Thursday, February 21, 2013

Should a Young Person Be More Ambitious?

Here's a "writer's block" question from Michelle Singletary:

"In a recent Amy Ask column, advice columnist Amy Dickinson responded to a mother worried about the lack of ambition by her son.


In her letter to Dickinson, the mother said that her 21-year-old son spent his first year in college on academic probation and failed every class. He moved back home and got the same full-time job at a fast-food place that he had when he was in high school. He is taking management classes at the fast-food restaurant and one online class.

“As parents, should we encourage him to further his education or to seek different employment? Or do we simply stand back and let him grow up on his own? I know things could be much worse; I just wish he had more motivation,” the mother wrote.

How would you advise this mother?

Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “A mother’s love” in the subject line."

My response: What are the probable outcomes here?

1. "Junior" likes fast-food restaurant management as a job, and he's blessed with an employer who likes him. He is on the fast track to success, and will learn at least as much about life this way as he would by pursuing a conventional associate's or bachelor's degree. His experience should count as a credential if he has to look for another job, and will be useful if he launches his own business. Let him roll.

2. Junior does not actually have a vocation to be a restaurant manager; he just couldn't keep up with the work at his college. Five or ten years down the road, he will feel a need to go back to college. He will probably be a better student--more maturity, discipline, general knowledge--but he'll feel out of the social whirl because he's no longer interested in dating 17-year-olds. Could be worse. If he needs a degree, he'll be able to get it; for federal student grant purposes it's better to have wasted one year than two.

Parents of kids like Junior should think carefully about the reasons for their discontent (if they feel any). Is there a real reason to believe that being a restaurant manager will interfere with Junior's own real life goals? Is there, more likely, just a perception that your friends with the children in law school or music school or whatever have scored a point whenever the conversation turns to your son the restaurant manager? If it's the latter, look ahead...isn't a contented restaurant manager a better asset to the family than a depressed lawyer, failed musician, or alcoholic ex-doctor?