Thursday April 27, I found myself travelling in and out of New York City. I had recently helped a client invest in the Broadway revival of PRESENT LAUGHTER, and she had come in from Ohio both to see the show and to meet its star Kevin Kline.
I don’t travel into New York City every day. Although a great deal of my work focuses on the commercial theatre industry, since I work for myself I do as much work as I can in my home office – the better to transport my daughter to track practice and meets, choir concerts and the general social engagements a 13-year-old girl has in today’s world.
But this day, I had gone into New York to meet my client and her husband for afternoon tea at the University Club and was taking a 4:18 train home. I began to notice that the train was much noisier and more crowded than usual for a train running outside of rush hour. Then I realized that there were a lot of kids on the train. Only then did I remember that this was Take Your Child To Work Day.
My first thought was that these kids were being shown working life through rose colored glasses. Most people commuting into New York City to work at a job do not get to take a 4:18 train home. As I sat with that thought, I began to realize that these kids were being filled with false expectations. Take Your Child To Work Day assumes that most people work in an office during regular working hours – in other words, that the industrial age model of employment is still the norm and people have workplaces to go to. Which means that these kids are being told to expect that their future will include employment within that industrial age model.
The problem is, most of the kids being brought to the office on Take Your Child To Work Day will not grow up to have what we consider today to be a typical job. Decades ago the U.S. economy changed from being based on manufacturing to being based on service. It is far more likely that these kids will end up in a service sector job; and if these kids want to reach and stay in the middle class (or the top 1%) they are going to have to work for themselves.
As I have often noted, we have moved to a gig economy where more and more work is being done by freelancers. Since 2007, advances in personal technology have tilted the economic playing field in favor of small, nimble service providers and away from brick and mortar companies with their industrial age levels of overhead. Most of the kids on that 4:18 train will grow up to work in careers that do not exist today.
All of which means that Take Your Child To Work Day is not fulfilling the purpose for which it was created – to show children what to expect from the working world. In fact, Take Your Child To Work Day may actually be doing more harm than good by filling our children with false expectations.
Sitting on that train and realizing the counter-productive nature of the efforts these well-meaning parents, I started to wonder what I would want to tell my daughter if I took her to work with me for the day – in my home office. These are the things I want her to know.
- There are three good reasons to commute to work every day. First, if your name is on the door and the nature of your work requires you to be in the same room as your clients and/ or employees, it’s a good investment of your time. Second, if you are learning something that will advance your career, commuting to work is worthwhile. Third, if you are meeting people and building a professional network that will support your long-term professional goals, then by all means commute away. But if your name is not on the door, and you’ve learned everything you can and your professional network isn’t growing, then it’s better to be working for yourself and putting that commuting time to uses that benefit you.
- Job security is never a good enough reason to stay in a job. In a gig economy, the goal is income security. Staying in a dead-end job may seem secure, but it hurts your long-term prospects for income security because while you stay stuck the marketplace is moving forward with increasing velocity. Simply put, placing job security above other concerns is very likely to make you a dinosaur. Contrary to what Take Your Child To Work Day might lead you to believe, it may be riskier in the long run to stay in a job than it is to go out on your own.
- Debt is slavery. The correlation between debt and slavery has been common knowledge since biblical times. So, before you take on debt, think about how you are going to pay that debt back and whether or not that debt is a good investment. It is not a good investment to borrow tens of thousands of dollars for a college education. Entering a service-based economy and looking for employment that pays enough to allow you to have any quality of life and service your debt is going to be really, really hard. Better to go to community college for two years and finish up your degree at a state school than to take on a crushing debt burden. I’m not even sure that a mortgage is a good investment anymore
- Don’t limit your education to school. In this country, our education system continues to run on an industrial age model. We treat students like interchangeable parts on a conveyor belt. Those students who do not conform, whose performance does not fall within industry specs, are labeled disabled and disordered — defective parts. We teach our children that the keys to success are high marks in standardized subjects and on standardized tests. This is not what the gig economy rewards. To prepare for the future figure out what you do best and become the best at doing that thing. Make friends, keep friends, learn to build relationships of value where people support each other. And stop worrying about grades – because the secret is that in the real world A students end up working for C students because C students learned early on they were going to have to chart their own course.
- Lastly, and most importantly, love the work you do. Whatever career you choose, you’re going to be doing it for a very, very long time. It will be a major part of your life. So don’t pick a career based on earning potential or prestige. Pick a career that will allow you to experience joy. I don’t say this just for touchy-feely reasons about the meaning of life, I say it because it is more likely that you will excel at your career if you spend time every working day feeling fulfilled and engaged.
Now comes the challenge of getting a 13-year-old girl to listen to her father long enough to tell her all of these things. But that’s a challenge I relish, because being a father is as much a part of my life work as is any professional pursuit. It’s a conversation that will bring me joy.
Your challenge is to decide for yourself what you want your children to know about the working world. I invite you to write down your Take Your Child To Work Day lessons and send them to me. Who knows, it could lead to a new relationship you find valuable.