Q: My son is a college student and is questioning the direction he is going with his studies. He had been thinking about health care but now isn't so sure. How can I help him figure out the right path to take?
A: Ask questions without leading and help him find his inner direction.
The inner game
Many parents feel they have the right answer for their kids, so guard against this. Focus and let your inner "know-it- all" subside so that you can be fully present for him. Also encourage him to become calm, setting aside any anxiety about not having all the answers.
Start with imagination. What futures can he imagine for himself? Is he moving around or at a desk? Is he working with people or more independently? Does he see himself helping individuals or is he more drawn to less hands-on work? If he's having trouble making these ideas real, create some word pictures for him: "You're a physical therapist. Your first appointment today is working with a young athlete recovering from a knee injury. Next you'll treat a 55-year-old with a bad back." He should pay attention to what sounds fun, and what doesn't.
You might not know enough about health care career options to be as helpful as you'd like; find examples online. The college should also have resources, such as a career counselor. The more expansive he can be at the imagining phase, the better.
Now talk about his original idea and explore how it differs from what excites him. Did he imagine being in a direct care role and is now feeling like it isn't a fit? Or is the coursework just not interesting to him?
The outer game
It'll help him a lot to get out and talk to people, so tap your network. Talk to friends, family and business associates: Many will know people in health care roles or be in those roles. People love to help others, especially young people.
Once he has identified some options that appeal to him, he could look for an opportunity to shadow someone in their job. Looking for part-time or summer work in settings where he could observe the work would be great too.
The remaining task is figuring out if the academic course he's on is appropriate to his goals. He can learn about the general expectations from his conversations with people about the proper training, and, again, should get help from his adviser.
Keep in mind — this is his path. He needs to be doing the legwork. You can make the initial contacts within your network, but it's really important that he starts forming relationships and building his own network.
The last word
Clarifying career direction while still in college is a great idea; it'll equip him to soar!
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com.