Perez: No Thanks, Mom and Dad

by Sarah Perez | 4/13/16 5:30pm

Last week, The New York Times ran an article titled “Career Coaching for the Playdate Generation.” The piece, written by Laura Pappano of the Wellesley College Center for Women, discussed yet another pitfall of the so-called millennial generation. As a millennial who will soon be entering the workforce full-time, I couldn’t help but read on. For a number of reasons, I found the article a little more than disconcerting.

In her piece, Pappano describes an emerging cottage industry of career coaching services for soon-to-be college graduates. According to her, these services are the next logical step for a generation that has received inordinate levels of handholding since childhood — from one-on-one athletic trainers to individual college mentors and standardized test tutors. Pappano then recounts the story of Jonathan Harsh, a senior majoring in political science at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Like many other 20-somethings, Harsh was unsure of where his career would take him. He considered trying his hand at becoming a chemist, biologist, writer, politician and, at one point, an astronaut.

Cue Harsh’s parents. Deeply concerned by their son’s indecisiveness, they immediately stepped in to offer some additional “guidance.” Mr. and Mrs. Harsh contacted Jody Michael Associates, a Chicago- and Atlanta-based firm dedicated to providing “targeted professional and personal guidance.” To the tune of $4,995, a Jody Michael Associate would walk their son through an elaborate “career discovery process.” According to Pappano, the associate helped Harsh “understand his values,” “unearth his interests” and “uncover his talents and tendencies.” On the whole, the Harsh family was satisfied with the service they received from Jody Michael Associates — and they are not alone.

The rise of firms like Jody Michael Associates is worrisome in and of itself. When parents of legal adults clamor to fork over $5,000 for a “career discovery process,” it’s safe to say that something just isn’t right. Although such a level of handholding might be appropriate on a Little League baseball diamond, it has absolutely no place in a work environment. Hiring a coach to master a layup in basketball is entirely different than hiring a “job nanny” to revise a resume. By simply throwing money at a perceived problem and contracting yet another coach, families like the Harshes’ are feeding a vicious cycle. Until this approach changes, millennials will continue to be seen as a generation failing to launch while free riding on their parents’ dime and crashing on the family couch. The Harsh family and others who have invested so heavily in “career discovery” need to understand the bottom line — entering the work force for the first time isn’t supposed to be an easy or carefree endeavor. It’s imperfect, non-linear and sometimes even acutely stressful. While Mr. and Mrs. Harsh might think they are doing their son a great service by sparing him this discomfort, the opposite could not be more true. Although the younger Harsh might suffer through fewer sleepless nights or sweat-inducing corporate case interviews in the present, a closely guided job search won’t do him any favors later on. Becoming increasingly adverse to all kinds of struggle, he will likely be ill equipped to confront obstacles in other areas of his life. After all, if landing a first job was so easy, who’s to say that the rest of life won’t be the same? To quote my mom and dad, Harsh will continue to suffer from chronic underdevelopment of the “struggle muscle.”

Here at Dartmouth, we are given a once in a lifetime opportunity not only to discover what we are passionate about, but also how to turn it into a career. Unfortunately, the answers to these questions aren’t for sale, as firms like Jody Michael Associates would lead us to believe. They certainly can’t be bought or sold. Instead, it seems to me that they are products of a much more organic process. It is on us to maximize the opportunities we’ve been given in order to find our calling. While this might require quite a bit of legwork, the result will undoubtedly be more gratifying than if we had let someone else do it. So for the “playdate generation,” when it comes to career handholding it’s best to say, “Thanks, but no thanks, Mom and Dad.”