Hello, friends! I have some questions for you on this sunny Monday...
What did you want to be when you grew up? And how accurate was your ambition to your current career? Did your parents influence your path?
Last night Jeff and I had a conversation centered around the idea of steering children down specific paths and exposing them to activities to help them master skills; in the hope that those skills will serve them later in whatever career they choose. This (of course) led to a host of introspective thought and a (WOW, sorry) suuuper long blog post... Jeff loves to reference Malcom Gladwell's "10,000 hour rule" - which basically states that 10,000 hours devoted to one activity, will inevitably render you a master at that activity. That's roughly 3-4 hours per day for 7 years. What activities in your life have you spent 10,000 hours doing? Practicing piano? Attending dance classes? Restoring a boat? Taking care of children? Driving a car? You may recall that earlier this summer James attended an engineering camp at Cal Poly. Having no prior experience in that field- he went in not knowing what to expect, and honestly, we weren't sure if he would grasp the concepts or enjoy the activities... as it turned out, he LOVED it. After just one day he declared himself a "future particles engineer" and thrilled in pointing out all the ways in which engineering helps us in everyday life. James also loves playing the piano, and will not hesitate to call himself a musician, or an artist, or a chef. The truth is, he is all of these things. Children (like adults) are multi-faceted. So do we help them to choose one of these paths to focus their energy and time on? Do we choose for them? Do we let it all play out and not steer or center their focus at all?
My parents didn't push any one activity on me but they definitely helped to steer my direction by providing the opportunity and making it possible for me to focus on the things that I was passionate about. I rode a horse for the first time when I was 2, and I logged in far more than the requisite 10,000 hours by the time I turned 10. Though I'm prone to embellishment, that estimate is not an exaggeration. Riding a horse feels as natural to me as brushing my teeth, or tying my shoes. There is no anxiety, there is no apprehension... it just is. It's a part of who I am... ingrained and permanent. Was it hard for my parents? Did they sacrifice and go out of their way to make that happen for me? No. In fact, I think it was probably the easiest option at the time. My mother was a horse trainer and she wouldn't hesitate to throw me on a "babysitter horse", and go about her work. My mother imparted riding on me out of necessity and convenience, there was no respite from it. Horse-immersion... like a job, was there rain or shine, and whether I felt like doing it or not. She couldn't have known what an impact that consistency would have on me, or what a natural approach to learning it was. Of course there were ballet classes, a short stint on a volleyball team, and later, Tae Kwon Do (which I loved and did well in), but nothing so ever-present in my life as horses.
James has vacillated from soccer, to baseball, to dance, to pottery, to piano, and at 12 years old, I worry that he hasn't found his thing. And is that my fault? Should I be shuttling across town to games for sports and activities that he's only vaguely interested in? This may not be the popular response, but going out of my way for something that neither of us is truly passionate about seems like a waste of time. Make no mistake, if he was passionately devoted to something, I would shuttle and scramble and move mountains to make it available to him. I'm waiting eagerly for that moment! But to be honest with you, I believe so strongly in the idea that immersion learning is the most beneficial of all. It certainly seems the most natural path to knowledge. Whether we realize it or not, and whether our children make use of it later in life, or they don't- so much specialized knowledge can be imparted through parents. And why shouldn't they take advantage of our own 10,000 hour knowledge? My best friend whose dad owns a concrete company was able to mould and make a concrete septic tank by the time we were 16. Certainly not because she sought out that knowledge- but because it was right there in front of her, and impossible to not learn. Similarly, Jeff and his sister know the ins and outs of mushroom farming, not out of some deep-seeded interest in mushrooms, but by parental default. Because of my parents I learned the business of horses, as well as how to run a taxi and limousine service, an extensive knowledge of plants and gardening, and also how to run a retail store. Did I become a horse trainer? No. And I've never had any inclination to run a taxi and limousine service. But I know what it takes to do it, and that broadens my value in competitive employment. In fact, in none of the above references did the children follow the direct business paths of their parents, but does that make those skills less valuable? Of course not. The most important lessons my parents imparted on me were about taking chances, working hard, being your own boss, and self-expectations. These are a skillset that have affected my career path and driven me to succeed on my own terms.
I wonder, what skills Jeff and I are imparting on our own kids? This is a scary question, because between the two of us, we're all across the board! Hopefully this is a good thing... they can't help but learn about art as a career, painting, writing, photography, fashion, and retail. And I know that they'll understand the value of creativity, marketing, and perseverance. But my great hope is that, like us (and our parents), they'll never fear the unknown in business. They'll choose a path, research it to death, and then armed with knowledge, be brave enough to dive in. So what's my plan for James? At the end of our conversation last night we decided that the best possible way to support our children in mastering a skill, is to expose them to a wide berth of possibilities and encourage them in whichever areas they show a true enthusiasm. James will continue to play piano, and be an artist, a chef, and a particles engineer. And we will continue to provide a piano, money for art classes, engineering camps, and food to cook. Will the end result be a career in these fields? It doesn't matter. The true value is in the enrichment of life and learning.
What skills will you impart upon your own children (either consciously, or unconsciously)?