Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Exploring Your Interests WILL Take You Places!

So what do you want to be when you grow up?

How often do kids hear this? I know I heard it, my kids heard it. And it did have an impact. From an early age we start thinking about what kind of occupation we want for our Grown Up Life.   We show an interest in the way the body works, our grandma says we should be a doctor. We want to visit the pet store, our aunt thinks we should become a vet. We like little kids, maybe a teacher.  But if we show an interest in drawing, odds are, our dad will tell us, "You can't really make a living at that." If we want to play a lot of video games, our mom reminds us that "You can't do that for the rest of your life."

So we're pushed and we're pulled and all the while, we're just curious. We find things that make us happy and we want to do them.
Michael & Tomohiro

My son Michael, knew he was interested in travel. He especially liked to learn about other cultures. We had an exchange student from Japan when he was 12, and that was clearly the jumping off place. At 16, he went to Japan himself for 2 months as an exchange student. In college, he took a semester and studied anthropology and archaeology in Belize. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and a plan to become a Travel Writer. He's currently in the Peace Corps and working with high school students in Nicaragua.
Katie in CATS
My daughter Katie wanted to be on a stage from the very beginning. She'd sit on the counter in the bathroom and watch herself belt out songs from Fievel Goes West. She had an enormous ability to memorize lines. She performed in the living room along with shows on TV, moved into skits in our backyard with friends, then on to community theatre. Her interest in acting and singing continued to grow and she did more shows, took more lessons, landed some commercials, and even films. Because her desires didn't waver, she now is studying at the New York Film Academy and living her dream.
Alyssa applying Zombie Make-up
Alyssa was the one who was most interested in pop culture and the fashion/make-up world. She taped pictures of movie stars with their beautiful hair and make up all over her room. Her interest continued.  At a farmer's market in Austin, I spoke with a woman who was making her own natural make-up. I noticed that she did classes for younger teens. I was immediately drawn to that because I was secretly hoping Alyssa would curb her heavy eyeliner obsession. We signed up for the class and the woman offered Alyssa an internship in her shop. Alyssa learned how to make the make-up, how to apply it on models. She worked with photographers, learned about lighting,  and worked backstage at fashion shows. She had found her niche.  It was a natural step for her to go to a local cosmetology school and learn more. So when she found a Vidal Sassoon school nearby, she signed up and started classes.
Alyssa & her guinea pig 
Just to be clear though, each them explored all kinds of different paths before choosing the one they are on.  They took other classes, got jobs, joined teams, but over time, their interest in these particular areas continued to rise to the top, while the others fell away. A great example of this is Alyssa's love of animals. From an early age, she spent hours playing with pets. She read books about them, she cut out pictures of them... if there were animals, she wanted to see them! Later, she discovered horses and wanted to be around them all the time. Because people often told her, "You should be a vet," she started to tell people that's what she wanted to do. But she really didn't know what vets did…until we moved to a ranch in Texas. Her horse had turned his head into a Mesquite tree thorn. The vet had to come out to the house.  I will spare you the gruesome details, but after watching the vet remove the thorn, Alyssa decided she did NOT want to be a vet. She would continue her love of animals, but dealing with sick or injured animals was not her thing. Good to know before we spent thousands of dollars at Texas A & M for vet school!

What if we, as adults, stopped the conversations about what someone is going to be. And instead, just enjoy the moment. Play with the puppies. Find some cool drawing books. Learn to play the video game with your child.  Eliminate any pressures. No big plans. Just stay with it until it either branches into something else, or continues to go deeper. Because life works itself out. And without a lot of nudging in various directions, kids really WILL know what they like to do by the time they're in their late teens. They will have had an opportunity to really get to know themselves and their true interests. 

Sometimes, when you read about kids going off to college, you hear parents say, "How do they know what they want to be at 18?"  But kids who've been given the opportunity to freely explore what they like to do in their younger years, OFTEN know what they want to try for a career - or at least where they want to start. They just needed  that time and space to listen to their own inclinations without a heavy influence on what might be a successful career move.

Here we are at Olive Garden, Summer 2011
Michael is about to leave for the Peace Corps
Katie is going to an NYC film school
Alyssa is starting in a Vidal Sasoon cosmetology school

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