April 21, 2011

Mixed Messages

Would anyone ever go up to Annie Lennox or Bono and say, "Come on now, admit it, you made a poor career choice"? I don't think so. How about Colin Firth or Judy Dench?  Claude Monet or Jackson Pollock (if they were still alive in person)? Nope. How about  J.K. Rowling or Stephen King? Never. At some point in their young lives, I am pretty certain that someone, somewhere along their road to success, once tried to dissuade them from following their dreams. I think most of us are relieved they ignored that advice and got on with using their God-given talents.

If our kids are to believe the message in nearly every Disney movie and Hollywood film, they should feel mightily encouraged to follow their dreams, and up until the last year of highschool, my son was getting that message from his school teachers. He was even depicted, playing his guitar, in a slide show on the theme of 'following your dreams' at last year's graduation ceremony.  And then, when he was well into grade twelve (his last year) someone implied it was time to 'get serious' and think about making sensible decisions concerning his future. That someone was the overseer of the Graduation Transitions Portfolio Project, a government initiative meant to get kids to align their post-high school plans (or come up with a convincing story if they haven't got any). In theory, I suppose this is a good idea, especially if your child has firm plans to become a teacher, a nurse, or an electrician and needs steering in the right direction. But an artist? There don't seem to be any boxes to tick for that career choice.

We have raised our children to apply themselves, to strive, to work hard, to appreciate and use their talents to the best of their ability, to believe in themselves, and to have faith in the future. I have kids with all kinds of dreams and goals. At present, the youngest wants to be a writer when she grows up. My other daughter is interested in cinematography and photography and horses, usually all at the same time. One of my sons is a living catalogue of boroque music, plays violin in a community orchestra and has a strong interest in archaeology, and my eldest is already making plans to record his first CD of original songs. I have no idea if these interests and passions will be their 'jobs' for life, but it is exciting to think of the possiblilities inherent in each field - and isn't being young all about that wide open sense of a world of possibilities?

The Graduation Transitions Portfolio Project involves gathering applicable schoolwork and projects from a student's history in order to prove their interest in a particular area. When all the materials are assembled in a neat and presentable folder, each student undergoes a dress rehearsal interview with the overseeing teacher before they present their portfolios to a table of local figureheads from the town.  My eldest procrastinated on his portfolio but pulled it together over a few weeks before the dress rehearsal.  He provided recordings of his music, documentation of his application to a post-secondary music program and interview, newspaper articles and posters from his many performances, and a reflective essay on his high school years and his plans for the future which included pursuing a career in music.  He had everything organized, attractively presented, and on the morning of his rehearsal interview, he donned a white collared shirt and a grey wool suit jacket over his jeans, brushed his long blonde hair and headed off with his portfolio tucked under his arm.

When he returned home after school, I asked him how the dress rehearsal had gone.  "Pretty much as I had expected.  Mr. _____ said I had done a good job on my portfolio and everything was in order, but he dismissed my plans to become a musician, even though I gave him examples of people I knew who made a good living doing just that, like that drummer I told you about in Vancouver who lives very well of playing on other musicians' records, Mom.  He didn't come out directly and tell me my dreams were unrealistic, but he did argue that they weren't much of a career choice and that I should get real and consider other options."

My son reflected quite philosophically on the whole situation.  "I didn't expect him to understand, but didn't he have dreams at some point? Oh wait.  He's probably bitter because he ended up working at our little school."  (That's our boy, always at the ready with a sarcastic quip, but it is a sign of his well developed disdain for the status quo and all its suppressive tendencies.)  Then our son went on to say that he could understand the teacher's hesitation if he had just suddenly come up with a grandiose plan to become a rock star without any musical skill or previous inclinations at all to pursue such an endeavor.  The teacher was new to the school this year, and perhaps knows little of our son's love affair with music.  It really is his life.  I'm not saying my son will be the next big thing, but shouldn't he at least be given the encouragement to try?  He has been champing at the bit to leave school and get started.  And for crying out loud, it's not like he's got a wife and kids at home to support.

When children are spreading their wings and beginning to prepare for the launch out of the nest into the big wide world, shouldn't we adults be their main cheering section?  We know from experience they may fall to the ground, so then we should fly down to meet them and nudge them back up again, over and over until they are flying on their own.  It would be unnatural to say, 'Well son, if you want to fly then you're nothing but a dreamer.  Better not try it, boy.  Better stay safe here up in the tree'.

I have a theory about the up and coming generations.  I think part of their job is to critically examine the legacy of their parents' generation, to cut through the B.S., because there will always be a bit of that, and adopt the good. I do believe that is exactly how many artists and visionaries get their start.

So, Mr. _____, just try and stop them!

Here's a great performance of the Supertramp song 'Dreamer'. 

And by the way,  A VERY HAPPY EASTER TO ALL!


  1. Spot on girl. I'm very much afraid though I would in no way be as sanguine. I would have gone to the school and riped him open.
    Another adult has no right to interfere with your hard work. And if he felt that the kids dreams and intentions were a bit wispy he could have presented his information under the heading 'options'. All eggs in one basket type of conversation. Better have a second string in the bow.
    It's not his job to practice social engineering.

