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!