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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.

Chapter 6: Education is One Key to a Good Job

Education is one key to a good job. In todayís job market what you know determines what you earn. The more you know the more you make, especially if what you know is important to some segment of the business world.

Letís say that you were to find yourself one day with nothing to do. For example, you are sitting around on the couch watching TV and the thought crosses your mind, "This is incredibly boringóthere must be something better to do." Letís say you would like to improve your odds of getting a good job. You can do a gigantic variety of things, on your own, without anybody elseís assistance, to drastically improve your value in the job market. In the process you can have a lot of fun. What you need to do is teach yourself a skill that is valuable. The skill might be valuable to people who hire employees, or it might be valuable to you if you were to start your own company.

The very best way to start is to look toward something that you would really enjoy doing. Let me give you an example. Letís say that you like watching TV and you like watching movies. Letís say you have been curious about how movies are made. If you like movies learn how to make movies. I mean that literally. Go buy yourself a video camera and start shooting movies. Organize some friends and write a script and make a movie. It really is as simple as that.

The minute you start down this path you will be forced to ask yourself, "How do I make a movie?" It looks so easy when you watch them on TV, but it turns out it is incredibly hard to make a good movie. You will suddenly find that it is a lot harder than it looks to make it "feel right." It is a lot harder than it looks to create a good story. It is a lot harder than it looks to get people to do what you ask them to do in their acting. So go start reading books on making good movies and see what you can discover. Learn about the equipment you need to use to do editing and special effects. Then start talking to people who make movies or television shows. Go get a job down at a local TV station (volunteer if necessary) and start talking to people there. Or simply take a tour and meet a few people. If you really want to make movies, you will find this to be the most fun and interesting thing you have ever done in your life, and in time you will learn all of the skills necessary to make a good movie. Suddenly you have something to major in in college, you have a great tool for finding summer jobs, and you have started a career.

The point is, find something you like and go learn how to do it. Start small. Read books. Talk to people. Learn the basics and then refine your skills. Eventually, if you keep at it, you will become highly skilled at what you are doing and you will love doing it.

Here is another example. Letís say you like computer games. Go get a computer and start writing computer games. You will find that you have to buy a compiler and learn a programming language, so go do it. Donít know what compiler to use? Start talking to other programmers and see what they think. Donít know any programmers? Go meet some. Donít know where to meet other programmers? Go ask your math teacher. [Teenagers are masters of the creative excuseósimply blast the excuses away by doing something to solve the problem!] Just get out there and start teaching yourself the skills necessary to create a computer game. Go to a good technical bookstore and buy some books. Search the web and see what you can find there. Read and post messages on programming news groups. Then try to create a game of your own. You will find it is not as easy as it looks. So learn more. And more. And more. Soon you will know all of the skills required to create good computer games and you will suddenly be extremely valuable in the job market.

Letís say that you like music. Go form a band with some friends. Donít know how to play an instrument? Go learn one. Donít know which instrument you might like? Go buy a cheap keyboard and see if you like that. Go buy a cheap used guitar at a pawn shop and see if you like that. Find an instrument you like and learn it. Find that you canít play an instrument? Learn about MIDI programming on computers and make music that way. Donít like computers? Would you enjoy doing marketing or production for a band? Go find a band in your high school and see what assistance they need on the marketing and promotion side. Perhaps you would enjoy being a light or sound technician and you could learn to do that. The possibilities are endless.

Do you like surfing the web? Teach yourself how to create a web site. Create a web site for yourself. Find a school or a company or a church that needs a web site and build them one. If you like cars learn how to repair cars, or learn how to weld and design and build your own car. If you like clothes learn how to sew and then learn how to design and make your own clothes. If you like money learn about the stock and bond markets and the whole money system of the United States. If you like paintings then go buy yourself a blank canvas and some paint at an art supply store and start painting. Like to read? Try writing. Like to eat? Try cooking. Like airplanes? Learn to fly. Like actors? Learn to act. Go find a buddy who wants to learn how to make movies and act in his or her movies. Are you getting the idea?


Find something you really enjoy doing and start doing it and learn more and more until you are an expert in that area. There is nothing to stop you. Somewhere in this country there will be a company that can use your skills, and because you are an expert that company will be happy to hire you. Do not allow yourself to make excuses. This is the age of information. If there is anything you would like to do there are books on the subject, magazines on the subject, web sites on the subject, news groups on the subject, clubs where you can meet other people interested in the subject, ad infinitum. If there is not then you should learn about the subject and write the book yourself.

Find something you really enjoy doing and start doing it. Learn more and more until you are an expert in that area. Once you do that it will be easy to find a job you love.

