We conceive our children but don’t design them, especially these days now that our influence is diluted by so many other influences and we have more respect for our offspring’s autonomy than did past parents.
About half way through raising my children I consolidated my aspirations for them down to just three. If I were granted three wishes they would arrive at adulthood:
1. Intact: Their options open, no bridges burned. No tattoos on their foreheads that would prevent them from becoming doctors or bankers, no debilitating sports injuries, drug-stunting or lost fingers that would keep them from a career in auto mechanics or brain surgery, no criminal records or addictions that limited their career and lifestyle choices before they were old enough to make lasting ones.
2. Already masterful: At absolutely anything, DJ-ing, Dungeons and Dragons, skate-boarding, classical piano, Guitar Hero, cartooning, writing. Anything with a steep learning curve that demonstrated to them the true size of an investment in getting good at something, and demonstrated that they could make it up a steep learning curve.
3. Meta-confident: Able to extrapolate from whatever discipline they gained mastery in to any other discipline. Call it meta-self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is confidence that you can master something because you’ve mastered something similar: “I can fix cars because I can fix bicycles.” Meta-self-efficacy is confidence that you could master anything because you have experienced the long road to mastery in anything else: “I could become a brain surgeon because I know from mastering Guitar Hero what it takes to get good at something.”
There’s been such a proliferation of lifestyles and career paths. We need to give our children practice making choices among them. Otherwise, when confronted with adult career choices, they’ll choose naïvely. In the tough times ahead, they can’t afford many false starts.
They need a rehearsal round. Imagine if we told our children at nine, “Here’s how it goes. You get a few years now to explore and dabble to check out all sorts of hobbies and disciplines. Then, by eleven, you’ll need to choose something you want to get very good at. Don’t think career; think fun, satisfaction, and commitment because we’re going to hold you to it. In addition to school and chores, your responsibility from 11 to 18 is to get as good at your chosen discipline as you possibly can. No going through the motions. We’ll be expecting big things from you because you are expecting them. You will be the one who chose which tiger to grab by the tail so we expect you to hold on tight.”
“By the time you’re 18, you can do whatever you want in both senses of the phrase. That is, you’ll have your freedom to choose what you want to do, and you’ll know, through your experience gaining expertise, that you are capable of doing what you set your mind to doing.”