“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Such a simple question to be followed up with a conversation with a child that could last for hours if you wanted it to. My mother tells me that I wanted to be a garbage man (maybe because she used to always tease me that Grouch from Sesame Street was my true father), an astronaut, an inventor, and a race car driver, but most of all, I wanted to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Personally, I remember having the dreams to be many different things, and the encouragement to become all of them……That is until around 8th Grade.
It is clear to me that from 8th grade on, the thoughts and dreams about my future was systematically redirected by the adults around me. My dream world that allowed me to believe I could achieve anything had slowly transformed into a reality that told me I could only accomplish what others would limit me to. However, I was born with, or developed, a stubborn personality as a young child. It may have been from moving around so much as an Air Force Brat, or just simply a trait passed on from my parents. Either way, I have been called obnoxious, thick-headed, opinionated, and many other names, but it is a trait that has allowed me to accomplish many goals that adults told me I would never do. Dreaming to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed me to overcome my size and weight disadvantage to not only play in High School, but also to play and excel in two sports in College. When I look back, I was driven to succeed by these “Dream Killers”.
Being a kid today, I don’t know if I would have been as successful with adults telling me “You can’t”, more than “You can!” It starts with teachers wanting to know “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and replying “Well, that’s a great dream to have, but the chances are slim, so what job do you want to do?” Even the coaches talk negatively about anyone’s future in athletics, “There are thousands of kids out there who are bigger, faster, and stronger than you.” Today, the difference is that these talks happen much earlier when these kids have no option but to believe the adults! We have become a society of dream killers, or fantasy supporters, for kids as young as 6, 5, or even 4- and both are extremely dangerous to the future of our youth.
The dream killers have evolved into opportune predators on young dreams. These adults no longer wait to kill the dreams of children, but rather suffocate the dream before it has a chance to even breathe. They come in many forms, with many different messages to kill the dreams: Anything less than straight A’s is not good enough; You have to go to college to be successful; You will be lucky to play in high school; You can’t raise a family doing that. The fantasy supporters can afflict even more damage with their message of support. These are the adults who will encourage and support a young mind blindly. There are no mixed messages here, just one of full support constantly: You are the best!; You are going to be the next _______; Nobody is even close to being as good as you. The danger either way is that we are limiting our children by focusing their minds into our reality. By doing so, we limit the thoughts of imagination and creativity to whatever our vision is, which denies each child the given right to explore and choose to live life as they see fit.
Why have we become so focused on the adult future of our children rather than living in the moment with them? Why do adults feel the need to plan a future for kids that are 10-20 years away? How many of you knew what your passion would be at age 6? 10? Heck, even at 18? The danger I see is that we will have a generation full of regret and second guessing, and this is a dangerous state of mind. Our country has been built on strong-minded individuals who believe that passion and determination teamed up with great working habits will equal success. When we look at our leaders and innovative thinkers, we do not have minds that regret or second guess their decisions of the past. They understand that decisions and choices are made with details available at that time with the resolve that it is what is best at that time. Hindsight is 20/20 but it does not mean that we should relive our decisions. A generation that regrets and second guesses their present, because surrounding adults limited them in the past, will limit the success and advancement of, not only, their lives but the lives of those around them.
We must be careful to make sure we balance our encouragement of our children with a dose of reality. However, we must never limit their imagination, creativity, and dreams. Children have the world at their fingers, and many different paths to choose from. No matter how our lives are in the present and no matter how our past helped to shape who we are today, our dedication needs to be focused on supporting our kids to explore on their individual journey. On the path of life, we should never be the leader making decision ahead of them or the advisor that guides them, but rather the supporter following behind them who can advise when needed. To raise fierce leaders and innovators, we must allow our children to dream, and make mistakes so they may learn that success is simply about getting up one more time than you fall!
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