Teach Your Kids About Good Work, Not Good Jobs

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construction-workersMy son Ben loves doing things with his hands. He loves to build, with everything from Lego to Minecraft, and many of the pictures he draws are machines that he would like to build when he grows up. (He is 6 years old, though, so the machines are mostly giant killer robots.) He loves to craft, turning construction paper and stickers and egg cartons into landscapes or pop-ups or other elaborate creations. This month, he decided he wants to plant a garden this summer – well, actually, he wrote a note in kindergarten-ese, bribing me with the promise of fresh strawberries if I would let him grow some vegetables. Nothing thrills him more than being given the opportunity to make something, whether he’s putting the last piece on a block tower or the finishing touch on a gingerbread house.

When he does these things – when he uses his own hands to build something – he does them with incredible focus and determination. And when people see him hard at work, they often smile at the intense concentration on his face.

And they usually say something like, “Maybe he’ll grow up to be an engineer!”

It’s not surprising, really. Most engineers loved building as kids – and really, what is an engineering career but an opportunity to continue to play with the grown-up version of blocks or Tinker Toys or Snap Circuits? But there was always something that bothered me about how people responded to Ben’s love of building, and recently, I figured out what it is.

Of course most engineers liked building toys and other hands-on, make-it-yourself toys. But do you know who else did?

Carpenters. Tailors. Electricians. Farmers. And brick-layers and mechanics and landscapers and literally hundreds of other specialties, some of which I don’t even know well enough to be able to name them.

There is a narrative that what you want is a “good job.” A “good job” may mean a lot of things, but all “good jobs” in this context have some qualities in common. You do them indoors. They require education. They keep your hands clean. Your salary will be high. If you get a “good job,” you spend your life using your head, and save physical work for your off hours, when you burn the calories from that business lunch or networking cocktail party at the gym. And the story goes that, if you get a “good job,” you will be happy.

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