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When I was a little girl I wanted to be everything from an astronaut to an archaeologist and my parents told me I could be whatever I wanted to be.  My dad bought me a telescope and books about the solar system when I expressed an urge to explore the universe.  When they figured out I liked writing, I was given marble notebooks and colored pencils.  I guess as parents they figured that you have to allow your children to explore their interests and consider it a win if your children are even considering their careers for the future.  But when you grow up you realize you can’t be whatever you want to be without a lot of hard work.  You consider the cost of education and the job market where you live and life gets real.  Instead of coasting the Milky Way, I ended up cruising the Philadelphia public school system as a program associate pedaling parent education and sexual health. I may not have ended up with a NASA paycheck, but I am lucky to have a career I’m passionate about that allows me to pay the bills and then some.  But the bitter truth is that more and more, young women are settling for jobs that lack passion and barely pay the bills.

When did little girls stop believing they could be anything they wanted to be? I’m noticing a disturbing trend with many of the young women I teach in my classes and even some of my peers.  Whenever we discuss goal setting or careers, all I hear about are the same three choices: nurse, medical assistant or medical billing and coding.  I don’t know whether this is a result of the increase in advertisements for for-profit schools, the high cost of colleges and universities or the fact that many people no longer want to spend four years in school only to come out and still be unemployed. The truth is, we all can’t be nurses and medical assistants.  Even in a city like Philly that’s home to some of the best hospitals in the country, the healthcare sector is becoming quickly overpopulated.  Not that nursing isn’t a respectable worthwhile career, but where are all of our aspiring veterinarians, business owners and tax attorneys?  I sometimes feel like our young people aren’t exposed to a wide variety of careers, so they choose to do what everyone else around them is, what seems to bring in the biggest check, or what the for-profit school commercial rotating every hour during daytime TV tells them they should.

I get it.  If the unstable economy has made anything clear, it’s that a college degree doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be financially stable, or employed for that matter.  But I hate to hear young people say college is a waste of time because it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a job.  What about being educated for education’s sake, to learn about different ways of thinking and meeting different people?  I’ll be the first one to admit that college isn’t for everyone, but more and more I see our youth trying to take shortcuts through life.  Instead of investing into a career, they are entering these programs for 3-6 months at a time and graduating with certifications that don’t have them making much more than if they worked their way up the management ladder in retail.

Whether you’re attending a for-profit college or a four-year university, the reality is that college is hard work.  If you’re not dedicated and organized, it doesn’t matter whose classroom you’re sitting in, that degree will be more difficult to come by.  And in the meantime, many students are building up debt and wasting time in professions that are “trendy.”  In fact, it’s almost as if education in some ways has become more “trendy” than practical.  More and more students are enrolling in any John Jacob University to just be able to say they’re in school and doing something with their lives without really valuing their education. Others are hiding in years and years of graduate school. I sincerely believe we need to encourage our young people to focus on their talents and take time to explore diverse career fields; the emphasis needs to be on passion and not on a quick, easy paycheck.  I’m living proof of the saying “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” and that doesn’t just go for writing, but my day job as well.  I’ve witnessed too many of my peers working the 9-5 grind, complaining about rude co-workers and incompetent supervisors and in general not enjoying the positions they spent months in school excited about.  For most people, this is an unavoidable part of any career climb, but it doesn’t have to be the entirety of anyone’s career.

Not everyone is going to be a rapper or an actress, but not everyone has to settle for a generic career they have zero interest in because some commercial told them “being a medical assistant is a growing career with great pay.”  I get frustrated because so many of my students have no idea what a physical therapist does or why anesthesiologists are important.  If you truly have a love for helping people, caring for the sick and have excellent bedside manner, by all means, be the best nurse/medical assistant you can be.    But don’t think because that’s all you see, that’s all you can be.

Have you noticed certain careers becoming “trendy” in your area?

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a  passion for helping  young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health.  She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.  

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