If you try something and get pretty far into it and find that you do not enjoy it as much as you thought, then stop and pick something else. I can remember one summer; I had been given a camera for my birthday. It turns out a friend of mine also had a camera and knew more about it than I did. So we spent time together every single day that summer and we each shot at least one roll of film every day or two. Weíd mail the film off to an inexpensive film processing center, and we always shot KodaChrome slides or black and white film to save money. We shot thousands of pictures that summer, read books, talked to people, rode our bikes to historic or interesting places to get different shots, and so on. And we got better and better. Finally I submitted a photograph to a magazine and it was good enough to get accepted and published. When that magazine came out I totally lost interest in photography and moved on to something else. Why did I lose interest? Who knows?! I simply did. I learned two important lessons from that experience:

  1. I now know how to take really great pictures of anything.
  2. I learned that on any given roll of 36 pictures you generally only get one shot, or maybe two, that are "good." All the rest you look at and you think, "boy, that one did NOT come out the way I expected." Ever watch a photo shoot for a model? They take hundreds of shots to get one or two good ones. In all the rest of the shots the modelís eyes are half closed, or her hair looks funny, or the framing isnít right, or whatever. It is normal. That is a good lesson because it applies to a whole lot of other things in life. Film directors shoot 10 times more film than they need to get a movie to look right. Designers draw hundreds of pencil sketches until they get the look they are seeking. Baseball players get up to bat and strike out two thirds of the time. In many different activities failure is a normal part of success.
The time I spent with my camera was not wasted, and my friend and I had an incredibly good time that summer learning to use our cameras and taking all those pictures.

Letís say there is nothing that you enjoy doing. Impossible, but letís just say. Then take a more pragmatic approach. Go find the classified ads in the Sunday paper and look in the jobs section. See what areas have high demand, and see which jobs are paying the most. Then go learn the skill with the highest demand and the highest pay. If you get into it and you find that you donít like it, then pick another area and do that until you find something you like. You might as well pick a job that pays well if you are going to pick something at random!

Finding Good Job Categories

As a child, if someone asked you, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" you probably answered, "a fireman" or "a policeman" or "a nurse" or "a teacher." Children only know about the few jobs they can see in their world. A child would never answer with "An account manager for a 401(k) record keeper" or "lead buyer at a major department store" or "editor and publisher of a magazine" or "stock specialist" or "computer engineer" or "financial analyst" or "athletic therapist" or "small businessman" or even "principal of a school." Children cannot see those things, so they never consider them. You likely carry that same narrow vision with you now as a teenager.

There are millions of high-paying jobs out in the real world that you have never heard of. In fact, you cannot even conceive of them. What is interesting is that you have certain skillsóthings that you are best atóthat you can exploit in a good job if you know that the job is out there.

How do you find out about all of these job categories? One thing you can do is search for information on the web. See the career page for more information. Another thing you can do is start asking adults around you things like:

  • What do you do?
  • Why do you do it?
  • Do you like it?
  • How did you get your job?
  • What are all the jobs you have held in your career?
  • What was your first job as a teenager?
  • What is the salary range for your job? (DO NOT ask "What do you make?" See the end of Chapter 1 for details)
  • How much training do you need?
  • Where would I start if I wanted to have a job like yours?
  • And so on...
You will find that many adults do not like their jobs. In general you should ignore these people and focus instead on adults who do. Seek out the adults who are really excited and passionate about their jobs and focus on them.

You can also look around you at the jobs you see on the surface and then look behind the scenes. There are good paying, interesting jobs behind the scenes of any industry. Focus on those words good paying and interesting and you will not go far wrong. Let me give you some examples:

  • Behind every successful rock band there are producers, record companies, light and sound technicians, ad companies, artists, agents, songwriters, financial experts, and so on.
  • Behind every TV show there are producers, directors, cameramen, technicians, writers, managers, financial experts, production engineers, and so on.
  • Behind every pro athlete there are managers, coaches, financial experts, therapists, trainers, and so on.
  • Behind every house there is a foreman, a contractor, sub-contractors, heavy equipment operators, truckers, framers, roofers, plumbers, electricians, painters, and so on. None of these jobs require a college degree, but they all pay well if you do them well. For example, a reliable long-haul truck driver can make incredibly good pay. So can a back hoe operator. So can a painter. If you discipline yourself to be incredibly reliable and if you treat your customers honestly, you can make great pay in any of these professions.
  • Behind every computer program and web site there are programmers, database specialists, network administrators, system operators, graphic artists, technical writers, advertising executives, and so on

Even if you yourself arenít a TV star, a rock musician or a pro athlete, you can still be involved in these fields helping to make things happen. See The careers page for a wide variety of resources on the web on jobs and careers. See also Improving Your Job Skills as a Teenager.

Return to the table of contents for The Teenager's Guide to the Real World

This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.

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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent