Recently I was on a flight with a self-professed high school ”nerd.” During our 2-hour flight, I told him the good news — that if he’s a nerd now, I can pretty much guarantee one day he’ll be living The Good Life if he can survive the next four years without dropping out — of school or life. School life, I told him, is not kind to nerds, but real life is, as 20-year high school reunions can attest to. The teen years can be such a brutal time in our children’s lives. They don’t have the life experience to know that this conform-to-the-herd-or-be-a-nerd time is so temporary in the grand scheme of things. They don’t yet understand that a whole new world awaits in the not-too-distant future — where the dweeb of the lunchroom can be the CEO of the boardroom and the mousy girl in hand-me-down clothes can win an Oscar one day.
The key is to help our children discover what it is they truly want to do, what makes their heart sing, and let that define them and motivate them rather than their peers’ opinions of their shoes or how they wear their hair. If we parents/mentors don’t create the space for our kids to be real and feel listened to, where else will they find it? If your 16-year-old’s heart’s desire is to draw cartoons, encourage it, celebrate it, allow him to experience a sense of mastery in it, and explore possible career paths involving art even if your practical side is screaming.
My airplane buddy has a passion for World War II history and would love to work in a museum one day, but his mom is hoping he’ll become an ultrasound tech because they’re really in demand and make good money. If I could have coffee with his mom, I would first applaud her for raising a son who knows his bliss. If she said, ”Well, I don’t see how it’s going to put bread on the table!” I’d agree with her that it might not be easy, but then I hope I’d have enough gumption to tell her I hoped her son would find the courage and the means to live an authentic life. I might even share one of my favorite quotes by Howard Thurman: ”Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Since it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever meet this boy’s mom, I guess the next best thing is to write this to all the moms (and dads!) out there whose children are entering that stage where true passions and interests often take a backseat to their peers’ opinions, especially if their interests are not ‘cool.’ We can’t control what their peers say, but we can control what we say. The world may need more ultrasound techs, but my hope is that each of us looks for what makes our children come alive in the world and helps to nurture it. Wishing you all a beautiful spring full of hope and new life.