When College Is Not the Next Step

By Eve Kessler, Esq.
AT A GLANCE College is not the only route to career success • Helping your non-college bound teen find his path is the specialty of Rick Fiery, co-founder of Inventive Labs • In this article, based on Fiery’s ADDitude Magazine Expert Webinar, Encouraging Your Children to Find Their Own Paths we summarize his strategy for helping teens find their way to a successful career

College is just one of many paths to a successful career. Rick Fiery, co-founder of Inventive Labs, emphasizes that a traditional college track may not be the natural next step for your high schooler with ADHD. Instead he suggests moving away from the mindset that success equals college to help your teen unlock a world of exciting opportunities.

As the parent of a teen or young adult with LD or ADHD, your goal is to help your child find the “perfect” career. Once he focuses in on what that is, the two of you can figure out the path he should take to get there.

How to Find the Perfect Career

According to Fiery, your role is to provide him with structure, get him started, work in the background, have thoughtful conversations, be supportive and honest, and motivate him to be his best in something.

Following is his 7-point program to help your child identify his path forward:

  1. Identify a passion: He can’t Google his way to a passion; he has to explore possibilities and actively try different options. Summer jobs or volunteer positions are a good way to test options. Experiential camps (theater, cooking, coding, robotics, etc.) will allow him to try new activities or dig deeper into ones he already enjoys.
  2. Be able to make a living. It is important to speak with your teen about money. Discuss the type of lifestyle he thinks he wants (mansion vs. tent). Have him create a living budget, including projections for necessary expenses (apartment, car, food, healthcare, taxes, etc.). Divide the total expenses by an appropriate hourly rate to determine how many hours per week he would have to work to support the lifestyle he is aiming for. Fiery recommends you consider making it mandatory for your teen to read The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, a profile of ‘millionaires’ and an assessment of saving versus spending.
  3. Recognize strengths & talents. Teens with learning challenges require honesty in addition to support: be truthful about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, but don’t crush his dreams.
  4. Create a Venn Diagram, using the information from steps 1 to 3. On three separate pieces of paper, have your teen list his passions, the things people will pay him to do, and the things he can become “world class” at. Draw a Venn diagram: Where the three circles overlap is the sweet spot—the area where he can home in on success.
  5. Develop two career lists: a passion-based list of dream careers and a list of alternate, out-of-the-box careers. Non-traditional careers – especially ones related to areas of passion – are excellent alternatives. If your teen is passionate about something but can never become first-rate, move it off the dream career list, but don’t necessarily throw it out altogether. For instance, if he’s passionate about becoming a commercial pilot but is colorblind, he can’t fly as a career, but he might be drawn to other aviation and aerospace professions and pilot a private plane as a hobby.

Sometimes your young adult’s passion levels are so high, you have to let him try and fail before turning to the alternate career list. For example, consider art therapist instead of painter or sculptor; drama teacher instead of professional actor; or skateboard app designer instead of professional skateboarder.

  1. Research and determine a path. Pick several careers, look at them in detail, and ask your teen essential questions:
  • Do they match your passions?
  • What are the educational requirements and are they doable?
  • What skills would you need to build and can you get excited about building them?
  • Where is the job located and what is the job environment like?
  • Can you deal with the not-so-glamorous parts of the job (an especially early start-time, working in a cubicle, living 3,000 miles from home, or having to travel frequently, etc.)?
  1. Narrow down the search. Pare the list to a few companies and work backwards. Let’s say your teen is interested in becoming a game designer. Start by listing possible companies that make games. Go to LinkedIn and click on one—Hasbro, for instance. On the left panel click “People.” Up pops a veritable roadmap for how to get hired by Hasbro: the employees who work there and their specific jobs, where they studied, if and where they attended college, where they live, their backgrounds and skill sets, and the career paths they took to reach their positions in the company. After researching them, your teen will be in a better position to reflect on whether or not he wants to make—and is capable of making—a similar journey.

Rick Fiery, MS., MBA, is co-founder of Inventive Labs, a business incubator for those with learning differences designed to explore and develop their passions and strengths. Eve Kessler, Esq., a criminal appellate attorney is Executive Director of SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT), and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.

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