I’m once again pushing aside the topics I want to cover (and I will – more about that later) for a current event – and I use that term very, very loosely here. The “current event” was actually a career/attitude motivational assembly that took place at my high school earlier today. There wasn’t anything particularly different about this one to differentiate it from all the other career assemblies preaching the exact same thing that we’re herded into the gymnasium for about every other week. It’s always a good, practical message every time, but even I, who usually jumps at the opportunity for free advice, had a concealed mp3 player blasting the Red Hot Chili Peppers in my ears for the first quarter of an hour. There wasn’t anything in this assembly that I hadn’t heard a hundred times before, but it eventually caught my interest and I put away the Peppers.Rest assured, this won’t be about some life-changing advice from said assembly.
Now, the problem with high school is that everyone here is so damn apathetic. I dread the moments when the speaker asks a question of their high school audience, intending for us to raise our hands (eg from the assembly, “Who’s tired of being written off?”), because no one ever does. It might be the most widely applicable question ever (eg, “Who’s tired of being told you can’t do something?”), and no one will respond because no one really cares. At least, enough people don’t care to make the people who do care wary of raising their hands. This is especially applicable during a career assembly, ie pretty much all of them. Those who raise their hands are victims of snickering and smirking, the high school equivalent of a javelin through the chest, it seems. It’s cool to not care about this kind of thing.
And that’s what I’d like to cover: that teenage apathy towards career planning that the more mature media (anything not MTV or Seventeen) loves to complain about. First of all, I’d like to start by appealing to all the adults out there: please, don’t write our generation off as lazy teenagers because we don’t seem to care about our futures. I don’t think it’s our fault; it’s been beaten out of us in biweekly career assemblies and self-/career-assessment worksheets.
When those of us in the latter half of Generation Y (Echo Boomers?) were younger children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” evoked mostly enthusiastic replies about art and science and sports. Now that we’re all in our teens or early twenties, the same question evokes an apathetic rolling of the eyes, at least when asked in school. I would argue that my generation has been given the most career advice of all. From the start of middle school onwards, my generation is given self-assessment after self-assessment, career-assessment after career-assessment, seminar after seminar, and multitudes of aptitude tests to go along with them. Administrators may see this as necessary repetition, but to the teenage community it’s just pointless and boring because we’ve heard it so often. Worse, the constant advice doesn’t become common sense, despite the fact that we hear it everywhere. It just becomes background noise, and an even bigger problem: whenever the information is presented to us, now, the consensus among teens is that we know this already and can therefore tune it out without any loss.
The truth is (cheer, administrators) that we actually don’t. But that doesn’t mean we need more repetition (stop cheering now). From the looks of things, we’re even worse off because we are now conditioned to ignore good advice. Hell, during this most recent assembly, we watched video interviews with big-name CEOs telling us that what we’ve been hearing all these years will actually make us successful, and ignored it because… “we know it.” Well… no. And we’re ignoring advice from people who’ve made it because that’s what we’ve learned how to do after years of having this stuff thrown at us. That advice is important, it’s relevant, and it’s from an expert. Being trained to ignore it is not optimal. It’s probably the most harmful thing they can do… and it’s not intentional, of course, but it’s a consequence that needs to be recognized so they can halt the process and change things up a bit.
Explaining all of this to teenagers won’t work. At the beginning and end of every career presentation, the speaker/teacher will always tell us that, yes, we’ve heard it all before, but it’s good advice, they never got to have presentations like this in high school, and we’ll all be thankful for it later. Nevertheless, teenage apathy is still quite high… so it’s probably safe to say that explaining the benefit of the process won’t work, either. The justification has just become more background noise.
I like to suggest a possible solution every time I present a problem, but I don’t know what the solution is to this one. Less paperwork, more practical experience? More scarce coverage of career planning until late high school (god forbid)? Should career education be covered in schools at all, or should it be learned the “old school” way – in the workplace?
I admit that once I started tuning in to the background noise instead of tuning out, I actually learned something. Not just this lengthy explanation of teenage apathy, either, but about the advice that I’d previously trained myself to ignore: it’s good, and maybe I should take it.
I’ll try to update “Wandering Ink” on Mondays and Fridays, plus additional updates whenever inspiration strikes.