Can’t take the road if you don’t know it’s there

dreamWhat do you want to be when you grow up? We ask children the question all of the time. With the Dude getting ready for college, it’s sort of omnipresent in our house.

I was chatting with a young composer and his parents over coffee a few weeks ago. I asked his mother if she had any sense that he might be musical when he was young. She told me that when he was small, he’d  cover his ears and cry when the choir sang at church each week. She asked him why, and he said “because they are out of tune!” When he told her that she was humming a song in the incorrect key, she knew he had a gift.

I think my husband was that way. He liked to build with Erector sets and gears and engines. His father tells me that he was always methodical and driven to get things just right. he always loved the concept of space, and alternative worlds, and science fiction. Not surprisingly, he has a PhD in Computer Science. He builds worlds with programming languages, and systems. He is brilliant.

How great it must be to have a sense of who you are and what you’re meant to be from such an early age. When I was little, I remember playing house, and school, and nurse. I remember wanting to be an actress, or a singer, or an ice skater. I wanted to be an artist, and a writer, and an interior designer. Maybe a chef, or a teacher. I haven’t changed much. I still want to be everything, to do everything. I don’t want to choose.

When my son was little, he wanted to be an excavator (yes, an excavator), then an astronaut, then a garbage man, then the guy that waves the cars forward at the car wash. Dream big, little man. Then he wanted to be a soldier, a filmmaker and then a teacher. Now he’s interested in advertising and marketing.

When he gets to college, assuming he’s still interested in business, he’ll have his classes pretty much set for him. Undergraduate business programs look more like MBA programs these days, with tons of prerequisites that need to be completed in the first two years. It doesn’t leave much time for exploration. Luckily I wasn’t locked in too early–I went into college as an accounting major and it took two years to figure out that I really had no interest in accounting. I switched over to Marketing. I’m not even sure there way any paperwork involved.

I know that it’s practical, all of this specialization. But if I don’t know what I want to be at 48, how is my son supposed to know at 16? I feel like I’ve redefined myself over and over again–shifted and blurred and come back into focus as something new. It’s part of what makes life interesting. I worry that our culture pushes kids to make mature, adult decisions before they are ready and mistakes it for progress. I wish my son had more time to dream, and ponder and see alternative futures. Right now, he wants to get done. Get to the answer, move on to the next question until whatever he’s doing is over, so he can get back to playing basketball, or X-box, or watch videos on YouTube.

There is so much more to life than being done. The doing should be the thing, yes? The joy in the doing?  The roads may look pretty defined at the moment, but I hope my son keeps an eye open for a hidden trail or two. You never know what you might find. Could be a case of poison ivy. Then again, it might be some quiet tranquil spot where stories grow. Oh wait, this is his paradise–a KFC and an X-Box. At least for now. Tomorrow it might be something different. Like I said, dream big little man. Dream big.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph – “Dreaming” by H. KoppDelaney © 2008 Creative Commons


6 comments on “Can’t take the road if you don’t know it’s there

  1. Julie says:


    “There’s always been a lot of confusion around the word “feminist”, but surely it could boil down to just this: a feminist is anyone who believes a woman’s place is where she chooses it to be.” The Guardian Review, 2.7.11

  2. Jodi Pyle says:

    We are on a similar journey with our 17 year old son. Just went on his “first” college visit this past weekend (he’s seen others while we were on the search for his older sister’s school) and he’s made his decision. I also have lamented how it seems kids are pushed to declare a major so early when they need time to explore. Here’s to hoping they have their minds opened by some new and exciting conversations outside of class if not necessarily in class and thereby find the spark that lights the fire of learning within.

  3. Betsy says:

    I enjoy reading your posts each time they come to my email inbox…
    I am remembering when our eldest went to college…we ahve come quite a long way. Third child just graduated from college in anthropolgy. And it is amazing what she can do with a degree in THAT! She has a great job paying $15 an hour for a starting wage. Her minor was communications and she is working in a marketing position. She is a hard worker and lifts burdens for whomever she is employed. I wish I could pay her a great wage, I would get SO much done when she lived at home!!! Actually, she would help me get so much done!
    Have a great day!

  4. This is one reason we Ontarians were sad when Grade 13/OAC was eliminated in 2003. That fifth year of high school led to a bit of extra maturity before university — more than you might expect, in some cases. The extra year at high school, and then a gap year for some (two of my kids did that) makes for a lot better perspective when choosing courses.

    I really do feel for the kids who have to define themselves while still … well, while still kids.

  5. Melissa Behm says:

    Love this perspective. Totally agree.

  6. ‘I feel like I’ve redefined myself over and over again–shifted and blurred and come back into focus as something new. It’s part of what makes life interesting’ Oh, for our kids to have the open-ended permission we had; and continue to have/give ourselves; to reinvent our lives. YES!!!!

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