The other day I followed an online link to a list of “surprisingly lucrative” careers.  Fashion design was on the list.  I wasn’t actually all that surprised that a career in fashion could be lucrative, but its presence on the list called to mind a chronic problem which, I believe, really holds us back as a civilization.

We get very mixed up in the course of thinking about which careers to encourage and which ones not to.  We know we want our kids to be happy, and we know we want them to become financially secure adults (whatever that means to each of us), but beyond that we tend to get confused.  Or, I guess I should say, our actions show that we are confused (though we may not be experiencing confusion).  We don’t seem to be paying attention to what it actually takes to be happy and financially secure.  What we say we want for kids doesn’t line up with what we encourage them to do and not do.

If you’re a ten year-old and you say you want to be a fashion designer, you’re likely to be met with (at best) hesitant support from the adults who care about you and your life.  Adults are likely to nod and say something like “Oh, that’s interesting.  What other interests do you have?”  or “What’s your favorite subject?”  If you’re a ten year-old and you say you want to be a doctor, you’ll get something more like “Great!  Smart choice!”

I’m not suggesting we should stop encouraging aspiring doctors.  It’s just weird that we make this distinction (not only with our words; also with the activities we’re willing to make time for and endorse).  If you’re a person with a gift for designing and drawing and noticing trends and recognizing subtleties, it could be a very good idea for you to consider fashion design as a career.  You already have several of the capacities it takes to be successful in that field.  Further, if you enjoy these things, you’re an even better candidate for the work because you’re more likely to pursue it with determination and commitment.  Any training or financial hardship or difficulty you may have to endure on your way to earning a living at it will be easier to endure.  Why would we be less enthusiastic about this possible route than one that ends with a degree in medicine?  Don’t both offer the end results we want for kids?

Sometimes what gets in the way are issues of esteem and how kids’ choices reflect on their parents.  But if it’s not that, what might it be?  The other possible source of our bias is that we’ve come to believe that there are serious professions – professions that earn a good living – and not-so-serious professions that don’t.  We don’t always check our beliefs against what’s happening in present-day real life.  (Which would reveal, for example, that it’s possible to make a great living as a fashion designer, and also possible to make a living as an independent artist of most any kind, thanks in large part to the internet and its capacity to connect people and what they create.)  We just take our beliefs on faith based on how things were when we were young (or even on how our parents led us to believe things were).

We also forget in the course of sustaining these erroneous assumptions that something that might make a potentially lucrative and fulfilling path for one person could be downright depressing, unsustainable, and low-paying for another.  You can probably think easily of careers that are well-suited to friends or family members that would be horrifically ill-suited to you.  We forget to take this into account when we’re choosing what to encourage young people to pursue.

The other day I heard a young father on TV say “I love playing the piano and I can’t wait to start my daughter playing as soon as she’s three.”  This man said what he said with infectious pride and excitement.  We can’t help doing this!  We can’t help wanting our kids to love the things we do, trace paths through life that are similar to the ones that we have traced.  It’s not worth trying not to want that.  It won’t work!  But many of us would say we actually want an even better life for our kids than the one we’ve had, and if that’s what we want, we may have to reach beyond our longstanding beliefs and assumptions, beyond the expectations that drove our own young lives and choices.  We can approach our parenting (or aunt-ing or uncle-ing or teacher-ing or mentor-ing or counselor-ing or grandparent-ing) as a discovery rather than a series of prescriptions.  We can recognize that children may like some of the things that we like, may make some choices that are similar to ours, and may also like some things that we don’t, choose some things that we would never have chosen.

It’s a gift to kids when we get really interested in what actually suits them best.  When we do it, we also increase our chances as a culture of raising doctors who love and excel at diagnosing and healing, lawyers who love to read and argue and reason, artists and carpenters and mediators and mechanics and counselors and landscapers and entrepreneurs and hairdressers and truck drivers and accountants and fashion designers who love and excel at the myriad skills and bodies of knowledge involved in each field.  We could have a world full of people doing what makes the best most sustainable use of what they’ve got to offer.  It’s a win-win proposition – a  win for each individual and a win for everyone who gets to benefit because that individual thrives.


One Response

  1. Love, love, LOVE this. Thank you for saying it so well.

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