When your son says he wants to be an astronaut, and he’s already wearing glasses, why do you tell him that he can do it if he works hard? He can’t. No one can be an astronaut with glasses.
Why do you let your daughter think she can be a professional soccer player if she is not on the fast-track to that extremely competitive profession? Why not give her a reality check early on?
The information we give to kids about careers is so much BS that it’s amazing all kids don’t have nervous breakdowns when they turn 20 and realize they must actually choose a realistic career.
Parents don’t talk to kids about realistic careers. Because it’s not fun. It’s not thought to be encouraging to talk with kids about closed doors, even though doors close to us every day of our lives. Sure, other doors open, but it’s a tradeoff; one door opens and another closes. You need to acknowledge both.
Be honest with your kids. Talk about tradeoffs from the beginning so it’s not earth-shatteringly shocking to find out later that no CEO is also home with kids. Stop telling kids that doing well academically opens career doors. Because unless they are going into academia, academics don’t open career doors.
It’s hard to be realistic. It’s not natural to reign in a child’s dreams. My son wants to be a professional cellist. He knows the odds are terrible. I have suggested he would be happy being a teacher, and he says no. I have suggested alternatives like sales. “You’d be great at sales,” I’ve told him. Because it’s sort of like performing.
He’s not convinced, and I worry that my admonitions have caused him anxiety. It’s a fine line between encouraging and realistic. Universities study this issue, and so do companies (spoiler: set goals that are difficult but attainable.) I spend a lot of time looking for ways to walk this line.
Reality doesn’t have to be grim. For example Highbrow is a video library for kids and it includes a bunch of videos about what real careers are like. Each time your kid says, “I think I want to be x,” you can say, “Let’s take a look at what that would be like.”
The earlier you get your kid thinking about the realities of careers, the better choices they can make. Self-directed learning is best in the context of reality. Which isn’t surprising since adult life is best in the context of reality as well.