In the November 1999, issue of the Texas Home School Review, I wrote an article titled What are Your Plans after High School? I emphasized that many high school and college-aged students are confused about their career/life direction. Most do not have enough information, about themselves and the colleges and career fields they are considering, to evaluate their choices and make informed decisions. A good college/career choice can only be made after you have gathered information about your interests, natural talents, and values and then thoroughly researched appropriate career fields.
In the last article, I cautioned against letting interests alone define your career plans. I stated that most young people have all kinds of information about what interests them or what they like. Consequently, many will make college and career plans based solely on their interests. For example, a young person may say, “I like animals, so I want to go to Texas A&M University and become a veterinarian.” While I cannot dispute the choice of schools (being an Aggie myself), I must acknowledge that a love for animals is not a sufficient reason for choosing veterinary medicine as a career path. You need to investigate and examine the day-to-day job duties of a veterinarian and ask, “What does a person in this occupation do all day, and am I good at doing these sorts of things?” When we start evaluating what we do well, we have moved into the realm of natural talents. While interests reflect what we like, natural talents are part of the God-given design and are revealed in what we do well.
Throughout the Old Testament, we have examples of God designing into people the ability to do certain things well. In Exodus 28:3; 31:3-5; and 35:35, we see a few examples of God stating that He is the one who gave some the ability to be tailors, craftsmen, stone cutters, wood workers, weavers, designers, etc. In Deuteronomy 8:17-18, we are told to remember the Lord our God, for it is He who gives the ability to produce wealth. Natural talents and abilities are gifts from God and are a part of His design for man. So many people struggle in trying to discern God’s will for their lives and yet overlook the clues He provides through His design. The following quote from Lee Hardy’s book, The Fabric of This World, sums up this idea:
Discovering God’s will for one’s life includes being attentive to whom and where we are. It is not as if our abilities, concerns, and interests are just there, as an accident of nature, and then God has to intervene in some special way in order to make His will known to us in a completely unrelated manner. Rather, in making a career choice, we ought to take seriously the doctrine of divine providence: God Himself gives us whatever legitimate abilities, concerns, and interests we in fact possess. These are His gifts, and for that very reason they can serve as indicators of His will for our lives.
So how does a parent go about helping confused teenagers uncover their natural God-given talents? Begin by asking them to recall seven to ten experiences or activities that they have enjoyed doing. Encourage them to think about enjoyable experiences from their hobbies, part-time jobs, and activities in their communities, schools, churches, etc. These enjoyable experiences can be anything from helping organize garage sales, teaching a little brother how to do something, making posters for activities, rearranging furniture in their room, or helping repair a car. If they enjoyed an activity or experience, they were probably using some of their natural talents. Usually situations or ideas involving the use of natural talents come so easily that many people do not consider them to be significant. Consequently, many natural talents are overlooked or taken for granted.
After recalling enjoyable activities, teens should write one to two paragraphs describing what they did. Through writing about their enjoyable activities, they will see a trend emerge; a pattern of things that they consistently do well will be revealed. The following is an example from my career counseling files, about one of my college-aged clients, showing how easy it is to write about enjoyable activities:
Susan enjoyed being captain of the swim team. When she first joined the team, she was surprised to notice that the coach did not seem excited about coaching or encouraging the team. (Pay attention to the type of problems or things observed.) She felt the team was not managed correctly and that they could use a little organizational help. After securing permission from the coach, she began to set up regular practice times for the team. She also decided the team could use some encouragement, so she organized a swim team booster club. She asked the members of the club to provide snacks at the Friday practice times. She even convinced some area merchants to donate money to buy matching tee shirts for the swim team members.
What are the natural talents revealed through Susan’s enjoyable activity? She seems to have the ability to organize, manage, encourage, and promote. Susan was good at supervising others and delegating tasks. Ironically, Susan was considering pursuing a degree in family and marriage therapy when she came to see me for career counseling. Do her natural talents in supervising, organizing, assigning tasks, and promoting fit the job duties of a family and marriage therapist? I hope you see that Susan’s natural talents were more suited to a business-type degree than a counseling and therapy degree. Susan had an interest in family and marriage therapy, but her natural talents did not fit the job duties of a counselor. Susan thought the job of a therapist sounded interesting because she likes children. Another of her enjoyable activities was planning and supervising the games and craft activities for the elementary students at Vacation Bible School during the summer. Again, notice the managing, planning, and supervisory aptitudes even in working with the children.
So far we have covered the place and importance of interests and natural talents in the career planning process. Interests can be used to help define a career field, while natural talents can help identify specific job titles within a career field. In Susan’s case, she had an interest in family and marriage therapy because she wanted to work with children. Once she realized her natural talents did not fit this career field, she decided to identify those career fields that would allow her to work with children and use her natural managing, planning, and promoting talents.
In the next article, I will cover how important it is for a young person to establish his/her life and career values before deciding on a career path. Remember, the only way to make sound decisions about the best career/life path is to help your teen get enough information to wisely evaluate the options. It is most important to keep reminding your teens to trust in the Lord to make their paths straight.