When Interests and Strengths Don't Match


I received the following question:

I have a 9th grade who wants to be an actor, yet tests gifted in science and math. What do I do?

It's a tricky situation, and one that a lot of parents find themselves in at some point. Having worked with many clients where the student was interested in a field but the parent knew that they were stronger in other areas, here are my top 5 tips.


1. Ask Questions

Stop and ask your teen "why?" Why are you interested in that field? What draws you to that industry? What do you think that job consists of, and why do you believe that would be a good fit for you? Sometimes asking questions can uncover an underlying interest that may lead to other career considerations. 


2. Focus on Positives Rather Than Negatives

Sometimes it helps to turn the conversation away from what you don't think would be a good fit, and instead focus on what they are naturally good at! Taking personality or strengths tests and discussing the results can be a great way to do this. I have an entire blog post on personality testing here.


3. Get a Professional to Talk Them Out of It (or You Into It)

In my opinion this is one of the most powerful steps a student can take in exploring career paths. Talk with someone who is actually in that field. Find a professional, and have your teen talk with them about what their day is like, what skills are required, what is needed to get a job in that industry,  etc. Bringing your teen's personality/strengths test verbiage to that meeting can also be very helpful. A student is inherently going to give more weight to the advice from that individual, and will also come away with a more realistic idea of what is required from that job (and whether it would be a good fit for them). In my Career Prep Challenge I have resources to step students through this whole process, and a list of questions for them to ask.


4. Maybe There is Overlap?

Another benefit of talking with a career professional is sometimes a student will come away with recommendations on alternatives from that meeting. They may look at the student and say, "have you considered xyz," and give insight on a related job that may be in the industry but more closely aligned with the student's strengths and giftings.


5. Give Them a New Framework

How are they making this decision? Are they simply going based on what sounds fun, or what they think they would be passionate about? You might have to help them reframe their approach to this decision making process. In my Career Prep Challenge I have all of my students either read or listen to So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport, and would encourage you to check it out (I have a whole blog post on that here). The subtitle really gives away the message, which is "why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love." And that is so true in a majority of job situations! Sometimes we need to help teens reframe how they are looking at this decision, and help them focus on acquiring valuable skills rather than just pursuing what sounds fun/exciting (and doing can lead to loving your work!).

Hopefully these strategies will give you a starting place on how to engage with your student if you see them pursuing a path you don't think fits their skills. I would strongly encourage you to also check out our Career Prep Challenge, a 4-week guided course on exploring career considerations that incorporates all of these recommendations and many more!

What career fields is your teen considering? Post in the comments below!


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