Career Exploration – why we created the course

“Man, I wish I had known how much reading was involved with being a lawyer before I became one.” This was a comment coming from my good friend who had become a lawyer several years earlier. He is an excellent lawyer; he is smart, has a good mind for understanding facts and is good at making his point. He is one of those people who likes to argue either side of an issue regardless of which one you take.

This sentiment had become all too familiar to me over the years. I have had the good fortune of working in many different job fields in my life and the privilege of working with a lot of different people. In every field in which I have worked, I have run into people who have regrets about the career they have chosen. I, too, have been somewhat disappointed by my choice in career field. I am an engineer, and I work at a good company where I have the opportunity to invent and design things for a wide range of clients. I have a lot of variety and challenges in my job which makes it enjoyable. However, there are a lot of aspects of my job that really make me question my choice in becoming an engineer.
I often reflect on the path that brought me to this point in life. When I was in school, I was good at math and science. I did not really enjoy math, but I was good at it. I generally liked science, especially physics (I wasn’t as fond of chemistry). During my first couple years of college, I bounced around in the world of the undecided, struggling to choose a major. I liked a lot of different things. I thought about becoming a physicist, cardiologist, child psychologist, veterinarian, film director, FBI agent and many more. What is missing from this list? An engineer! I never thought of becoming an engineer because I didn’t really know what one was or what one did. No one in my family was an engineer; I didn’t really know anyone in that field. So how did I become an engineer, you might ask? Well, before my third year of school, I had to choose a major. I talked with my dad about it, and told him I was considering going into physics. He suggested being a mechanical engineer instead because it’s a related field but engineers make more money. So, I decided to become a mechanical engineer. The interesting thing is, that advice was not exactly true; some physicists can make more than mechanical engineers. Still, that is why I became an engineer…because my dad suggested it.

In fact, that is very similar to many people’s stories. They pick a career based on the jobs they know about or because someone they know can get them started or because someone makes a suggestion and any direction feels better than no direction or, sometimes, just because they have run out of time and have to pick a major. That is not the right way to choose something you’ll be spending 70,000 to 110,000 hours of your life doing. Usually after people choose a career, they get a college degree (or some other training) and then they work that occupation for a while until they realize what it is really like to work that job day in and day out. Eventually, they begin to wonder if it was a good choice, and as they learn about other careers as they go through life they begin to realize there may have been better options for them. I have listened to many co-workers and friends lament their career decisions, and I started thinking that there had to be a better way of doing this, a more informed way to choose a career. As I was reading my Bible, I came across Eccl. 2:24 where Solomon wrote, “ Nothing is better for man than to… enjoy his work. I have also seen that this is from the hand of God.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. God wants us to enjoy our work. He has created us to work but we all keep missing the mark.

So Jill and I set off to research what factors make for a successful, satisfying career. We wanted to provide a resource for families, especially homeschool families, to help them navigate the career decisions teenagers face. You may be wondering what qualifies a teacher and an engineer make a career exploration course. We are not guidance counselors, but we have done a lot of reading and research in this area. One thing I learned from my father was that if you are going to do something, you should make sure you do your best and do it right. My own personal experience with my high school guidance counselor was less than helpful. When I asked her for help finding a scholarship, she simply pointed me to a large book on a table outside her office to look through. When I asked about careers, she really had no clue what many jobs really are like. She was only able to offer the basic information found in the one-page summaries of career exploration books. I have realized that guidance counselors spend most of their time helping at risk students work through emotional issues and challenging life situations, as well as assisting all students with planning four years of course schedules. They don’t have much time to devote to helping individual students identify a good path for their futures. They really do not know what it is like to work in various careers. No one truly does unless they have done those jobs. A guidance counselor can do a great job explaining what a guidance counselor does, but cannot provide a complete, realistic understanding of what a mechanical engineer does and what it is like to be in that career. When I read the boiler plate description of what a mechanical engineer does, I laugh because that is not at all what my day to day job is like.

