Covid career shock and our teens

Career shock is a thing. It existed before Covid-19: Retrenchment, losing a beloved boss, an earthquake. Now, on a global scale, Corona is in the lead position for career shock of note. It hurts us, and it hurts our kids who are poised to enter the career arena. How do we deal with the anger, frustration and uncertainty of Covid Career Shock? covid career

We cannot deny that our high school children are in the midst of an intense career shock. Choosing and preparing for a career is seen as part of career development. Everything was set for them to take their first tentative steps into the future. With Covid-19, the academic year is disastrous; their social interaction is messed up; their long-awaited rites of passage have evaporated; career plans are being ripped apart. Many won’t be able to study next year, or are forced to find different ways of studying, due to loss of parents’ income; travel plans are off the table, and a general sense of apathy or despair can set in. 

No doubt this seriously sucks. And that is precisely where our biggest challenge lies: To accept that it sucks. Most people who have the resources and opportunity to be reading this blog, are privileged enough to have had a good life. Things have been more or less under control. No wars. No famine. Much choice. And we live on the assumption that that is life. We can control and side-step suffering, especially where our children are involved. We have become a “society that coddles itself more and more from the inevitable discomforts of life: we lose the benefits of experiencing healthy doses of pain, a loss that disconnects us from the reality of the world around us” (Mark Manson).

The assumption that a happy life is a given, is why we walk around blaming and furious with the government, the Chinese, the teacher, the school, the taxi-driver, and that staff member behind the counter. Blame is a way to get rid of the discomfort that pain brings.

anger1We are angry and entitled because life shouldn’t be this way! We should not be subjected to unfair circumstances and decisions! Why not? All through history, this has been the way of humanity: we thrive, we lose, we love, we die, we fight, we rejoice, we are destroyed, we build. 

We need to re-orientate our expectations of life, and choose what to get upset about.  The only way to deal sustainably with suffering, is to become comfortable with the fact that life will throw unexpected pain at us. If that fails to upset and surprise us , we become “invincible in a sort of low-level spiritual way” (Manson again).  If we are okay with the fact that pain comes and goes, we can move lightly despite heavy burdens. That is something one often notices in our country – how people who clearly suffer hardship, can laugh and love whole-heartedly. The more uncomfortable you are with pain, the harder it is to close your eyes and trust that you can fall backwards and still be okay. The more you believe that life shouldn’t be hard, the less you can support your child in negotiating his or her inevitable suffering.

I’m not advocating a Polyanna-attitude to life, where you doggedly look at the bright side and deny the devastating impact of the Covid-measures. My suggestion is to stop resisting, avoiding, numbing, denying or fighting about your own Covid career shock. That is a form of suffering in itself. Rather, accept that there is suffering and that it is a necessary part of life. Recognise its wisdom. Ride the wave with your child. Appreciate that resilience can only be taught by life, not by words. Expect and witness the amazing ability to bounce back. 

We hate uncertainty. We want to decide, NOW. But the outlook to develop in this turbulent time, is a long-term one. As with financial investments, one cannot respond on a short-term drop in shares. If you want to see your investment grow, you have to wait patiently, riding out the ebb and flows year in and year out. Same with children. You cannot have a knee-jerk reaction and create a catastrophic aura about this disaster. Over a lifetime of 60, 70 or 80 years, most people can afford to take a few years’ detour. Who knows what other opportunities and skills will be present itself on this unexpected journey.

How well our children cope with a crisis, depends on two things: their own make-up, and their environment. As parents, we are a pretty important part of the environment. We cannot determine our children’s way of moving in the world, but we can be their hopeful environment. Our job is to ooze hope; not by blindly clinging to a shallow, silver-lining mentality, but by accepting suffering graciously, understanding that we can’t and shouldn’t fix it, and realising that we can choose what to do with our discomfort. We can rant and rave and blame, or we can accept that our own expectations of life need re-orientation. 

hope teen

 On a last (hopeful) note: It appears that a negative career shock can have good long-term consequences. One study compared two groups of people who received career shocks: one group’s was a positive one (e.g. an unexpected promotion), and the other group’s was negative.  Sixteen months down the line, those who were more likely to take action to enhance their careers, were those who received a negative career shock. We cannot tell what seeds are being sown during this crisis. Teens will inevitably re-evaluate their career trajectories and broader life aspirations, possibly leading to positive life decisions. A negative career shock triggers a deliberate thinking process, and very often in life it is suffering and discomfort that spurs people to take action and grow.

Covid-19 has brought uncertainty, change and suffering. With it, an awareness of life, of opportunities, of privileges. “Don’t hope for a life without problems,” wrote Manson. “There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.”


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