College student contemplates her future career choices

Advice For Parents with Young Adult Child Asking: “What Do I Want To Do With My Life?”

You’re a parent with a struggling soon-to-be college student. On a conference call with colleagues the infamous, “How are your kids?” takes over the conversation. The weight on your shoulders lightens—your family is not alone in dealing with a senior in high school overwhelmed with choices. You hear about a college-age daughter struggling to find her academic and/or career path.

It’s a common theme: A young adult enters college thinking he or she knows exactly what they want to do, only to change their mind. Credits are forfeited, money is lost. And no matter who foots the bill, frustration and anxiety mount—for the student, and you, the parent. For parents of high school upperclassmen, it’s an equally crazy time. College visits, no college visits. Late nights all around.

Our current generation of young people was raised with the confidence that they can do anything and be extraordinary. While great in theory, it can also cause people to falter. Coupled with today’s infinite choices of colleges and careers, kids are totally overwhelmed. With endless scenarios and skill sets, there’s certainly no one-path fits all.

But that’s ok! What’s important is to help each and every young adult find the path that’s best for them—from the average student, to the struggling student, to the student so smart (with so many options and interests) that he or she is completely confused on what path to pursue. It is possible for our kids to be happy, successful members of society

But that doesn’t mean parents aren’t at wit’s end with the process, especially if it isn’t working! Balancing one’s desire to probe with your child’s wish to figure things out alone becomes walking a tightrope. What can parents do before the stressful uncertainty, confusion and flip-flopping sets in?

Helping pre-college, college and post-college young adults identify their strengths, interests, passions and opportunities—before they start down a path—is key. These attributes are crucial components that reveal the inner-makings of an individual. When brought to the forefront early on, you can almost guarantee an individual will be on the best course from the get-go. Think of the time, dollars and anxiety saved.

Study after study shows that people have a much greater chance of succeeding when they are earning a degree or working in a career or trade that makes use of their strengths and passions. Helping a young person discover their best self will boost their confidence and help give them the strength to make substantiated, life-changing choices.

Parents and kids, however, need the right tools, coupled with appropriate guided advice. I know because I didn’t have it. I started school with plans to be a physician. I had no back-up plan, despite my many talents. When being a doctor no longer interested me, I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. My confusion caused an unbelievable amount of stress. I wasted a lot of time and money. I took assessments but didn’t understand the results. That part was missing.

Whether it’s a guidance counselor, an experienced family member or a trained professional, work with someone who can help your child identify their personality attributes and innate behaviors.

But also take it one step further. Be sure someone helps them understand their likes and dislikes, dreams and passions, past work and academic experiences. Take it all into account. With the right tools and proper guidance, you can get a list of career options and a path for those careers.

A young person can also get a better understanding of what jobs they are best qualified for and would likely be happy doing. Share the results with your school counselor; it can even help with class choices. Think of the time saved if your son or daughter had a better understanding of educational requirements, job descriptions, and salary and job market information.

There’s nothing wrong with creating a competitive edge, either. Use the results with coaches or intern and/or apprentice opportunities. One can even provide the information to a prospective employer as part of an interview. Arm them with psychologically validated information that may help get a young person accepted to an academic or professional opportunity. Knowledge is power, after all.


About the Author:

Sissy Ruhl is co-founder and director of consulting at Trailhead Consulting, LLC,, a consulting company that helps young adults better understand their strengths, opportunities, and passions. The outcome of their program provides clients with the advantage of knowing which academic and/or career choices will lead to success, happiness, and fulfillment.