Monday, July 25, 2011

Maryl writes: “Childhood complete”

That’s what my 19 year-old daughter said to me after watching “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” the final episode, last week. She deemed to go to the movie with me because she was feeling a bit glum and wanted to get out. Lana had a challenging first year away at college and is contemplating a year off before returning. Back to that in a moment. We had sat in that same theater nine and a half years ago with a dozen of her middle school friends after a tea party at our home and a white (it had to be white!) limousine ride to the theater for her 10th birthday party (pictures below) and our own little premiere of the first Harry Potter movie. They all grew up with Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley (Lana’s fav, another redhead) who are off to college on their own or already starring on Broadway and in other films. (Lana met Emma Watson, who played Hermione, on the streets of Providence, RI this year and affirms how unassuming and likeable she is. Also, it’s true Daniel Radclilffe, Harry of course, is extremely shy and Thomas Felton, Draco Malfoy the bully, was the nicest one on the set. Go figure.)

So the three Potter stars are on their way but now to my daughter. Her childhood may be officially over but the maturing and learning are still in play. Despite the vast effort that was put into last year’s tribulations over college applications and acceptances, I would support another game plan as long as we can come up with one that continues her developmental progress and ends with a college degree not too far into the future. Of course, what’s the rush anyway. College doesn’t guarantee you a job and the future you designed for yourself these days. It doesn’t even grant you an apartment of your own upon graduation. The latest statistics tell us that 85% of college grads move back in with their parents because they just can’t find jobs. (See Caryl’s Odyssey II post for her thoughts on this subject.)

Thomas Friedman wrote in a NY Times Op-Ed piece recently that the old career goal of climbing the corporate ladder is over. Now college graduates and anyone looking for gainful employment for that matter must consider inventing their own jobs within companies or with their own start-ups. LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman recently coauthored “The Start-up of You with Ben Casnocha. They advocate a new mind set as well as skill set to compete for jobs of the future. Because of the uncertain and rapidly-changing conditions we do business in today we need to think and act more like entrepreneurs who start companies with no assurances of their chances of profitability. Hoffman advocates experimenting, adapting and taking your next steps based on that learning. You also need to network and be informed about where the growth opportunities are inside which industries and then define a way that you can add value that no one else can. “For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die – that now goes for all of us.”

Entrepreneurship is near and dear to my heart you may recall. I can attest to the fact that at least half the presenters doing pitches at the various entrepreneur meetups I attend are fresh out of – if not still in – college. That says to me that they are learning the basic start-up skills while still in school and aren’t being prepped for bolstering the weight of old corporate structures and business processes. Good for them and woe to the rest of us that have to unlearn what we knew as religion - endeavoring to keep our rigid org charts in order, employees appraised and graded and PowerPoints polished. This paradigm shift is not just for the newbies. We all must learn to network outside our immediate comfort zones, attend panel discussions and seminars and keep our skills uptodate. In fact this week I’m attending a web programming seminar for non-programmers with my goddaughter who is just starting her first real staff job after freelancing for a few years and making a complete move from an analog to a more digital profession. My goal is not to become a coder but my businesses are built on the internet and I know those recent college grads will be a bit more nimble than me in getting their prototypes off the ground. 

But back to Lana again. She’s not even halfway through college and struggling to find her place in the world. Maybe she’s already seen that a college degree isn’t all you need to get where you want to be but try to get someone to read your resume without that credential. So she’s looking into gap year programs, part-time jobs, non-matric college courses, internships (more suggestions anyone?) and willing to try new things. It’s frustrating for her and like most young adults she has little patience. But where I think I can help her is with grasping the importance of being resilient. Friedman agrees we need it now more than ever in a climate that doesn’t immediately recognize the value of our individual talents and ideas. Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, the internet radio service, that just went public, had no luck pitching his idea to over 300 venture capitalists at the start. Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" was rejected 38 times before being published. Even J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter’s creator, was turned down by twelve publishing houses and after she found one was told not to quit her day job. So inventiveness and resilience gave us Harry Potter, a beloved novel and music on our PC’s. I guess Lana and I can stick it out a bit longer.

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