I’ve always believed that children should be the ones to choose their own future. Whether they want to be an astronaut or a singer is up to them. The main thing is they’d love what they do, because when you love it, you’re better at it. I was going to write a post about kids choosing their future and I was discussing the subject with a friend and she had an interesting story about it. So, few days ago I’ve received a letter from her and it says everything I’d want to say in my post, so I’ve decided to post her letter, with her permission of course. Here goes…
Growing up, I dreamt of being a ballerina. I spent hours upon hours each week training, stretching until my muscles hurt, spinning until I was dizzy, watching the older girls in the more advanced classes as they worked on difficult moves I had yet to learn. At home, I read biographies about my favorite dancers: Martha Graham, Misty Copeland, anything I could get my hands on. At night, I dreamt of getting into Julliard, of dancing on Broadway. I was as sure as anything that it was my destiny to become a dancer.
“But wouldn’t it be more exciting to be a journalist?” my mother would say over dinner, after a long day of rehearsals. “You could travel the world, tell interesting stories. You could even become famous.”
I did want to become famous. What young child did not want to be famous? We do not grow up dreaming of being just anybody, we grow up dreaming of being movie stars, astronauts, Nobel prize winners. But I knew I would be a famous dancer, so I stubbornly stood my ground.
As the years went on, the pressure to choose a “real” career became more intense. If I did not have an interest in journalism, then what about business, or economics or medicine? I was not science-minded, and even though I absolutely loved going to school the thought of being in school for nearly 10 years in order to practice medicine made me feel nauseous. I wanted to get out there, to do something. Then came junior year.
In the United States, junior year of high school is crunch time. This is when you start visiting colleges you intend to apply to, when you start deciding what major you want to have, what programs you want to apply for and what locations you are interested in. You have to take the SATs, ACTs and write endless personal essays about “the most significant thing that has ever happened in your life.”
After nearly two decades of ballet training, and one decade of intense pressure by my family to find a “real” career, I applied to a dozen journalism programs – and no dance programs.
By that time, I had been mostly convinced that it was a good move. Technology was moving in such a direction that I would have the opportunity to be a mobile journalist, filming on the go, reporting remotely and staying on the cutting edge of both breaking news and the newest technology. I spent four years in a journalism program that I absolutely loved, a year working abroad as a journalist, and four years as the editor in chief of a local newspaper where I had all the freedom, I could ever want to write stories I loved.
Ten years out of college, I’m no longer working as a journalist, because advancements in technology also meant that “anyone” could become a journalist (see: Twitter) and independent newspapers simply could not keep up with big corporations. And on top of no longer being a journalist, I am also no longer dancing. Above everything else, it kills me to have lost my first love.
In this country, parents put far too much pressure on their children to do the “right” thing with their lives. For generations, people simply chose a career, and stuck to it. That is simply no longer the way of the world, and today’s parents do not understand that. It is far more common for today’s 20- and 30-year-olds to spend two to three years working at a company – working hard, I might add – and then discover that they have another passion they would like to pursue. Gone are the days of life-long careers, and I believe that is the way it should be.
Today’s parents are stuck in an outdated mindset of forcing their children to live out the dreams that they were not able to fulfill themselves (see: being a doctor/lawyer/TV news anchor), and whether they are aware of it or not, they guide their children to make life decisions that ultimately lead them away from the things that will give them a fulfilled life. When children are forced into a life and a career that they did not want, and they are not passionate about, they have been set up for failure. And when they fail, and they come home to their parents, they are faced with disappointment. How brutally unfair is it for parents to force their children into a career they did not want, only to see them fail, and force their children to disappoint them?
Parents, it is long past time for you to step up and put your children first. Maybe your child has no idea at all what they want to be “when they grow up” – if we are truly honest with ourselves, do any of us really know? – and that is okay. Maybe they want to be a mailperson, a barista, an astronaut, a doctor, a journalist, a ballerina. Whatever it is that they are passionate about, love them, support them, lift them up and help them follow their passions.
To those of you out there who are still dreaming, keep on dreaming. You never know when you might find a new passion, when you might discover someone who shares the same passion as you. If the thing you are interested in does not exist right now, or there are not jobs in that are right now, create them! You have the power to create your own future so go for it.
As for me, with decades and decades ahead of me to change my mind a million times about what I want to be when I grow up, I am excited for what the future holds. I have started teaching ballet classes to young students in the hours around my day job, and I hope to inspire them to follow whatever dreams they may have as far as those dreams will take them, and when those dreams change, follow a new one.
There’s only one thing I’d like to add to this letter.
I tell you this, bright minds of this dark age
The time is now, for you to take the stage
It’s up to you, the young, to lead us all
You are the ones, with uncorrupted souls.