Do images of horrific crashes flash before your eyes when your child announces, “I want to be a pilot”?
Has one of your child’s teachers ever suggested the child consider painting as a career—and your reaction was an indignant, “Don’t you dare plant such ideas in her head; no child of mine will be a starving artist!”?
Have you saved for your child’s college education for years, only to have him announce he isn’t going, but plans to start his own business instead?
Even if you answer “no” to all the above, chances are you don’t picture your children’s future careers as matching their current hobbies. Most parents, consciously or subconsciously, expect their kids to earn college degrees by age twenty-two, and then to take well-paying corporate office jobs, or perhaps become doctors or lawyers or teachers. That may be the typical career path in middle-class Western society, but there aren’t as many “typical” people as you might think. Only 33.4 percent of Americans over age 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher—and the remaining 66.6 percent include some of the highest-earning CEOs in the world.
And if all the adult population were doctors, lawyers, teachers, and office workers, where would we be without:
Everyone knows this, but somehow, parents find it difficult to picture their children being happy in anything but a “typical, safe, financially secure” career. The truth is, even the most “typical” careers aren’t guaranteed physically safe or financially secure. They can even have the opposite effect, driving those who find them tediously boring to drink, depression, or suicide.
People who love their jobs—no matter how unusual, low-paying, or unpredictable the work—are physically healthier and less anxious than people who live only for the weekends. If you want your children to live long and happy, don’t think about how they’re going to earn a living: think about how they’re going to make a life. Watch what they enjoy doing in their spare time, and encourage them to think about those interests when planning what they want to do full-time someday. Whatever they show talent in, or even just say they want to be, provide opportunities to explore what the job is really like (the good and the bad) and how people get from high school to there.
And—very important—never ridicule or panic over a dream. With small children, it’s easy to chuckle at “I’m going to be a race car driver” announcements, figuring they’ll learn better soon enough. But if someone still has that idea when he’s fifteen, his parents can become hysterical trying to talk him out of it. Don’t let a panic reaction convince you your child is already as good as dead or destitute if she doesn’t get that crazy idea out of her head. Starting an argument will get her defenses up and only make it more difficult to accurately assess risks, appropriateness, and alternatives.
Besides, that money you didn’t spend on college may help you live long and proud of your opera star.