One of my earliest aspirations was to become "an engine driver," which I have to translate for my American readers as a "locomotive engineer." I loved trains; which kid doesn't! Upon noticing that most engine drivers had on their heads handkerchiefs or small towels knotted in a way that held it in place, I tried to emulate that too.
I suppose my parents and the grandmothers and the aunts humored me with their comments, but I don't ever recall them telling me, "what a great idea. Yes, you can do it. Make that dream come true."
I am now older. I sometimes ask students what they want to do. Or, those rare moments when a student comes to talk with me about career plans. I encourage them and their ideas, however bizarre and strange they sometimes sound to my ears. But, I add a whole bunch more that makes them aware of many aspects that they might have overlooked. Because, I don't believe it is productive to merely tell young adults "you can be whatever you want to be." It does not work that way. I then might even provide them with evidence--from studies and news articles. Of course, most students do not visit with me again after that and I wonder why!
It was, therefore, encouraging to read this essay with which I have nothing to disagree. The author quotes Richard Bolles, who authored What color is your parachute?
Bolles bristles at the suggestion that he’s telling people to be ‘anything’ they want to be. ‘I hate the phrase,’ he says. ‘We need to say to people: Go for your dreams. Figure out what it is you most like to do, and then let’s talk about how realistically you can find some of that, or most of that, but maybe not all of that.’Which is no different from what I tell youngsters.
The dangers are legion. Unrealistic plans lead to a waste of time and money. When a C‑student spins her wheels planning on medical school, other, more lucrative and realistic careers – say in business or education – fall by the wayside. And the ambition gap has led to increased dissatisfaction across working life.Boy have I encountered students with expectations that simply did not match their abilities nor their work ethic. It frustrates and worries me when faculty and staff continue to feed those false expectations instead of giving them a reality check.
At what point do we abandon possible for probable, and encourage our children to do the same?When do you tell a kid, "son, you are not going to make it to the NFL. So, figure out something else." Or "princess, I don't think you are the next Taylor Swift."
As parents, teachers, elders, we will be doing our children and youth a great disservice if we fail to provide them with such honest feedback. Mere positive and wishful thinking won't do it. I know it all too well; I am in the twilight of a mediocre career! ;)
So, any bottom-line?
‘[Adults] should say: be what you’re capable of,’ says Gwenyth, ‘not you could be anything. I’m not very good in dance. That’s like telling me I could be a professional dancer. No. No, I couldn’t be.’Come to think of it, I am not at all capable of being an engine driver. I am so thankful that I didn't try to become one!