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WILL YOUR KIDS BE READY TO TACKLE LIFE?

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by Jeri Dayle

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Picture this. A 23-year-old moves back in with his mother after his cheesecake business fails. He had located a wonderful product (actually, more than he knew where to stock) and he had a flair for sales talk. Yet he lacked foresight, discipline, and the math skills that launching a business requires. That tale of a new adult with dreams derailed is a personal one, but it could have come right from the pages of the latest book by nationally acclaimed learning expert Dr. Mel Levine. Every family will likely recognize one of its own in Ready or Not, Here Life Comes (Simon & Schuster, $26).

Dr. Levine’s new book is filled with tales of unsuccessful start-ups, because, as the respected pediatrician notes, there is an epidemic of such worklife unreadiness among modern youth. Throughout, Dr. Levine relates such stories of failed dreams and fallen idols (the athlete, the cool kid, the beauty queen, the little prince/princess), interspersed with analyses of how these young people failed — or how we’ve failed them.

Beyond revealing the individual and global factors that doom this generation, Dr. Levine offers pointers for parents and educators on how to tip the scales back in their favor. Ready or Not, Here Life Comes also features handy tables, checklists and charts that can help high school, college and older youth (as well as post-recession career switchers) to hone in on their strengths, weakness and interests, and build a more successful future.

“There has to be a way to prepare children and adolescents so that they do not endure worklife unreadiness when their formal schooling ends, but rather experience their personal start-up and rollout in a way that leads them somewhere — on a road well chosen,” he writes.

Just why are those in their teens, 20s and even early 30s so ill-prepared for the demands of the workplace? Dr. Levine discusses many factors in the book, his 12th, starting with the premise that modern society is based on instant gratification. After lives filled with fast food, one-click answers and an unhealthy balance between work and fun, today’s young people aren’t ready to take their place at the bottom rung of a corporate ladder and deal with organizational politics and unromantic drudgery. Add in the fact that the contemporary education system doesn’t teach our children about motivation or self-direction, and parents rarely let their progeny deal with conflict or resolve impasses on their own. Those deemed fallen idols are particularly disenchanted by worklife realities, since they were always praised and adored, and never had to cope with criticism or feelings of inadequacy.

There’s one more major reason newly-launched adults fail in their endeavors, and it’s one Dr. Levine is greatly positioned to discuss: the mismatch between career pursuits and individual abilities and strengths. In other books like One Mind at a Time and The Myth of Laziness, Dr. Levine has analyzed individual intellect and neurological constructs, and how they affect learning. Naturally, the same framework impacts one’s ability to handle job-related challenges.

Dr. Levine writes, “a start-up adult needs to be aware of his gaps and decide whether to repair them or choose a pathway that bypasses them.” This point is well illustrated by the tale of a plumber-turned-contractor, who took on a partner to manage the books and office matters, while he used his motor skills and spatial abilities to do the actual building.

In the quest to choose a well-suited path and make a more effective transition to the workplace, Levine suggests deploying what he deems the “Four Is”. He outlines 12 essential growth processes, divided into categories that begin with the letter “I”. “Inner Direction”, or “know thyself”, is followed by “Interpretation” and the quest to acquire and apply insight. “Instrumentation” focuses on the working toolkit, which includes organizational and language talents, and the ability to manage materials and projects. Lastly, effective employment involves “Interaction”, and the many interpersonal, communications and social skills that work together.

Beyond personal insight, Dr. Levine notes that “preventing worklife unreadiness has to be a cooperative effort among parents, the educational system, teenagers and start-up adults themselves.” The latter chapters of Ready or Not, Here Life Comes are filled with guidelines for parents and educators who want to do their part.

The book closes with hints on how to improve both parenting and education by encompassing life-readiness exercises. Parents need to help children figure out their passion/calling early on, provide clear motivation, and evolve a parenting style that helps kids manage their study space and tasks without preventing them from dealing with loss, frustration, conflict and other consequences.

Dr. Levine advises educators to teach skills in school that are essential for a gratifying worklife — such as organization, time management, brainstorming, verbal pragmatics and forming/applying concepts. He says they should also encourage students to seek and apply patterns, develop “habits of mind”, and assess themselves, including ways to refine their own performance. Dr. Levine further notes that in the workplace, the 3 Rs are not as essential as decision-making, collaboration, hard work and leadership.

Ready or Not, Here Life Comes even includes a few tips for employers. Rather than facing a McJob, an entry-level employee can thrive if he finds mentors, positive interaction with all levels of staff, and a defined career path in the new workplace.


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