My father often read fairytales to me. He even purchased a beautiful pair of books for me that are filled with stories from the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen. I outgrew those tales long ago, but I still have silly dreams of living an almost magical existence. I no longer believe that anybody has a perfectly happily ever after life. Instead I know that we each endure heartbreak and tragedy as well as times of wonder. Fairytales tempt us to wish to be someone other than we actually are. Real life forces us to make the best of our circumstances and find a way toward happiness without depending on a fairy godmother or handsome prince.
We all have heroes that we would like to emulate, but in the end we are better off being our best selves. Trying to be someone else can be frustrating at best and horribly wrong at worst. None of us should spend a lifetime wishing and hoping and comparing ourselves to some ideal. Instead our goal should be to find our talents and passions and then cultivate them with persistence. If we figure out who we are the journey turns out to be a happy one. If we only dream of being someone else, we are bound to feel mostly frustration and even sorrow.
I worked with young people for all of my career. I still have students even in retirement. I find that our young remain mostly optimistic and hopeful as long as they have opportunities to be free to be themselves. That may mean following a career path that seems uncertain or even disappointing to adults. It might involve admitting to different ways of viewing the world. In any case the ultimate decisions have to be right for each person. We older folk might provide guidance and support, but it would be very wrong to force the younger generation to follow paths that do not feel right or to disrespect them simply because they do not totally agree with the way we chose to approach life.
I have found a lovely earnestness in each of the young people whom I have encountered. They may make some mistakes along the way, some quite profound, but ultimately their search leads them to places that they were meant to be. They are not lazy, ignorant, or lost as far too many adults seem to believe they are. I get quite angry when I hear comments tearing down teens and those in their twenties. I find myself wondering how people misunderstand the journey of discovery that our youth must travel in the process of finding themselves.
There was a time when I was a disappointment to the adults around me. They had so many ideas about what kind of person I was meant to become. Many of their thoughts were lovely for someone else, but not for me. I did not want to be a doctor or an engineer. I could not imagine working in the world of business. Making mountains of money was not something that excited me. I suppose that I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, and it took me a long time to get there because I tried very hard to please everyone else but myself. When I finally asserted my independence and began living the way that made me happy and fulfilled, my life began an upward trajectory. Many years later, even the naysayers marvel at what I accomplished. They no longer wonder why I chose the life of an educator when my talents may have led me in many other directions. They now understand that by living out my passion, I became great in my chosen career.
We often hear a child saying, “ I want to be … when I grow up.” Our response to that little one should always be, “Just be yourself when you grow up.” Our role is to guide children and encourage them to follow their hearts while letting them know that all goals require hard work. There is no magic in building a wonderful life other than the delight of feeling good about whatever one is hoping to accomplish. When the fit is right there are fireworks in the sky and all of the efforts to reach a certain place seem worthwhile.
We should be mentors to your youth. Our role is not to bludgeon them with negativity or demands, but to nurture their talents and their ideas. That does not mean lying to them about how difficult their choices may be, but respecting what they hope to accomplish with honesty. There are many goals in life that seem to be impossible, but we never know if we might reach them until we try. By the same token, pursuing something that we abhor simply because it is a sure thing or a means to money or fame can be soul crushing. We must be careful not to guide our youth based on superficial ideas that mean nothing to them.
We may not want our child to choose a dangerous career but that may be the very place where he/she is the happiest. We may doubt the possibility of of a son or daughter becoming a famous highly paid actor, but why would we force that person to give up before even trying? Those decisions are not up to us. They only work if they are made by the person who will have to live and learn from that lifestyle.
I’d love to see more and more posts and comments encouraging our young people rather than tearing them down. They are our future. Why would we want to be so cynical about them? From ancient times one generation after another has found a way to live life successfully. Only when they have been forced to be other than what they wanted to be have people been profoundly unhappy. Let’s become fairy godmothers and godfathers by performing the magic of encouragement. Let’s push our kids to follow their dreams. When the shoe fits it is magical.