Most parents are inclined to plan out their children’s futures (some more vocally than others). We want them to be successful, per society’s expectations, which in today’s culture may include – participation in a gazillion extracurricular activities (with leadership roles), popularity, good grades (high honors), high school diploma (in NYS – Regents), admission into the best college (with a prestigious scholarship), college graduation (with a “useful” degree and don’t forget attaining the Dean’s List all 8 semesters, as well as Summa Cum Laude), graduate degree (see above), high paying job (with benefits), home, and eventually a family.
What we forget is that all those high-flying achievements come at a cost and do not guarantee happiness. In fact, if we are not employed at or learning something that excites and intrigues us, our strenuous efforts often insure the sense of being stuck on a hamster wheel – working hard, doing the same thing every day, but getting nowhere, with precious, little enjoyment in the process. Alan Watts explained this eloquently years ago in this lecture, entitled: What if money was no object?
I would hazard to guess that much of our personal scenarios, as well as those expectations we place on our children are driven by the anxiety and fear related to this, ubiquitous, question, which is also often the first one adults ask young people upon meeting them: What do you want to be when you grow up?
I love 13-year-old Logan Laplante’s response, from his 2013 TEDx Talk at the University of Nevada – “I want to be healthy and happy.” Logan is a homeschooler who describes his education as hack-schooling, which is his version of un-schooling, so named by John Holt in the 1970s. I prefer to simply call this method of education, life-learning, because, I dislike the many connotations that can be inferred from the term un-schooling.
Within life-learning, the student (young or old) immerses themselves completely by not only determining the topic, but also choosing the method of exploration, as well as the timing. They become completely engaged in whatever they are most interested in – seeking out resources and learning as much as they possibly can, soliciting and working with mentors in that area of expertise, and soaking up invaluable experience by actually “doing it”. They understand that undertaking one thing today does not preclude them from “working” at something completely different in the future (or even tomorrow). Life-Learners recognize that they can have more than one passion at a time - no door is closed as long as their mind is open to all of the possibilities and they are willing and determined to work hard to make it happen. This may mean attending college or trade school. It could be obtaining an apprenticeship or internship. It may also include cultivating a new business as an entrepreneur or taking on several part-time gigs to determine what exactly lights their fire. As both Logan and Alan indicate, success and achievement are determined by seeking out what you desire or makes you happy, and in doing so, inspires you to be a positive influence to others in the world. In understanding all of that, let me rephrase the previous question: What would you like to do with your future? What excites and motivates you? Or, simply, what makes you smile? The answers are as infinite and as unique as the individuals responding. Young or old - go - do what makes you happy and everything else will fall into place.
PS - Congratulations to Maddi! (The young woman with the red hair and white sweater in the above picture.) She has been accepted at SUNY Potsdam and plans on studying art in September. We are so proud of her determination and hard-work. She also has the distinction of being the first DRC "kid" to be accepted to college!
h/t to Emmy for inspiring this blog post with the question to a fellow student, what do you want to do ...?