Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so you shall become, your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be.
I have heard a lot of parents and inspirational speakers reiterate this quote. Child psychologists keep harping on how we should always encourage our children; shower them with praise, set high expectations because children usually perform up to their parent’s expectations. Tell your children that they can be whatever they want. But I don’t agree with this thought entirely.
I would rather tell my child
You can achieve anything you want in life if you have the courage to dream it, the intelligence to make a realistic plan, and the will to see that plan through to the end.
It is good to dream lofty dreams, just as long as those dreams are grounded in reality. It is necessary to encourage you child, ‘encourage’ being the operative word. Don’t give them false hopes. Praise your child, compliment her work but don’t inflate her ego.
We bring up our children on stories with happy endings, where anything is possible, where a little fish called Nemo, despite his limited swimming abilities, manages to have a series of adventures/misadventures and return home safely, where the rookie car Lightning McQueen, the crop-duster plane Dusty, and the snail Turbo win the race (defeating faster and more experienced competitors by sheer grit), where the princess always gets the prince.
Children, brought up in a feel-good world, imagine they can be anything – an astronaut, a scientist, an Olympian, a film star. The next Steve Jobs or Ambani. That’s natural and that’s nice. But as parents do we merely humour them and say – “of course, you can be anything you want.” I think not. I would rather say, “Well that sounds great. But remember, achieving a dream is hard work. You must plan and work towards it.”
When he was very young, my son wanted to become either a Formula 1 racer or a fighter pilot. I had to gently break the news to him that with his ocular problems, that was not a realistic dream. Naturally he ranted at the injustice of it all, but soon directed himself towards becoming a nuclear scientist, a more plausible dream. With this dream as our goal, we sat down and drew up a road map, he had to excel at math and science, he had to develop certain skills, etc. Along the way he lost interest in becoming a nuclear scientist, but his love for science remained. He worked hard and excelled. Today he can certainly aspire to become a scientist.
Of course his father would have rather he became an athlete. We tried out a different sport every summer trying to find ‘his thing’. He enjoyed his summers, but eventually his father had to concede that sport was not ‘his thing’. As a parent he had to accept his child’s temperament and cease projecting his own dreams onto the child. Just because he loves playing soccer with his friends after school does not mean that he could have become a national player by sheer hard work and grit. Talent, genetics and temperament play a decisive role.
The dangers of blind encouragement are two-fold. Unrealistic plans lead to a waste of time and money. When a student who gets average grades sets her mind on say, medical school, other more lucrative and realistic careers like human resource management or business, are left unexplored. Even worse, if they don’t achieve their goal, they feel shame and guild and are overwrought with a feeling on incompetence. The logic goes – If I could have become anything, and I didn’t become that thing, then I have no one to blame but myself, and I am a shameful loser. Anything else that they do thereafter is a compromise and they are never happy.
Help your child understand what will make them happy and help them pursue that state of being. There are many paths to that goal. Tell them that they don’t need to chase after a ‘job they love’, rather find a job that they can grow to love. Not everyone can make a career out of what they love. It’s just as well to have a career you can respect and a hobby that you love. The eventual goal is self-happiness.
Encourage your child to have lofty goals, but let them know that in addition to self-belief, it’s going to take sensible planning, a pragmatic approach, years of hard work and a lot of patience. Teach them that there is no such thing as instant gratification and that failure and work-arounds are an inevitable part of the journey. Above all else help them understand themselves.
It may be painful to be the practical dream-crusher parent who bursts their child’s happy bubble, but it will be far more painful to watch your child loose her self-esteem, because as adults we know – We cannot become anything that we want to be.