Pushing Children to Early Career Choices


I’m staying with my in-laws right now, and they watch America’s Got Talent. As the show went on, I started to get more and more disturbed by the things some of these 11- and 12-year-olds were saying. They were saying things like, “I’ve been working my whole life for this moment.” Or they would say, “This is important for my career.” I don’t remember the exact phrases, but they were acting like the entire rest of their life was planned for them already.

I don’t like the pressure these children are feeling. They think that they will let everyone in their lives down if they don’t use their talent to become super famous. They feel like they will somehow be a failure at anything less than winning this thing. I know because I’ve been there.

This means that I also know that it might not be the parent’s fault at all. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times a parent says that it is okay to do whatever you want, or that they will support you no matter what career you want. I can say from experience that words can’t easily overcome all the subtle external environmental factors.

When I was young I started gymnastics and excelled quickly at it. In high school I competed nationally and even sometimes internationally. I wasn’t the best at that level, but I was still fairly young and I won the New York state championship one year. Here were the types of pressure I felt that were not parental, but my parents probably had no idea they existed. If I were to quit, then I would let my coach down, my teammates down, the family members that kept telling me I would be in the Olympics someday, random people in my hometown that thought I would bring the town fame, and on and on.

This type of pressure that no one even realized they were exerting (they were expressing how proud they were of me and how excited they were for my future) kept me doing it for much, much longer than I wanted to. Luckily, I got up the courage to quit at some point. It was a total shock to everyone, because they couldn’t see that I had grown to hate it. They confused me being good at it with me being passionate about it. To this day I still don’t “miss it” like everyone assumes.

I understand that there is a fine line that must be walked which is probably very difficult for parents of talented children. If your child shows promise in singing, how far should you let it take over their life? You don’t want to discourage them from practicing if they actually do love doing it. You don’t want to discourage them from working hard. You don’t want them to quit if they are merely having a bad week or month. Let’s face it. Sometimes it is tedious, discouraging, hard work to get better at something. It is easy to confuse this with disliking it.

You also don’t want to force them into a career in it before they are ready to make that decision (which honestly I don’t see how you could be ready for that decision until at least college age). All these things are very difficult to tell without being inside the person’s head. Even asking them bluntly how they feel about it might not get an honest response if they are feeling a lot of pressure. I know. I used to lie about it.

There is also the issue that people think that if you aren’t a famous musician (or mathematician, etc) by a certain age, then you will never be famous. First, that is false. More importantly, I’m not sure why being famous is thought of as a measure of success. Heck, I’m not even sure being able to make a living at music should be the sole measure of success. There are lots of people who enrich their lives with their talents as a hobbies, and this is a far better path for them. Making it a career would have made them hate it.

I don’t really have any proposed solution to this (or reason for writing about it other than that it was on my mind today), and I know it is a tough issue. Still, I felt quite disturbed to hear these children express these concerns that I used to have. I wish I could tell them that they can still do whatever they want, and what they want might be something they haven’t even heard of yet. You might disappoint some people when they find out you stopped pursuing it as a career, but you can’t let that dictate your life.

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