Saying Yes!: 5 Pieces of Career Advice for Middle School Students

Last Thursday was Career Stars in the Media Center at Westland Middle School in Montgomery County.

Spending so much time in corporate America, I was a tad nervous and wanted to do an especially good job as my daughter was in the audience, as was the fabulous guidance counselor Maria Kohlerman and dynamic Principal Allison Serino.

I asked for a volunteer and Jasmine immediately raised her hand, followed by two young men in the back row. A lot of the students had aspirations to become computer scientists, medical doctors, one an astronaut and more. Several already knew where they wanted to go to college at the age of 13.

"Jasmine, do you commit in front of your classmates to give 100 percent?"

"Yes," she said.

Her classmates gave her a drumroll and she jumped as high as she could to leave an orange Mr. Sketch mark on some paper we taped up eight feet high on the wall.

"Did you give 100 percent?" I asked.

"No, that was 25 percent."

So Jasmine jumped up again and added another foot to where she would leave her mark.

She was proud and the audience of 7th and 8th graders were pleased.

I stood up on the chair and stuck a $5 bill (I would have done a $20 if I had it on me) two inches higher. The class was in uproar seeing cash and wondering why they hadn't elected to volunteer.

With the ease of a gazelle, Jasmine jumped up and made a mark on the top of the bill, knowing it was hers to keep.

The exercise is about going the extra mile, and that sometimes the rewards are not apparent in the world of school and work. In my 20-year career in education, I have never seen a student not achieve success in this exercise.

Here are five more tips I shared in the 20 minutes that remained. Given the massive changes happening in middle school kids' lives and brain chemistry, please find a middle school student and give them some of your time... The influences we Generation Xers had in high school, today is often hitting them in middle school, and they mentally are not mature enough to handle it all...

1. FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY YES TO: We all have different motivators: material goods, funds to put our kids through school, travel, love, family, friendship, curiousity, helping others, innovating, spirituality. Finding out what you can do professionally that is fulfilling. You likely will change your mind about your career a few times and that's okay, just start understanding what truly motivates you and 'test-drive' it. (We as adults and parents often say no, and tell kids in thousands of ways what to say no to. Let's explore what they can say yes to that ignites their passions and interests.)

2. GET AN INTERNSHIP AND JOB SHADOW: No, you are not too young to experience work. I started an internship in the 7th grade through a school program and worked for a small business. I loved it. It gave me purpose and meaning at a young age when there was turmoil at my home. It was life-defining. I stayed working in a barter agreement for a few years and continued to work with purpose for the next 33 years. You might just shadow for a day or two over spring break. Ask if you can help out somewhere after school. Shoot for 5-8 hours in 7th grade, 10-20 hours in 8th grade, a full summer internship by 10th grade and build up your learning and your network. Get your hands dirty with a project and make sure you ask for feedback and are proud of your results (Hint: Don't be afraid to ask your parents to make a few inroads for you with their friends and network).

3. FIND A MENTOR: Did you know most kids graduate school without a mentor? Over 90 percent of students in high school interested in science, tech, engineering and math said they didn't have a mentor. Ask someone who is a good professional role model who likes their job to have coffee, tea, Red bull, ice cream with you and get started. Have a few goals for the relationship.

4. GO THE EXTRA MILE:The money and opportunity will be there if you raise your hand like Jasmine did. Take a risk, take on a challenge.

5. STEM IS NOT JUST FOR BOYS: When I ran a startup and we launched it in a major Silicon Valley conference, there were not a lot of women presenting. The trends are actually pretty dismal, and that's another article. You can say yes to making a difference with cybersecurity and technology. We need you to innovate, create, tinker and build, and find ways to say "yes!" and change the world!