Should Your Child Go to College for their Passion or a Job?

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The day I graduated Middlebury College, my father gave me $1,500 to buy a new used car and this piece of advice. “You can pursue writing, but always be sure to have a real job first.” The Datsun hatchback I bought nearly didn’t get me to film school in L.A. The advice has stuck with me all of my life. But I’m still not sure if it was good advice.

Through the exigencies of love and marriage I have been blessed to raise and mentor four kids – my two sons, and a son and daughter with my second wife. Our eldest studied business and landed The Big Job at a big bank. Two years later, when he took his savings and took leave to pursue his passion as a music producer, his fellow employees threw him a going away party. Every last one, our son reported, was jealous to the core. We’ll call that a Nay vote on the real job thing.

My firtborn is now a college junior and his life has been all-sports all the time since he was 4. Today he is the radio voice of his college football team and he is interning in L.A. for his “junior year abroad” at a major national sports network.

We have discussed the bumpy road to sports broadcasting success and he is at one with the fact that his first “paid” job may be calling Division III college hockey in Fargo. You don’t need a lot of money to share a trailer home with six frackers.

The sportsman’s kid brother took a sharp left turn at the playing fields and fell into music as his raison d’etre. He is now a music major in his freshman year of college and coincidentally, like his big brother, has earned a slot on the radio airwaves, where he is happily spinning tunes while he weighs a career in music technology and production.

And our one and only daughter, a sophomore with a dual major, is caught up in the vexing spiral of science versus art. Her passion is glassblowing, which never fails to turn heads, but she has a shine towards science, like her professor mom. Everyone and their neighbor has informed her she can pursue both, but that does not seem to be helping with the decision to choose a path that leads to a paycheck.

Much has been made of the fact we have willed our kids a world that offers less opportunity than we have. Technology, mobility and the gig economy has changed the very definition of what a job looks like to our children. I don’t know a single millennial gunning for that gold retirement watch. And yet that very same lack of projected stability has created a very nervous generation. Ask any college counselor dealing with the angst, or the family doctor who prescribes the rainbow of anti-anxiety meds to our 17-year olds.

What is the answer? I am torn daily. As a professional writer, I am proud and happy that with the exception of one short stint waiting tables that ended in a motorcycle wreck at the corner of Pacific and Rose, all I have ever done for a living is write. It has taken me all over the world and I have had experiences that I still pinch myself over. But would I coach my children to sign up for the economic insecurity that comes with a profession in the arts, no matter how well-lived?

Every parent wants their kid to be happy. None wants them to be broke. Perhaps when the “Disruption Generation” is done disrupting, we will awake to a whole new landscape that offers joy and security to the young workforce. For now, as adults we can only hope and pray that we have not scared our kids so much that they would not recognize their dream job if it landed on their doorstep.



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