“Maxwell, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be a chef, a doctor, and a firefighter.”
I miss the days when the sky was the limit; days when I believed I could be anything I wanted to be. At various times during my childhood I wanted to be an opera singer, architect, doctor, probation officer, and a lawyer. I distinctly recall a conversation I had with a teacher who, upon hearing I wanted to be an attorney, discouraged me because (according to her) there were too many attorneys. She was the teacher, I figured she knew everything, so I stopped listing “attorney” as my career goal. One by one, each of my aspirations fell to the wayside: I hate math, so architecture wasn’t a good fit; needles terrify me, so a career in medicine wasn’t a good idea; and I am easily frightened, so being a probation officer didn’t seem ideal.
I didn’t revisit becoming an attorney until I took a class that required me to shadow a public defender for a semester. That experience convinced me that I was destined to defend the unjustly accused…clearly God had different plans; I started my legal career as a prosecutor.
As I listen to Max excitedly rattle off his career aspirations, various thoughts cross my mind: “Does he really want to be a chef, or does he just realize the quickest way to obtain chicken nuggets is to make them himself? Does he really want to be a doctor, or does he simply like the idea of administering “pokers” to other kids? Does he really want to be a firefighter, or does he only want to slide down the ladder?”
I’m very cautious about discouraging Max from pursuing his career goals…Poor thing is going to be so tired running from the firehouse to the restaurant and then to the hospital. As parents, we have the unique opportunity to guide our children toward fulfilling careers that they absolutely love. We can instill in them the kind of confidence that makes them think the proverbial glass ceiling is made of saran wrap. Simultaneously, we can quash their dreams with unfettered criticism. The trick is balancing encouragement with a healthy dose of reality.
I think it is important to have open and honest dialogues with our children about what we perceive to be their strengths and weaknesses. We should acknowledge when we notice they are particularly good at something and encourage them to spend time exploring those talents. We should also gently nudge them toward alternatives when we observe unrealistic aspirations; I am sure my brutally honest dad encouraged me to only share my opera talents with the amazingly supportive audience found in the shower.
I also think exposure is key to helping our children excel. We must expose them to all kinds of careers; Utilize family outings as opportunities to discuss the various jobs that make museums, zoos and amusement parks possible. I recognize there are certain professions that I may have liked and excelled in-but didn’t pursue because I simply didn’t know they existed.
What do you think? Should we encourage our children to do whatever they desire even though we are aware of their limitations?