Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Working Girl

My advice to newlyweds. Wait a few years longer than your best friends to have children. Let those intrepid souls learn the ropes — and make the mistakes — for you. Then, you'll have a better idea of what's in store.

A few years ago, all of the parents I knew were freaking out, falling over themselves, turning one-handed backflips to make sure that their high school students had outstanding "community service" on their résumés.

Okay, stop the press! 

Résumés? Back in the 70s, the only high school students I knew with résumés were the ones pursuing a career in show business. (And, growing up in New York City, I crossed teenage paths with several of them: Diane Lane, Ben Stiller, Cynthia Nixon, Phoebe Cates.) The average everyday teen would have had a fairly lean curriculum vitae. My own would have included babysitting, babysitting and babysitting. 

What can I tell you? My career path was limited, but consistent. Back to what I was saying.

All of a sudden, stellar grades, varsity sports and student government weren't enough. The most selective schools expected applicants (in all their spare time, right — see previous sentence) to have volunteered. And, I mean, volunteered big!

Spending an afternoon at a soup kitchen? Not enough! Your aspiring Ivy Leaguer had to organize a four-week, six-county food drive, single-handedly solicit Fortune 500 corporate sponsorship, design a public service ad campaign, write a guest column in The Boston Globe, and get invited to appear on Oprah (or Ellen, at the very least).

Or, they had to start a movement focusing on some serious social problem and leveraging a group of like-minded peers. Then they could use social media to attract members across the country, accumulating posts and pictures and shares and "likes." (Stats they would be sure to regurgitate on college applications.) Extra credit for alliterative or rhyming names such as, "Ballerinas Against Bullying," "Home Schoolers for Housing," or the "Jock Sock Drive."

And, say "bye bye" to family vacations. Your future grad of Harvard, Yale or Princeton had to spend her summer building houses for indigenous peoples in Peru. In 110-degree weather. Carrying water buckets from the next town. Five miles, uphill, both ways.

Having been sufficiently warned by my trailblazing friends, I thought we were in fairly good shape. Since sixth grade, my daughter has worked with a local organization that introduces inner city kids to horseback riding. She created a book list of appropriately horsey titles so that participating students could read and earn points toward riding. For her senior project, in a couple of years, she's planning to work at a local therapeutic riding facility, helping special needs participants gain confidence and coordination. These are carefully chosen activities that demonstrate passion and commitment, a willingness to work hard, and focused experience that can be carried over into her proposed course of study. 

I know, blah blah blah.

But wait! Now, all of sudden, the colleges are looking for work. Like work work. Actual, paid, minimum-wage, burger-flipping after school jobs. Uh-oh. 

But wait again! Lo and behold, my daughter came home one day and announced that she had found a job. She and one of her BFFs are splitting a part-time retail position. She's working every other weekend at a designer consignment shop about a five-minute walk from our house. 

Wow. It's a little weird that I didn't have to do anything to make this happen. It's a little weird that she's going to be helping customers and stocking shelves and ringing up the register and opening the store and closing it up at the end of the day. It's a little weird, but I'm proud of her.

And, just think how good it will look on her résumé.

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