I’m a Baby Boomer, and I grew up in the 1960s hating the establishment. I never wanted to “work for the man,” but having a family and paying the bills forced me to compromise and work for a large employer. Or, as my parents called it, “Get a real job.”
When we meet friends at social events we typically ask the question, “So, how are the kids doing?” That’s a polite way of asking how are they earning a living. When the economy crashed in 2008, many adult children were forced to move back home, and I noticed many of them took this as an opportunity to explore some non-traditional careers. Ironically, these circumstances are very similar to what I experienced when my parents asked me, “So, when are you going to get a real job?”
One of my favorite TV shows is “Sunday Morning.” They have great human-interest stories, and they recently interviewed Dav Pilkey, creator of “Captain Underpants.” Pilkey is the author and illustrator of children’s books with 80 million copies published worldwide. He is both a personal and commercial success.
It’s significant to note that Pilkey created Captain Underpants in second grade — and his teachers discouraged him from writing his silly stories! Fortunately, Pilkey’s parents supported his creative talents, and they encouraged Pilkey to continue writing and follow his dreams.
Thank you, Mom and Dad.
Here’s my point. If your children have special talents that are somewhat non-traditional, maybe this can become a motivation to help them develop character traits that will pay dividends their entire lives. If they want to succeed as a writer, dancer, musician, photographer or professional athlete — just to name just a few — help them learn and appreciate what it will take to make this happen.
Here are some strategies you should consider to get the ball rolling.
Identify people in your community who have experience in whatever career your child finds interesting. Use the Internet and social network to find these people and make a personal connection. Email, Google Hangouts and Facetime provide access to people you may normally not contact. In some instances, these opportunities lead to face-to-face meetings. Successful people will tell you they had several mentors throughout their career, trusted individuals who are there to answer the hard questions and warn them of the potential pitfalls of pursing a non-traditional career. Don’t be offended. Mentors don’t replace parents, but they are an outside resource with greater creditability in the eyes of our children.
Someone once defined hard work as “doing the things you don’t want to do, when you have to do them.” It’s not uncommon for children to assume doing what they love to do isn’t hard work. I was a part-time musician for 25 years, and many of my friends thought that it was easy money getting paid to play 3-4 hours at a wedding. They didn’t appreciate the fact the band practiced at least one night every week. Some jobs required a one- or two-hour commute, and we had to arrive an hour early to set up, another hour to pack, then a long commute home. I missed many family social events because I would be working on Friday and Saturday nights, and this took its toll on the family. I still love my music, but earning a living included doing many things I didn’t enjoy.
Discouraging children when they display an interest in a non-traditional career path hasn’t worked very well. I think a better strategy is to embrace the teachable moment and help them discover that pursing any career, even one you love, is extremely hard work. Help them develop the self-discipline to work hard and you never know, just like Dav Pilkey, they may succeed. If they don’t, they’re going to appreciate the fact you supported them and helped them at least try. And at the end of the day, that’s the best we parents can do.