PHOENIXVILLE - Some people believe that it doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor as long as you have lots of money. Others say that you work to pay the bills and support the government and that doesn't leave much time for fun.

Regardless of your personal philosophy about wealth, most folks have found out that making a proper career choice usually leads to a life filled with happiness and true riches.

Like many other important decisions, the critical moment of choice arrives like a bolt of lightning long before we have learned the cause of thunder. Young people who are enticed to follow a certain career path by external influences may get lucky but often they waste time and money before finding a more satisfactory field of endeavor. The worst scenario is to be locked into a lifetime job that is detested. This happens too often because the fence is constructed by family circumstances, rate of pay or lack of motivation to make sacrifices to permit the change.

Education leaders have included more and more career options in the curriculum. Counselors give a variety of tests to determine areas of student strength and weakness. Parents provide support by attending career workshops with their children. These are all worthwhile projects.

However, experience is the best teacher. Therefore the student who has had many opportunities to test the waters in a variety of career fields will often be able to make more informed choices.

Certainly ability is a common denominator but the individual's "numerator" usually designates the amount of riches available in each job. Indeed the top number above the fraction bar deals with individual characteristics such as interest, personal satisfaction, service to others and dedication.

There is nothing more rewarding than at the close of a career to know that your choice brought days of sunshine to yourself and others. When the time has come to complete your final day's work, will you look back on the years with satisfaction knowing that you made the right choice?

As volunteers or mentors, the senior citizen may now assist students to make the right decisions for themselves by sharing experiences. As in most successful education projects, the hands-on technique is most effective.

Dr. John Rittenmeyer was an assistant principal at William Tennent High School and later Conestoga High School. I don't know if the idea was his originally but his model program received national attention and was the most successful that I saw. During the late 1960s, he constructed a senior career month that allowed potential graduates to leave school four weeks early. They were encouraged to keep a satisfactory grade point average, have a good attendance and discipline record in order to take part in the experimental program.

The high school would arrange a sponsor in a vast number of career fields and the boy or girl would get a month of actual experience. I don't recall all the details of the original program but Upper Perkiomen High School embarked on a similar venture when I served as principal in the early 70s. Thanks to the dedication of the faculty, parents and community the trial run was a great success. Most importantly, many students got an actual taste of their proposed career. Most agreed that it was right for them. But the ones who learned that this was not what they wanted to be doing for the next 40-plus years were most grateful. One self-ordained future lawyer had worked in his father's office for several summers. He was placed in an actual law firm in Allentown and learned what lawyers really do most of the time. His idealistic concept of Perry Mason changed drastically and his father was more than grateful and became a future sponsor of the program.

We had students with forest rangers in Maine and future marine biologists in Virginia. Firestone of Pottstown described their enthusiasm for the program in their national magazine. As I recall we had six students placed in the industry. One outstanding young man received a Firestone scholarship and future employment. Several were hired in clerical positions and others beat the senior job market in the production area because of their month of successful accomplishment before graduation.

Today, many schools are encouraging students to get practical career experiences through intern programs. Community organizations such as the Phoenixville Kiwanis Club have provided clubs with mentors to inspire service to others through worthwhile projects from elementary through high school.

Our outstanding CAT-Pickering technical school has cooperative programs, which places students in their career fields before graduation. With the cost of post-secondary education at present the more career exploration available to students the less they will flounder in college, business or industry.

Returning to the fraction equation noted earlier, I suggest that each young person seek the best balance of interest and talent in making career choices. I recall interviewing a brilliant college math graduate as evidenced by his grades and recommendations for a teaching position.

He admitted that he didn't really like teaching kids but needed some money to return to graduate school to get advanced degrees for industry.

I remembered I once had a teacher like that and we both suffered from the experience.

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