That is why this course has been developed by talking to professionals in the field who have experience working the jobs and can explain the good and bad of the careers, what they would have done differently, and the best path of entry into the field. We also did a lot of research. We read a ton of books to find out what methodologies are used to help find career success. Part of my job where I work is to develop new technologies, systems, and machines. I am used to doing in depth research to figure out what has been done before and why it did or did not work, and then modifying these concepts to meet my clients’ needs. I applied these same skills to this effort. This course utilizes scientifically proven methods to help align people with careers that meet not just their strengths and interests but a whole host of other criteria that go into finding a satisfying career. We developed a database with hundreds of jobs ranging in education levels, pay scales, interests, skills, work values and much more so teens can explore these ideas. We then developed a detailed path to help your teen navigate the unknown. We employed techniques used in engineering design processes to navigate through the hurdles of deciding on difficult options or finding your way through a maze of conflicting requirements. Developing a new product is a very fluid process; as you go through the design cycle you start down one path and then you hit a road block or a dead end and you have to learn to pivot and back track. It requires being comfortable in the unknown while having a systematic way of navigating through obstacles and setbacks. As I learned more about career exploration, I realized how similar trying to find yourself and what you are good at is to the design process. So we adapted some of the tools we use in the design process to the career exploration process in order to give teens a solid and objective way to explore careers and chart a clear course. Some of these tools require sophisticated calculations (as all engineering tools do), but don’t worry! It’s all automated for your teen; by simply answering questions and making choices based on their own personal preferences, your child can see the results of weighted calculations done behind the scenes to make smart recommendations.

I was so excited when these different steps came together into a full course that I am confident will help homeschoolers make an effective plan for a great future. One thing I really do enjoy about engineering is solving problems and developing new products. It’s pretty awesome after completing the long engineering process to stand back and see something I have designed and built doing what it is meant to do. I love the look of satisfaction on a client’s face when I can deliver something they only dreamed of that I have helped to make a reality. I am excited about this course because in many ways it is very similar. I can envision homeschooled teens and their families confidently approaching the future with enthusiasm because they know they have a solid career plan in place and they have a plan to make it happen, thanks to this course.

A unique aspect of this course is the video series. We didn’t want to just make tools without explaining why each step is important and the details that comprise each major category teens need to consider. The video course walks students through all of the steps that our research has revealed to be essential to good career planning. We explain why it’s important to think about multiple aspects of a career because they all affect long-term happiness. We understand that the goal of career planning is to help your child to have a happy life. But there are a lot of factors that affect happiness. Three main reasons that so many people regret their career choices later on are 1) they realize the career is not what they expected; 2) they can’t have the life style they want with the money they make; 3) they find something else that interests them more and wish they would have done that. The unfortunate truth is that by that point in their lives they are already saddled with college debt or busy with a job and a family which makes it hard to make a career change. In response to that, we developed this course and set of tools to pull that information and life experience forward, allowing your teen to explore a lot of different jobs easily from home at their own pace and on their own schedule. Since teens typically do not have much experience with the cost of housing, entertainment, insurance, etc., we also wanted to educate teens on the reality of balancing lifestyles with salaries. You can choose any career as long as you are able to match your lifestyle to that income. However, if your lifestyle exceeds your salary, then things get very stressful. We have found that if someone understands why it is important to do something, they are much more likely put forth the effort required to do it well. That’s why we educate teens about the importance of thorough career exploration and planning and then walk them through the process. It’s a proven process very similar to what most career planning courses present with additional tools we have developed to personalize and organize the process as well as to provide help when students face tough choices or feel uncertain.

Jill and I began this project so we could share not only our experiences but those of others so that teens could make a more informed career choice that they wouldn’t regret later on. A bonus for us is that through this process we have discovered that we love talking to people about their careers and we learn new things from each person we interview. We are fortunate to know people in a lot of different occupations, and we use our contacts to bring those stories and information to you and your family. People love talking about what they do, and I am amazed by the intricacies of every job and how everybody finds a way to make difference in the lives of others through their career. We have found that in many cases, this is what people love about their jobs – feeling that they are making a difference and have been able to help someone.

As an engineer, by my very nature I want something to be practical and useful. We are excited about this career course and about the entire website because we expect it to be very helpful and make a positive impact in the lives of many homeschool families. We look forward to adding more careers and interviews in the future. It is our hope that as a result of this course, more people will enjoy their work as God intended, and will be saying “Wow, I’m so glad I knew … when I chose my career.”

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