Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Probably the best sandwich related career advice I've given my kids

Most nights before bed the kids and I watch Wheel of Fortune. I consider this to be quality time as Wheel of Fortune contains all of the components of an educational activity; spelling, critical thinking skills, and the perils of excessive wheel spinning which often lead to bankruptcy. But tonight, Wheel of Fortune surpassed even my expectations as it presented me with a teachable moment that could quite possibly change the course of my children's lives. 

During a commercial featuring someone dressed as a sandwich, I looked at my daughter and said, "That's why you go to college -- so you never have to be the guy who dresses up as a sandwich."

My very wise ten-year old daughter replied, "I can't even dream why someone would want to be the guy who dresses up as a sandwich.  I'm going to college." 

It would have been easy to end the conversation there, but that isn't the kind of parent I am. I'm the parent who goes deeper. I'm the mom who is intentional. Remember, I'm the one having Wheel of Fortune time with my kids.

"Anna, you can be anything you dream. Unless your dream is to be the guy who dresses up as a sandwich. Then it's time to get a new dream."

That's the point when my son walked in the room. He had been brushing his teeth, you know, because it was a commercial break and he didn't want to miss any quality Wheel of Fortune time. How was he supposed to know that life changing conversations were happening during the two minutes (okay, minute and a half . . . okay, who are we kidding, 45 seconds) that he was fighting gingivitis? Thankfully, his big sister, understanding the gravity of the wisdom I had just imparted unto her, laid it out for him.

"Ryan, you can be anything you dream. Unless your dream is to be the guy who dresses up as a sandwich. Then it's time to get a new dream." 

 "What? I want to be the guy who dresses up like a sandwich! How do I do that? Cool!"

I would like to say that his enthusiasm for dressing up like meat and bread is because he is six, but the truth is, my children are just different people. Really different. Anna is always going to dream of high achievement and the fastest way to get there by following all the rules and Ryan is going to dream of ninjas and light sabers and who would win in a ninja verses light saber battle.  

So as a firm believer that college is a better career path than life as a PB&J, how does a parent encourage their children to follow their dreams while still pushing them to be all they can be (I apologize to the Army for the copyright infringement)?

To answer this, I don't have to look any farther than my own mom. 

One of the first things I ever remember my mom telling me went like this: "You are going to grow up, graduate high school, go to college, graduate from college, fall in love, get married, and have a baby. In that order."  

It seems my son takes after me in the dreaming category.  I didn't really ever dream of college.  I dreamed of being a country singer, Ms. America, a hairdresser, and the first woman President of the United States -- in no particular order. 

Even though my mom was determined for me to go to college, she never discouraged any of those dreams. When I wanted to sing, she encouraged me to sing in the choir at school and at church. She let me cut the hair of every Barbie I owned. She didn't ever put me in pageants, although in hindsight, I probably need to thank her instead of fault her for that.

But she kept pushing college. She and my dad told me they would pay my way wherever I wanted to go and that I should pursue a degree in whatever interested me. It didn't matter to my mother what my degree was in, only that I had one. When I was 17 and wanted to be a hairdresser, my mom calmly told me that if I graduated from college and still wanted to be a hairdresser, she would be my first customer. And I believe she would have been.

This belief was confirmed when after six years my brother graduated college with not one, but two degrees, and then decided he wouldn't use either of them. Instead he took a year off to be an actor, something which he never studied. He was completely broke, and my mom was completely dumbfounded, but still my parents drove from Montana to Texas to watch him every chance they got and bragged about him in their Christmas letters. Oh, I'm sure my dad got an earful from my mom at night, but to us, she was nothing but supportive. And eventually, my brother gave up being an actor and found his calling teaching music and theater using his degrees.

Ironically, my brother was the child who always knew exactly what he wanted to do. Growing up, he was the one with the clear dream, much like my daughter. And me, the child who didn't want to go to college? I started using my degree before I even finished. I got an internship at 20 and have been in the same career for 19 years. And I have loved every minute of it. 

So what was the secret? My mom didn't diminish my childhood dreams. She never told me they were silly or that I was silly for having them. But when she sent me to college, she expanded my capacity to dream bigger, and when I did, I found what I was really meant to do, and for that I'm ever in her debt. Although the first woman president is still on the table.

It's a tricky business, parenting. Especially when you have kids with big dreams and even more when those big dreams don't match yours. If my mother taught me anything it's that you have to let your kids be who they are and follow their dreams, unless their dream is to be the guy who dresses up like the sandwich. Then it's time to get a new dream.