I come from a generation that was told that everything was in reach, if only we would follow our Lisa Frank-hued dreams to the end of the magical aspiration rainbow where they converged at Happytime Station. Astronaut? Of course. Ballerina? No sweat. President of the United States of America? Yes, yes, yes! Your heart will never lead you astray!
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we live in a world with a serious dearth of Presidential Ballerinas. Of course, that’s not for lack of trying, and now people see our generation as “generation me”. The generation that can’t stop sending tweets long enough to put in a hard day’s work at the Imaginary Job Factory, doesn’t buy enough houses, and won’t start making lots of babies already, damn. It’s not uter-you, ladies.
In truth, I know a lot of people my age that are extremely hard workers, way less self-obsessed than GIRLS would have you believe, and would buy a house in a heartbeat if only the Imaginary Job Factory hadn’t tragically shut down years ago.
If Millennials complain, we are usually told that if we hadn’t gotten our Bachelor’s Degree in stupid things like Puppetry or Public Education, we’d be perfectly employable. Fair enough, and that would have been some stellar advice back when we were all riding the dream pony to A-for-Effortville back in the day.
I didn’t really follow my dreams. I followed a boy to art school which is almost the same thing only way dumber. If I ever meet someone thinking of following a boy to art school, I will tell them how stupid they’re being because I owe it to past me.
I will be the first to admit that I didn’t make a wise choice when thinking of my future career. I started out in Fashion Design and then switched my major when I had my daughter, entering the very in-demand and high paying field of Art History. Yes, I love history. No, I shouldn’t have spent money or time on a degree in Art History, and sometime between looking at unpaid internships that required a Master’s Degree and five years of experience to do preservation work on priceless artifacts for free and my fifteenth failed attempt at landing an administrative assistant position, I began to wonder who allowed me to do such a thing.
Well, I did. I’ll own it. I had no direction, no parental pressure, no real guidance beyond “Do what you love, and you’ll never be bored!” It honestly never occurred to me that I would totally end up bored anyway because unemployment isn’t exactly thrilling.
So that’s why I will offer my kid what I didn’t have: a voice of reason and a modicum of common sense.
My husband also went to art school. He worked hard and earned his degree and got a job he loves in his field and he would still tell you not to waste your time on a BA in Game Design because while you need a lot of things to make great art; time, talent, resources…the only thing you don’t need is a degree.
My husband has a very specific degree in a very unstable economy and I can tell you that leaving Texas would be harder than a sunbaked cow turd on a rock farm because all of the jobs he is qualified for are mostly here.
So, I’m going to tell my kid that she needs something practical—but not soul sucking—to fall back on when her plans of becoming World Jump Roping Champion fall through.
I don’t plan on deadening her spirit or taking her paintbrushes away and replacing them with a protractor. That’s just mean, and the desire to create and play and have fun should never be stomped out of a kid. I just tell her that if she likes drawing, architecture is a job where she gets to do it all day. All those concoctions she makes in the kitchen? Chemistry is always an option. I’m lucky enough to have a child who does math problems for fun. We can work with that. And she always manages to logically and successfully argue the merits of an extra scoop of ice cream after I say no, so why not law?
If we do insist on having our kids tell us what they want to be when they grow up from the time they can talk, can’t we at least be pragmatic about it? For some reason, it’s not okay to tell your kids that money is a thing they might eventually need. I get weird looks from people when I admit that I don’t hide this from my daughter, but I won’t apologize for it. We tell our kids all kind of ugly truths. We tell them that guinea pigs aren’t immortal and that bad people exist and that they need to be safe and careful and brush their teeth. So what? Teaching them stranger danger is smart, but telling them that they’ll eventually need to buy expensive things like gas and food and that performance art isn’t necessarily lucrative is traumatizing?
Obviously, money isn’t everything. That’s not the lesson I want to impart, although usually when someone accuses me of making money too important, it’s someone who’s always had enough of it. This isn’t a snobby jab at menial jobs, either, because I’ve done my share of those, and the people who work them deserve at least respect if not a massive pay raise.
I just don’t think it’s fair to tell children that as long as they work hard and are super passionate, everything will fall into place, because that’s not true. That’s not pessimism. It’s the facts.
I would be a major dick if I told my daughter that if she is passionate enough, she can make a sparkling pink unicorn appear because she would be totally crushed when it never happened. And yet it is somehow laudable for me to encourage her to put all of her hopes, time, money, and effort into being a prima ballerina—the sparkling pink unicorn of careers?
What if she doesn’t make it? If it’s true that passion and hard work will make your dreams come true, than you have to accept the opposite is just as true and that if you fail to make your dreams a reality, you just weren’t passionate and hardworking enough. That’s actually kind of shitty and insulting.
I guess all I’m saying is why can’t we do both things? Why can’t we encourage our kids to do the things they love and the things they need to do for survival and comfort? Be an Artist and an engineer, and you’ll never have to be a Sandwich Artist engineering meatball subs unless you want to be.
Okay, you can direct all of your hatred to the comments now. I can handle the criticism. After all, I went to art school.
(Image: getty images)