  2. my son also aspired to do something with his music - in fact he has a bachelors degree in Music Industry Management, but, because of the dream dashers no matter how much courage we try to give him he is too afraid to put himself out there and fail - so he dreams while he manages a movie rental store.

  3. Rebecca...this is so well said. YOU ARE CORRECT in every way and handled this VERY well. Why squelch his dreams? We do NOT know what the future holds and he should PLUG on and work hard for HIS dream!
    Shame on Mr. Teacher Dude...he is in the wrong job.
    You are a good Momma!

  4. Vince: Exactly! And have no fear, I am going to find a way to confront the teacher before all is said and done.

    E.P.: Fear is such a devilish beast. I do hope your son can find a way to quell his (it took me years, by the way, to quell mine) and put himself out there. The thing I have learned is that I don't have to be THE BEST at something to succeed. I will have succeeded just because I am working away and improving all the time at something I love to do and not hiding my light under a bushel :)

    Jill: Thank you! XOXO

  5. Oh Rebecca - what a sad, sad day for "education". I'm hoping that interview is the impetus I so often read about from people who have lived and are living their dreams. So many of them talk about that one single person (or sometimes, many people) who tried to dissuade them from their dreams and made them even more passionate about pursuing them. The thing I've always loved about your kids (and your family) is your passion, for music, for sport, for art, for life in general and it is here that we so often fail in schools - we forget about the passion focussing instead on the "content" and the compliance. I know your oldest boy will chase his dreams with all his might and that this will not set him back but there are kids out there who would take that message to heart. There are kids out there whose parents think the same way as that teacher. Thank heavens there are kids out there (always have been and always will be) who do not listen to the nay-sayers in life. I have a favourite quote that sums it all up for me:
    "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
    If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life."
    Here's to that indesstructible spirit and supporting adults in your childrens' lives!!

  6. Becca,

    What an eloquent expression of the dilemmas. As another mother of children with aspirations in the arts, I am keenly aware of the struggle between being practical and supporting a youngster's dreams.

    There is a tendency with parents to shelter our children wherever possible, but if by sheltering them we remove their aspirations and beloved dreams, what good is that? Is the possibility of experiencing disappointment so terrible that we need to keep them from making any attempts at following dreams?

    I love your flying metaphor. If we allow them to fly, they might indeed fall, and if they do, they will need to reconsider and chart out new plans. But if we keep them from flying, well, then they just won't ever get to fly. Booo.

    BTW, our own high school counselor told me not to bother being a musician. I think that when I said "Musician", she thought I meant "rock star", but even when I clarified my intent to play with orchestras, she still told me that was impractical. So I got a practical science degree, but I can't say it helped me get any professional jobs.

    Anyway, it sounds like your son has been thorough in doing his research and knowing his options. He probably knows a lot more about it than Mr. _____. I conjecture that Mr. _____ might be speaking from his own assumptions, rather than from a base of solid research. Good luck to your son, and I look forward to seeing more of his future adventures.


  7. School programs should do everything possible to help students reach their full potential, and to recognize individual skills and aptitudes along the way. And, so true, students need encouragement and guidance as they make some of their own decisions.

  8. This guy probably thought he was doing your kid a favor. And in a way he was. The world is full of people that are going to day, "Artist? Get a real job." He might as well get used to it.

    A guidance counselor in high school told my husband not to bother with college, but to apply to truck driving school. As he tells it, he sat there in that office thinking, "This guy has no idea what he is talking about."

    It's true my husband's grade weren't stellar, but he knew himself, and he knew that this was bad advice. (I was rather impressed with his self-assurance.) He's a lawyer now, third in his class he was.

    I picture your son the same way. This teacher obviously does not "get" him. His advice can't be trusted.

    I hope he follows his talent wherever it takes him, even if, eventually, he chooses to get a "real job" (which I hope he doesn't have to do).

  9. It's a fabulous time of life, full of possibilities and potential pitfalls. How many of us can look back to those years and not say I wash I'd done this or that. I firmly believe in letting dreams roam free and giving encouragement to young ones to be all they can be but above all to be happy.

    We measure success in such narrow ways. Who are really successful - those with the big mortgages and high pressure jobs or those who have become good parents, those who add value to the lives of others through their art or endeavour. Those who simply have been true to themselves and followed their heart.

    Two school friends of my wife - one was always playing football, missing homework, late for class and the other was always playing snooker. Both were regularly berated for being unrealistic and wasting valuable time on these hobbies. One is now a millionaire snooker player and the other manages the Scotland football team.

    Who knows what the future can hold?

  10. Well its for certain that your son won't be Hot for Teacher, see

    Worked for Van Halen back in the '80s. and how about Dominic Frasca, see


    Or John Butler Trio, see

    Only one phrase for it: "Don't let the bastards get you down"



  11. ugh how can a teacher do that...it makes no sense to me....chase those dreams...too many people settle for and end up in jobs they loathe...


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!