondering if it’s a good idea.  Kim  

Parent Educator Answer: How to choose a major

The biggest mistake we make is asking kids to get too specific too soon. I don’t mind the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It can give you a ton of insight if you follow it up with WHY? What about that appeals to you? Let’s imagine your kid says, “I want to be a video game designer.” If you ask WHY, you’ll get more general information. Do they like the artistic/creative elements? Do they like being in community with other gamers? Do they like the idea of working from home?  We can help our kids figure out a major by asking questions and making observations.  We are all born with skills, talents, interests, and proclivities. I believe our job is to figure out what we love to do, and go do it. Each of us has been imprinted with certain likes and dislikes, and with every class we take and life experience we have, we get a little closer to knowing ourselves. Finding the right career path is like the game of You are Getting Warmer. I love playing this game in workshops where we’d hide a small object (that represents her future), somewhere in the room. I would take one person out of the room, while the others chose where to hide the object. Once hidden and everyone had taken their seat, II’d bring her back in the room and stand her in the middle of the circle. All the girls watched to see how she would go about finding her future.  How you do one thing, is how you do everything. The way you play the simple game of You are Getting Warmer is the same way you approach choosing a major, a university, or a career path.  It was fascinating to watch all the different ways to approach this game. Some girls would just stand there saying “I don’t know where to start.” They wanted to KNOW the RIGHT PATH before taking a step in ANY direction.They were afraid of making a mistake. I would ask questions like, “Where in your real life does the fear of making the wrong choice get in your way?”   The girls only got “warmer” or “colder” clues if they asked for it. Some NEVER looked to us for clues, they wanted to figure it out on their own with no input. Others wanted feedback with every step, constantly looking for reassurance they were on the right track. Some bulldozed through my living room, upturning couch cushions and moving people and obstacles out of their way.  Some went in with a plan, others did great until they met with a human obstacle. I liked hiding it in places that forced them to interact and ask for help. Many of the girls would give up rather than ask someone to move out of the way.  Choosing your major is just like this game. You cannot know unless you take a step in some direction. But every experience you have is giving you clues to what feels “warmer” or “colder” to you. We can help our kids tune into these important clues by asking them questions. 
  1. What feels warmer: online learning or in person learning?
  2. What did the Pandemic teach you that you never want again?
  3. What did the Pandemic teach you that you liked and want more of? 
  4. What is something you enjoy “practicing” even if no one asked you to? 
  5. When your teacher assigns a project or essay, do you prefer detailed instructions or very little guidance?
  6. What’s your favorite books? TV shows? Youtube channels? Movies? Video games? 
  7. What kinds of activities did your teen enjoy between the ages of 6-12? How would they spend their free time? 
  8. What did your child get in trouble for in school? Talking? Running? Not paying attention? What did teachers say about them at conferences? 
  There are MANY WAYS to help our teens understand themselves and choose a major as long as we don’t get too specific too soon: Indoors or Outdoors? Sitting or Moving? Teaching or Learning? Talking or Reading? If I were coaching your teen, the things I’d want to discover are, their play personality, their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator profile, and their Sparktype. Self awareness is one of the most valuable skill sets kids can develop to navigate the wild and uncertain future. Personality quizzes are valuable tools to help us understand ourselves but these 3 are the easiest to spot in kids. I have talked about play personality in the past. The book called Play by Dr. Stuart Brown helped me understand the different activities people engage in that make life more fun. Choosing work that feels like play, is the surest way to enjoy your future career. If you are a competitive creator you won’t be happy in a job where you have to uphold rules all day. I’m an explorer / director so I created this job of coaching and teaching where I can create positive experiences for people while helping them understand themselves at a deeper level. The 8 play personalities Dr. Stuart names are: explorer, director, kinesthete, creator, collector, competitor, storyteller, joker.   The MBTI is another great personality assessment helping us understand who we are and how we best operate. The book Nurture by Nature, can help parents identify their kid’s personality types from a very young age, up until adolescence. The quiz is written for adults so I don’t recommend that but I love the book and the parenting tips they give based on your child’s personality type.  If you are an introvert, working as a school principal will wear you out. If you dwell in your 5 senses, more than your intuition, you may struggle as an entrepreneur or in an environment where you are asked to “figure things out on your own” and “trust your gut”.  Understanding your MBTI personality type can help you choose a career path you can be happy with.    My latest obsession that I find super valuable in helping clients understand themselves is a new book and personality assessment called Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive.  Author Jonathan Fields at The Good Life Project wrote a book to summarize what I would call “Archetypes” but he calls Sparketype. I was talking with my teenage niece the other day, and she mentioned she is interested in becoming a chiropractor. When I asked WHY, she told me about the role her chiropractor has played in her life. How she’s always there for her when she gets stressed and tense. She’s kind, wise and helpful. She loves going to see her, always feels better after. There are many reasons to become a chiropractor but what I heard is that my niece identifies with the Sage sparketype. She wants to play this role of wise advisor, coach, mentor, in other people’s lives. Once you know your Sparketype, the role you need to play in order to feel alive, then you can choose your favorite arena. Turns out my niece is not interested in body mechanics, science, medicine or human biology. She would have been bored studying these subjects in college!  The different Sparketypes are: The Maker, The Scientist, The Sage, The Advisor, The Maven, The Essentialist, The Performer, The Warrior, The Advocate, The Nurturer.    Here is a link to the quiz but it’s geared towards adults who have been in the workforce. Take the quiz for yourself but check out the book, Sparked to help your teen and learn about the different Sparketypes.    So the answer to your question, Kim is YES, hiring a life coach to help your teen choose a major is a great idea. Hiring a life coach would save you time, money and future regret. If you are interested and find this as fascinating as I do, I’ve given you some places to start. But if you don’t want to spend thousands of hours and dollars learning, then a life coach can save you time, money and stress.    

