When I was a kid, my parents told me that I “could be anything that I wanted to be when I grew up, as long as I put my mind to it,” and they meant it. They fully believed that, if I tried my best, I could accomplish anything. As I’ve grown up, I’ve discovered that most of my friends were given the same advice. Here’s the thing… there are some serious problems with that advice. It’s time to roll out “you can be anything you want to be, as long as you put your mind to it, version 2.0.”
First, the deficiencies in the original advice:
- It isn’t exactly true. If you are Stephen Hawking, it probably doesn’t matter how much effort you put into practicing, you’re not going to become the world’s best opera singer. People have limitations. This doesn’t mean that you should discourage your kids from working towards something, just because you can’t see their talent. All it means is that you need to mentally prepare them for success and failure – they will surely meet both in their lives.
- It doesn’t actually help them accomplish anything. It just places the blame on them if they don’t accomplish their goals – because failure can only mean that they didn’t put their mind to it, or try hard enough. It encourages doubling-down, instead of teaching them how to know when to cut their losses, and at the same time, manages to provide absolutely zero guidance in the child’s quest to accomplish their goals.
- It encourages the child to fixate on the things that presently interest them, while turning a deliberately blind eye on everything else, resulting in many missed opportunities.
- You probably still don’t know what you want to be, because none of the careers that you have imagined are likely to be anything like you imagine them to be. So, this is a condition even more exacerbated by the inexperienced nature of youth. Your kid (probably) doesn’t have a blessed clue what they actually want to be when they grow up, unless you have put a great deal of time into helping them understand the realities (good and bad) of many different career options.
How do we improve upon this advice?
- We take an active role in helping our kid(s) figure out what they enjoy, where their talents and skills are, and the ways in which they can employ all three, in their pursuit of a career.
- Try to identify the paths that lead to the career that might interest them, and guide them accordingly.
- Don’t get frustrated with them when they change their mind a thousand times – because everything that we learn along the way is a benefit to us.
- Help them understand that nothing is perfect – and that includes their dream job. We need to help kids see the reality of a number of different careers and help them understand what each will require. It isn’t that we should be telling them how awful what they want to do is, but rather, giving them an objective list of pros and cons and helping them to decide what they really want out of life.
- In terms of that last one… you cannot pick a career and pretend that it exists in a vacuum, and that it won’t deeply affect the rest of your life. Some people live to work, and some work to live. If you haven’t helped your child figure out what their priorities are in life, then there is very little chance that your efforts at helping them pick a career are of significant value. You cannot have a one hundred hour a week job, carry a mortgage on a mansion, drive a Mercedes, spend time with your spouse, have a meaningful relationship with your kids, and maintain close friendships. The idea of “having it all,” is a myth. Steve Jobs spent his final days developing Apple’s product line for the years following his death. He did not choose to spend those days with his wife or child. No part of me finds that relatable. So, if I try to shove little Stevie Jobs in the direction that makes sense to me, he isn’t going to end up being where he wants to be – and if we don’t give our kids any guidance at all, then we are on the wrong end of the old adage: “failing to plan, is planning to fail,” on behalf of some of the most important people in our lives.
Bonus Tip: When I was in middle school and high school, everyone that you ever met was telling you that if you wanted to be sure to land a job out of college (because, duh… you’re going to college, dumbhead), you should become a teacher. You know what the most common course of study I heard friends say they were pursuing? You guessed it: teacher! You know who struggled for years to get jobs? You guessed it again! All of those new prospective teachers. So, when you hear everyone tell you that you should have your middle/high schooler become a [insert career here], because there’s not enough people to fill those jobs, thank them for their advice, spin your kid 180 degrees away from that option, and give them a good shove forward… unless, of course, the flavor of the decade also happens to be their passion. There have been plenty of artists that were willing to starve – and some teachers, and my guess is, there will be some tradespeople in the coming years that fit that description. Just make sure that it is their passion driving them towards the flavor of the day and not the echoing of society’s conventional wisdom – because that is hardly ever right.