How My Mother Supported My Unexpected Career Choice

Over the years, we all change our career goals. If we didn’t, there would be a vast overabundance of cowboys, pilots and firemen.

What makes us change? In part it’s the media we watch and what our friends and peers think. And it’s also the influence of significant adults in our lives, like our parents.

I attended a very academic high school. Ten percent of the boys in my class went to Harvard. It was a difficult place for me because of my significant learning and thinking differences.

When I started going to school there, I announced that I intended to become a lawyer. I couldn’t spell the word “lawyer,” but I thought saying that would help me fit in.

Thankfully, there were two very significant adult influences in my life.

The first was my high school soccer and track coach, who became my surrogate father after my father died at the end of my seventh grade year. The second was my mother.

I was at summer camp when I decided what I really wanted to do with my life. As a teen, I was the director of athletics there. I enjoyed coaching the teams. But what gave me the most pleasure was working with the kids who were always picked last and “hated playing sports.”

I loved helping them develop their skills and start to actually enjoy the activities. And most important, for the first time I was good at something besides playing sports.

I felt I had found my calling. But now I needed to tell my mother.

I remember being very anxious about telling her that I didn’t want to be a lawyer and that I wanted to be a physical education teacher instead. I said I wanted to go to Springfield College, like my coach had, and influence kids the way he had influenced me.

My mother asked me if I thought I was going to be an athlete all my life.

I said no. I wanted to be a teacher, and I was good at it.

The next day when I got home, I noticed a bunch of Sports Illustrated magazines next to my mother’s bed. When I asked why, she told me that if this was the field I was going into, she was going to learn all she could about it.

I’m not sure I could have coped with all the teasing I got from my peers without my mother’s support. My classmates asked me if I was going to wear a sweat suit to my college interview. They said that all I had to do at my interview was arm wrestle the interviewer, and if I won, I’d be accepted.

My first job out of college was coaching soccer at Columbia University, where I was also going to graduate school. I was living at home. Then one day the phone rang.

When my mother answered, the voice on the other end asked to speak to Mr. Rein. My mother informed the caller that he had died.

The caller said, “Our coach is dead?”

I explained to my mother that there were now people on the planet who referred to me as “Mr. Rein.” She responded with a proud smile.

Throughout my life, my mother has been my major support. She didn’t understand why I was struggling in school, but she always tried to help. She never compared me to my older brother, who attended Harvard. And even when I had an unrealistic aspiration, she never said I couldn’t do it. She simply asked me questions that helped me come to the right conclusion.

As you think about how you can help your child with her career objectives, here’s the advice I’d offer:

  1. Be supportive and realistic.
  2. Encourage careers that are consistent with your child’s interests and talents.
  3. Don’t let your ego get in the way of a good decision for your child.
  4. Make sure you and your child understand what’s required for a specific job, like certifications, degrees and the ability to meet physical demands.
  5. When possible, encourage your child to get work experience in the field she’s interested in and/or talk to friends or relatives who are in that field.
  6. Help your child with cover letters, resumes and interview techniques.
  7. Help your child understand that if she applies for a job and doesn’t get it, she’s no worse off than when she started. In fact, she’ll benefit from the experience. Bring up personal examples of jobs you applied for and didn’t get.
  8. Be proud of her efforts, not just the results.

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About the author

About the author

Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.