Our generation has been telling the next since the day they were all born: do what you love.
I think they’ve gotten the message loud and clear.
Unfortunately, as we were setting a bright beacon on which they could universally focus, we didn’t necessarily include instructions on how to reach the star. We failed to offer them much of a map or for that matter, a real destination.
Big oops, actually.
We told them all—over and over—to find the one thing they loved to do above all others –as if it would hit with epiphany-like clarity, as if there were a single answer to their single selves.
Talk about setting them up for disappointment.
My college has jumped on the bandwagon we’ve all driven as parents by bringing onto campus The Dream Share Project. While the mission of the endeavor—to empower young people to chase their dreams—may seem a noble goal, more than a few of my students came out the other side of the presentation with an enough-already plea.
See, the problem with telling our kids to chase their dreams is that if they don’t quite know what those dreams are, they feel like losers. So, they grab onto something, anything, just to fit in.
One of my students recently said that she was no longer sure of her major but was too afraid to switch because the decision could affect the rest of her life. Rather than upset the status quo, she was going to stay on a forward path, with no regard to the inevitability that it might not
allow her to reach a dream which hadn’t quite become clear to her yet.
She’s not alone. Too many kids measure their goals by a furiously ticking clock which demands they decide right NOW what they’ll be doing 20 to 30 years hence. And it’s not just the college kids with this mindset; it’s high schoolers and younger. Kids not through puberty are planning
strategies now to assure some ninth grade ideal of a future success. Instead of taking chances, they’re taking courses; rather than exploring, they’re bent on securing the next rung on the imagined upward ladder –even if they’re not quite committed to the top of the climb.
Of course we want our kids to follow a passion, find a dream, do what makes them happy. But there’s a backfire in forcing the ideal down their throats. In making them choose too soon, we set some kids trotting along well-worn paths with blinders on against intruding distractions. And those distractions aren’t just of space and scenery; they’re opportunity and experience and life. While following a straight path may indeed be the quickest route to a good job, the truth
is, our kids’ dream jobs may not even exist yet. So many fields—think social media—weren’t even imagined 10 years ago. Who knows what the future holds? While dreamers of the past may have been accused of having their heads in the clouds, today’s kids may well find their dreams jobs in iClouds and beyond.