Notes About Work, For My Teenager

When my daughter began what I considered her first “real” job (non-babysitting, 20 hours a week, “traditional” office environment), I’ve immediately began thinking a lot about my hopes for her as a member of the workforce. When she’s 52 and looking back on the career choices she has made, will she be happy?

What follows is a mixture of reflections based on my experience.

First Jobs

Connect With Whatever Makes Your Heart Sing

A friend of mine said once, “I work to fund my pastimes.” I get that, and occasionally over my career have thought, “I should have just done [insert very lucrative even if very unpleasant occupation], made a bunch of money, and then had flexibility in my 40s. The thing is, is it worth doing something you don’t love for ten years? five? two?

Ask Questions, More Than Once If You Need To

My mom started work very young (since she had fibbed about her age to get into kindergarten!). When she talks about her years working in Lake City, she really seems to have relished it. I remember her talking about the first time she took dictation (i.e., using shorthand to write down the boss’s words), and she got out to her typewriter and realized that she had failed to comprehend most of it. She went back in to her supervisor and admitted that she needed a “do-over.” I can only imagine the gumption it took for a young woman in the 1950s professional environment to tell her male boss that she needed to start over. I heard her echo in my voice when my daughter and I were discussing a project at work, when I said, “it’s okay to ask if you don’t ‘get it.'”

The Team Matters

I don’t know what kind of workplace my daughter will have ten or twenty years from now. Will she be working remotely, from her laptop? Will she be traipsing the earth? Something tells me she won’t be in a traditional office or cubby. Regardless of where or how she works, I hope she has a team she loves being a part of. No team is perfect, and good teams can “turn bad” with a change in leadership or organizational mission. But whether it’s writing code, caring for patients, teaching children, or digging ditches, if the team you’re a part of is not generally happy to be moving toward a common mission, and supporting one another along the way, you’re playing for an emotional loss.


Time and again the choices you make will come down to your values, personally and professionally. You have values as an individual: they help you draw the line between what you will do and what you won’t do. You will be faced with ethical choices (is it okay to backdate an invoice one day but not okay to completely fabricate an invoice that never existed?). You will be faced with choices to lead in the workplace (are you going to laugh at a joke that is told at the expense of another? are you going to seek out someone who has great potential but just needs a bit of encouragement and help them?). Most importantly, you will be faced with figuring out where it all fits in to your life as an individual.


You may decide not to have a family. You may decide to get married but not have kids. You may decide to have one child or six. I will always struggle with the image I portrayed to you when you were younger of what “working” meant: acting stressed; pulling up to the daycare screaming that my boss was going to be mad if I was late so GET OUT OF THE CAR AND GET MOVING!

I suppose it would have been false to pretend that work is a daisy path of pleasantries but I hope by my choices I haven’t snuffed out your optimism that you can find a place that challenges you and gives you the flexibility to have whatever configuration of family life you end up with. (But if you find yourself screaming at your kids to GET OUT OF THE CAR AND GET MOVING! I really encourage an intervention! It’s not worth the stress…for anyone involved.)

In Closing

I know it’s stressful to go to school all morning, to get changed into professional clothes, and then to be immersed in the world of human resources all afternoon. It must be like drinking from a fire hose. It makes me think ahead to some morning 10 years down the road, 15, 20 —- as you approach retirement. Will you wake up, on balance, excited for the day, knowing you are doing something that you feel competent at, among people you care about, where the little drudgework things that accompany all jobs are far outweighed by the joy of channeling your talents toward a fulfilling purpose?

I’ve used the quote below before (in this post), but it still sums up my wish for you:

When you live your passion, there is no line dividing what you do and who you are.  They are one. – Leigh Caraccioli


Editor’s Note: I originally write this post four years ago, in October 2013. My daughter is no longer a teenager, but I left the original title in place (time flies….).

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