When “playing it safe” can hinder your kid’s future

Out of the blue, my 12-year old daughter, Margaret announced to me recently that she might want to go to NYU to pursue theater. This was – um – in a word? Surprising. For the last five years, she’s emphatically maintained that she wants to be an architect. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeves, so my face must have looked like she told me she wants to be a pig inseminator (it’s a real job, Google it – but only if you like eating bacon, pork chops, or ham without feeling guilty). Now let’s get a few things straight here: 1) I fully anticipated that she would change her mind at least a hundred times before she graduates from high school 2) I have nothing against NYU as a higher educational institution and have successful friends who are alums and 3) I think pursuing a theater degree makes sense if that is what you really want to do.

The odd thing is that this random declaration came a few days after a family member called me to express concern that Margaret will want to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Let’s call him “ConcernedFamilyMember.” ConcernedFamilyMember was concerned after learning that Margaret would be attending the award-winning Teenage Drama Workshop (TADW) this summer, a 60-year old program that I attended every summer growing up. And loved. His phone call was more shocking to me than Margaret’s unexpected news flash. Namely because ConcernedFamilyMember himself followed his own heart and beat the odds as an entrepreneur in the entertainment industry. When I pointed that out, and that so many of my childhood friends who I met doing theater followed their hearts are actively working in all aspects of the entertainment industry, it fell on deaf ears. ConcernedFamilyMember said the career path she should pursue is one in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).

Admittedly, ConcernedFamilyMember’s advice has merit. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects STEM-related occupations to grow more than 9 million from 2012 to 2022.  According to BLS, STEM careers are booming and are projected to be the “future of the economy” according to people like James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition in Washington, D.C.

ConcernedFamilyMember’s advice came out of love for Margaret, I am certain. But as a mother who has had first-hand experience not following my own heart until I was well into my 40’s, I won’t let my daughters make the same mistake as I did. I won’t let them not pursue a certain vocation just because there is uncertainty. Or too much competition. Or the stakes are too high. Or there is a safer path. Becasimpsons-homer-pig-card-for-birthdays-or-any-occasion-by-hallmark-0use to me, not even trying is far worse than trying and failing (which I have come to view as necessary for our children’s growth thanks to Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure).

But let’s take my own experience out of this. The recent recession proved that virtually no industry is recession proof. We all know teachers who have received pink slips. Retailing Giants like Borders have gone under. PhD’s were applying for minimum wage jobs. (And thanks to the booming on-demand business economy, they’re making more working for Uber and Lyft than teaching and publishing – go figure.)

I have faith that Margaret will follow her heart rather than succumb to fear of the unknown. And I want to be her “blue sky” when it comes to exploring her future, not her “black cloud.” Because if as the saying goes, “life’s too short to (fill in the blank)” then “life’s too long to have a lifetime of regret.” If that means Margaret ends up wanting to be a pig inseminator after all because it becomes her lifelong dream, I’ll support her 100%.  And I’ll buy her lots of latex gloves. As long as she doesn’t expect me to join her on “Bring your Mother to Work Day.” Because I don’t want to stop eating what Homer Simpson refers to as that magical animal.


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