Have you ever been lost in an unfamiliar place? It’s not very fun, is it? What goes through your mind when you are lost? For me it’s anxiety. My mind instinctively shuts out extraneous stimuli because I don’t feel safe when I don’t know where I am. All my mental and emotional energy gets high jacked. The stress of being lost overshadows everything. I find it’s hard to concentrate; my mind is constantly looking for the road I should be on. Depending on where I am, a state of panic is not that far away.
As a career coach, I hear these phrases all the time “I feel lost.” “I feel afloat.” followed by the list of these characteristics. The mind does not like to be lost. It likes to have a direction, otherwise it doesn’t know what to do and it gets out of sorts. As parents it’s heartbreaking to see our children in this situation and even harder to know how to react. Do we kick them out of the nest hard and hope they fly? What happens if they don’t?
Whether it’s the freshly minted college graduate adrift in the job market or the one who is taking some time off to ‘find themselves’, coming of age in a society where more career choices abound then ever before can send even our most promising children into an emotional tailspin. Up until now most of our young people’s lives have been fairly proscribed. Everything has been predetermined from the classes they need to take, to the material they need to learn, to the assignments they need to complete. Few of them have had to develop the skill set for navigating the rough waters of life.
Here are 10 tips to help your child find a direction:
Tip 1: Acknowledge where they are
There is nothing wrong with the mind going into a state of depression or anxiety when it’s lost. It’s my observation that it’s programmed to feel this way regardless of our age. When we acknowledge this upfront it takes away the stigma of “feeling bad for feeling bad” and gives us power. It’s helpful for everyone to know that these feelings are normal and temporary.
Tip 2: Help Your Child Feel Useful
True self-esteem comes when we successfully complete tasks, even tasks we don’t like. Set your child to work, preferably for someone else. Working at Starbucks might not be your idea of a bright future, but having a place to go and a task to be responsible for does amazing things for one’s self-esteem. The reason your child should not work for you, or your company for that matter, is so they can find their own sea legs. Successfully standing on one’s own two feet is a crucial aspect of growing up, even if it means a steady diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and God forbid, cheap beer, for awhile.
Tip 3: Encourage Your Child to do Career Research
The mind makes decisions by ruling options “in” and ruling options “out.” It can’t make a ruling if it doesn’t have the proper information. Many twentysomething’s have an idea of the activities they might enjoy. Encourage them to find out exactly what it would take to become a sports announcer, a real estate mogul or a dress designer.
Encourage them to schedule informational interviews or informational gathering sessions with your friends or other professionals to learn about various occupations. These one-on-one sessions help clarify and give meaning to job titles.
Help them start a “joy journal” or some type of running list of the activities they enjoy doing on a regular basis.
Tip 4: Utilize the College Career Services Office
Professional career coaches like me use many of the same assessments as College Career Centers such as the Strong Interest Inventory. The assessments tend to be less expensive through the school then when they are done privately. Assessments can be a useful starting place for the truly lost. I recommend using assessments in conjunction with informational interviews to ensure best results.
In addition, the people who run College Career Centers are very familiar with the angst of this age group and most have a “take no prisoners” attitude. They are glad to help out but expect some action from the students. In addition, they also have a sense of what kind of employees local companies are hiring.
Tip 5: Reward Only the Behaviors You Want
We all respond to attention, again it’s how we are wired. If your child is having a bad day and you give them a lot of attention and sympathy, then you have inadvertently linked your attention to their pain. Instead, acknowledge their situation and give them a different mental picture. For example, “I’m sorry you had a bad day. I see you as resilient and upbeat and I know tomorrow will be better” And move on. When they do something good, acknowledge and give them your full attention and time. Be careful not to go overboard or they will catch on to your method. For example, “I know you worked hard today looking for a job. I’m really proud of you. How about we go grab a bite to eat, I want to hear about it.”
Tip 6: Using “If… then” statements.
Keep in mind that if your child went to live in an apartment with their buddies, you can rest assured that those buddies would never put up with your children not pulling their own weight. For many parent’s the twentysomething who is not motivated, wants to sleep in everyday and stay out late, is a challenge. Many resort to “If… then” statements. “If you want to live under our roof then you need to get a job and pay rent. However, few of their parent’s are strong enough to actually demand that the twentysomething follow through and do it. This creates a very dangerous psychological dynamic for a lost young person. They end up ruling the roost with no boundaries or consequences for their actions. One parent I know followed through insisted on the rent, cashed the checks and then saved the money to give to his daughter for a down payment on her first home. It’s not about the money, it’s about the accountability.
Tip 7: Put the Breaks on the Gravy Train
Being broke is painful; pain also happens to be a great motivator. We will do almost anything to stop pain. If your twentysomething does not seem to be motivated and is capable of bagging groceries then it’s a good time for them to learn to relationship between work and lifestyle.
Tip 8: Help them Create Positive “Self talk”
Our “self talk” is the key to our success and emotional health at any age. You can help your twentysomething through their negative “self talk” by talking them right past their feelings. “John I see that you are very talented and qualified and next time you will be better in the interview because you know what to expect.” Or “Julie you have always been one to persevere when things are difficult. I see you as being exceptionally driven and capable.” Platitudes like “you are great” and “I know you will succeed at anything you put your mind to” are good, but they don’t have nearly the same impact as details in helping a person create a positive mental picture.
Tip 9: Get Outside Advice
Every family has their own dynamic that is hard to see when you are involved. Consult with friends and/or professionals to get an outsider’s point of view. If people you know and trust keep having the same observation like, “You need to let him/her go” then you need to take some ownership. You are contributing to your son or daughter’s struggles. You have ended up in this situation because you love your child and you want what is best for them. There is nothing wrong with that, however you need start reigning in your own actions because your twentysomething cues their response off you.
Tip 10: Help you Child Set Hourly, Daily and Weekly Goals
Goals give the mind a direction – it is not lost when it has goals. There is some security in being able to say, “for the next three hours I am going to set up informational interviews, or look for a job.” Or, “today I am going to look for a place to live, buy groceries and make dinner.” Or, “This week, I am going to learn about three new career paths or three different schools to attend.” Set a time, like Sunday night, and help your child plan their week. It will greatly reduce stress and anxiety.
In the end, love them. Being the child of a Presbyterian minister, I was always taught that God loved me. Being lost myself as a twentysomething I learned that God’s love is not a feather bed where you get to lay down and feel sorry for yourself. It’s more of a “get your butt of the sofa, pull up your boot straps and participate in life” type of thing. When we get the boots strapped on and learn to participate in life in accordance with what brings us the most joy, we start to understand our own worth. Somehow I think this is what true love is, the unconditional faith that your child can overcome any obstacles and learn to become fully themselves.
What advice do YOU have for a transitioning “twentysomething”?