If you could do it all over again and choose what you want to do in life – without regard to ability, money, education or circumstance – what would you do? This is a conversational question I love to ask grown-ups when the drudgery of small talk and gossip at the dinner table begin to make my skin peel. After years of asking this simple question, the answers these adults give never cease to open the doors to what their dreams were once made of, where they got derailed, and why.
In nearly everything we do in life we look to and plan on the the future. We want to reach the end line, finish a book, complete a chore, arrive at a destination, get to dessert. We plan and anticipate everything in life except life itself. We don’t take the time to think seriously and plan for the long term picture of where we really want our lives to go, especially those with much of their life still in front of them.
Dreamers have gotten a bad rap over the years as aloof do nothings that can’t seem to get off the ground. Maybe that’s why not enough of our kids talk about their dreams of who or what they want to be in life, and what it will take to get there. Coaxing them to talk about their lives is so important, especially if the conversation ends with, “what’s stopping you?’”
Every August our small town hosts an airshow with either the Navy’s Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds as the featured performers. It’s a really big deal. For one weekend a year car traffic increases around the airfield, it gets noisy with continuous propeller and jet engines roaring at low altitude overhead and the lazy routine of small town America is interrupted. Like clockwork, self centered locals around town become agitated and vocal about their world being put upon while peaceniks grouse about attracting young boys to join the military.
I love this weekend however because among other reasons I know dreams are being formed amid all that noise and clutter. Within the bounds of all that static, some 10 year old doesn’t care about the potential damage to his tender ears or that it will take dad 30 minutes to get the car clear of traffic. All he or she sees is what could be their exciting future. Hopefully dad asks them – what’s stopping you? while they sit in traffic on the way home.
Isn’t this the environment where rewarding and fruitful careers begin? With just a dream or a vision or an initial experience? Ask yourself that simple question … what would you with do with your life if you followed a childhood dream and then try to remember where you were when you first got that vision. A doctor’s office, courtroom, theater, sports stadium; or a classroom with an engaging teacher; a concert, kitchen, veterinary clinic, construction site, or field trip to Washington, DC?
I am incredibly lucky in that I have been living my dream job for 35 years. It almost didn’t happen though. The vision I got for myself came, not ironically, at an airshow when I was about 10 years old. The sad thing is no one ever really encouraged me or guided me toward achieving that end until late in my college career. Once someone took an interest in my dream, gave me a roadmap and a shove – I was off.
Who compels the teen to take five minutes every day to think about what he or she really wants to do with their life? Is a high school guidance counselor expected to follow up on those dreams and map out a course, milestones, and standards? Who guides the college freshman to actively pursue their dreams before they become distracted and get lost in the weeds of being … a normal college student.
Without someone to guide it isn’t surprising that dreams die and young adults settle for the next best thing only to find out later in life they still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.
Maybe the most important person in a young person’s life after a parent isn’t the math or science teacher, or the athletic coach, or the scout leader. I tend to think it should be the often overworked, overwhelmed, inexperienced and untrained guidance counselor. If so, the template for guidance counselors in our public schools needs to change. Experience in the real world, relationship and communication training, diligence, encouragement, logic, and persistent contact within a smaller counselor to student ratio would become necessary attributes to attaining better results.
When counselors ask questions of their charges like; why are you in school? rather than simply “what is it going to take to graduate you out of school?” the results on whole will be far better for the kid involved in terms of direction and guidance to those dreams that were formed earlier in life. Roots will be exposed, conversations will change, and roadmaps are drawn that will act as conduits to making dreams – realities.