Life Coaching Answer: What gets in our way from teens figuring out what to major in? Societal Pressures! 

What gets in the way of teenagers knowing themselves enough to choose a major is the pressure to pick the perfect thing. The world is changing super fast. Many of the jobs today’s kindergarteners will have haven’t even been invented yet! The only constant we can count on is change.  The best thing we can do is to help our teens develop the skills of navigating uncertainty. These important skills are  self awareness, flexibility, and trusting yourself to rise to any future scenario.   When teens think “The school and major I choose are super important” and “I have to like this for the rest of my life” it puts on a lot of unnecessary pressure. If they don’t like their choice, they can change schools halfway through. If they can’t find a job in their major, they can still find a job in their Sparketype.    Don’t worry about “The major I really want to study won’t make me any money.” We always find excuses to avoid things that make us feel vulnerable and being your true, authentic self always feels scary. Choose the major that gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning. There are many ways to earn income so don’t let that be your reason to not follow your dreams. Be wary of societal trends or pressures. Tim went to medical school when the trend was shifting towards primary care doctors. “All the future jobs are in general medicine” he was told. So he followed the trend and spent 7 years diagnosing ear infections and runny noses. If he had paid attention to his personality type instead, he would have known he was a specialist, not a generalist. He LOVED being the expert in the room. He loved going an inch wide and a mile deep on a subject. Every really interesting case that came into his office, he had to refer out. His boredom finally got the best of him and he went back to school to become a pediatric anesthesiologist. He learned to be true to himself, to be nimble and flexible, and follow what felt good to him, no matter what society said.  Supermom Kryptonite: The Talent Trap When I was preparing for my first teaching job, my mom, an experienced teacher, gave me the unusual advice: “Don’t be too good.” She had seen it happen too many times where the best performers or the hardest workers often got asked to be on the most committees, review the latest curriculum, chair the boards, and volunteer too much extra time outside the classroom.  (As a fellow people-pleaser, I suppose “don’t be too good” was the best advice she had because “Say no to things that don’t spark joy” wasn’t in her vocabulary.) But the talent trap is real! If you are really good at a lot of things and you like school and learning, it can be hard to choose a major. Most people love being recognized for their skills and talents. This ego boost can get in the way of knowing whether we really like something because we all enjoy being good at things and getting recognized for it.  I’ve coached a many clients who got stuck in the “Ivy League Talent Trap”. Feeling pressured to perform at a high level when they really just want to bake brownies and coach little league. If you find yourself good at a lot of things, ask yourself questions like “What would I do if I could not care what people thought?” “What is so fun that I’d do it even if failure was inevitable?” “What do I do for fun in my spare time when no one is watching?” The game of “You are Getting Warmer” never ends because we are always evolving. What felt warm to you two years ago, may not be the same as it is today. When you learn what to pay attention to and focus on self awareness, flexibility, and trusting your future self, you will have what you need to navigate this wild new world we are living in.  


Supermom Power Boost: Let yourself off the hook. 

It’s too much to expect yourself to be able to guide your children towards a successful future when you don’t know what the future will bring!  We have blind spots when it comes to our kids. If you think, “He’s just like me, or my brother, or my mom.” it blocks us from seeing our kids as they are. We remember how they were when they were younger, which can block us from seeing who they are evolving into as adolescents. We have our own hopes, fears and biases that help us see only what we want to see in our kids.  Parents may not be the best mentors for their kid’s futures because they have so many biases and blind spots. It took me 15 years of learning and practice, thousands of dollars in coaching programs and books to help  people discover their essence, and I’m sure I still have biases when it comes to my own kids.  Instead of being the person with all the answers, be a living example of listening to your inner guidance. Talk out loud about YOUR game of “You are Getting Warmer” that you are playing in your life. Do you notice that walking the dog feels warmer than going to the gym? Is working from home warmer than going to the office?  Take the Sparketype Quiz and make sure you are doing work that makes you feel alive. Understand your play personalities and adjust your life to make your work feel like play. Honor your Myers Briggs Personality Profile rather than telling yourself you should be someone you aren’t.  Don’t guide, model. (Unless your Sparketype is a Sage then find more people to guide than just your own kids!) 

Quote of the Day: “When you align your actions with your essence, you become a beacon that amplifies your presence.”  Jonathan Fields

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