Show children your job, but teach them flexibility

Working Life

April 21, 1996|By Deborah L. Jacobs | Deborah L. Jacobs,CHRONICLE FEATURES

Take Our Daughters to Work Day, coming up on April 25, gives lots of folks the warm fuzzies. This annual event, which the Ms. Foundation for Women started in 1993, shows little girls that their parents have a life outside the house. Ideally, kids will get the message that they, too, can have a working life someday.

Trouble is, the well-meaning occasion turns many offices into playgrounds and sidesteps a serious question: How can people who are going through so much career upheaval themselves teach their daughters -- and sons -- workplace survival?

One couple that haven't completely bounced back from the husband's layoff a decade ago insisted that their two boys choose a career -- and a major -- before entering college. The parents had the best of intentions. They wanted their sons to develop "marketable skills" and never have to suffer the humiliation their dad went through when the company that once promised lifetime employment gave him the boot.

In their anxiety, the parents forced their sons to make premature career choices. The sons, who are now in college, have changed majors, have been torn between getting jobs and going to graduate school, and are still not sure what they want to do for a living. Both of these capable young men will probably find their way in the working world, but it won't be by following their parents' cookie-cutter formula.

Recent events have taught us that we can't be rigid when making long-term career plans. Look at all the baby boomers who followed their parents' advice to settle in at one company. Today, at mid-life, the boomers have to play by a very different set of rules.

So how can we prepare the next generation for the working world of tomorrow?

My own role model is Claire Sobel, 75, a retired occupational therapist. Claire raised four daughters over three decades, and I had the privilege of knowing her family for part of that time. The Sobel sisters, as I called them, were as different as they come. Still, Claire gave all the same career advice: "Make something of yourself. Do what you love. Go with your right foot forward."

Her message was just vague enough to let each daughter interpret it her own way, and supportive enough to give her the courage to follow her heart. The ham of the bunch became a teacher, the realist an accountant, the agile one a dancer (and later a professor of dance). The one who was always good with crayons grew up to be a highly successful graphic artist.

These four daughters, whose ages now range from 38 to 46, have experienced many different career quandaries. They've been downsized executives, trailing spouses, career changers, working moms and business owners. Through ups and downs, each of them has demonstrated enormous flexibility -- a skill learned at home.

Career resilience

Claire Sobel realized the need for career resilience early on. As a child, she watched her mother's best friend go from riches to rags after losing her husband in a fishing accident. Little Claire resolved to always have a career -- just in case. Although her first love was medicine, it wasn't easy in the 1940s for women to become doctors. By going into occupational therapy, Claire got as close as she could. Still, she never tried to relive her youth by pressuring her daughters to become doctors.

It's OK to take our daughters to work (even Claire did on occasion), but as with Mother's Day and Father's Day, we need to get past the symbolism.

Today's turbulent workplace has forced us to become more self sufficient and adapt to change. This is the most important lesson to bring home from the office. By nurturing each child's special talents and passions, we give her (or him) the confidence to find meaningful -- and profitable -- work.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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