Stop lying to your kids

You can’t be anything you want when you grow up

Photo by Sergei Gavrilov on Unsplash

What do you want to be when you grow up? All kids seem to have an answer to that question, I did too when I was five — I wanted to be a ballerina. My mother giggled when I gave her my answer, then patted me on top of my head, as if I was a puppy. “Sure sweetie, you can be anything you want!”

I smiled, feeling proud and sure that that’s exactly what I’ll become one day. I spent my childhood days twirling through my room and dreaming to be wearing one of those fluffy skirts and beautiful ballet shoes that lace up to the ankles. I put on a pair of pink knee-socks and used blankets as skirt props, pretending I was wearing the real thing. Imagine my excitement as I joined my first dance class.

I soon learned that almost all of the girls in the class also wanted to be ballerinas when they grew up. And all of their parents smiled when the subject came up, exactly as my mother did. It took me a couple of months, and then a couple of years to understand what all that smiling was really about.

The truth was I was bad at dancing. The teacher always placed me in the back of the group, as if she was trying to hide me. I wasn’t bothered by it at the time, simply because I was enjoying it so much. Between school and dance practice, time flew by so fast I soon grew past the cute little girl stage, and became a grumpy teenager instead. Even if I was still a kid, the adults were now expecting me to choose what I’ll do with my life. I had to pick a career for myself, and I had to do it quickly.

“I only really like to dance,” I kept saying, but no one was giggling any more. Everyone was for some reason infuriated with me for saying that, especially my mother, who persisted with our discussion on our way from a school meeting, telling me how much I embarrassed her. “Dancing is not a real job!”

“But it’s the only thing I love doing!” I shrieked back.

“It doesn’t matter what you love, I didn’t get to do what I wanted either!” she stopped to let out a breath, “It’s just not how life works!”

“How does it work then? Because I was told I could be whatever I wanted in life, and now I suddenly just can’t?”

My mother cursed under her breath and opened the car doors, telling me to think about what I was saying, then left me there, in the car, by myself, to ponder. I peered my head out to yell after her, “So I can’t do something I truly love then?”

Only around 3% of all those who go into dance become professional dancers.

— Nigel Lythgoe, producer and judge for the TV series ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ (Source)

It turned out I wasn’t destined to become one of those lucky 3%. With little talent, the wrong body type, and being born on the wrong side of the world, it would be a miracle if I could.

I soon learned that my mother was right. It’s just how life is. I had no choice but to join a local school of economics, in spite of being terrible at pretty much every single one of the classes. I somehow graduated and got a degree in management, despite hating it and never imagining myself as a manager. By then I had stopped dancing completely. I was too busy trying to get my first job. 

I sent out countless applications but only got invited to a couple of job interviews. Eventually, I managed to get an internship at a small accounting office. It was just for a few months, but it was all I needed at the time to stop feeling like a complete failure. I hated every part of that job and was really struggling to keep up with everything, oftentimes lying about how easy it was and how quickly I finished a task. The boss liked me enough to propose me a contract and I accepted. My mother will love this, was the first thing I thought. I called her immediately. 

“Finally!” she screamed with excitement, “I can finally tell people about my daughter’s fancy job!” 

I paused, dropping my smile. 

“Everyone always talks about their children, their fancy jobs, how many children they have; now I can finally say something about you too!” 

I lowered my phone down and gazed at the floor, feeling empty. 

I had no idea what I really wanted to do at the time, but the extended contract was a great excuse to just keep going. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks one of the colleagues figured out that I had no idea what I was doing. I burst into tears in front of everyone and then ran into the bathroom to hide. I was desperate, and immensely lost. I didn’t want to lose that job, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get another one. What will people think of me? What will my mother think of me? 

What got to me in the end, was a simple flu. A flu that bonded me to my bed for an entire month. If nothing else, it gave me a lot of time to think. I eventually realised that no matter how scared I was, and no matter how many people I’ll end up disappointing, I simply had to leave that job. My boss eventually urged me to come back, saying if I didn’t show up in a week, that I didn’t have to bother anymore. I vomited before heading there the next morning, and then once again as I crossed the company’s entrance. I somehow carried myself all the way to my boss’s office, but the second I was in I felt my knees give in. 

I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day, unless that desk was mine. 

“I can’t do this anymore!” I yelled without even realizing. 

My boss was outraged and took a step back, as if I was somehow contagious. 

“I’m sorry, I just can’t!” I caught a breath and rushed out of her office. I continued through the hall and down the stairs, not stopping until I was out in the open. Only then was I able to draw in a full breath. There was a kindergarten nearby and I remember a group of toddlers passing by just at that moment. Among all the children, my attention stopped at a little girl who was dressed as a ballerina. She looked up at me and smiled, as if she knew what I needed. I felt a tiny speck of myself returning. I didn’t know what I would do, I didn’t have any future plans or ideas, the only thing I knew was what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to care what other people think of me anymore, and I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day, unless that desk was mine. 

64 Years of Data Proves That the Bigger Kids Dream, the More Successful They’ll Be. A new study shows that how big kids dream matters as much for future success as IQ or family background.

— Jessica Stillman, contributor (Source)

In my mid-thirties, I started to dance again. Not because I want to become a successful dancer, but because I simply enjoy it. Exactly as I did when I was little. That I was bad at it, and had no real prospects as a dancer didn’t really matter at the time. It was about the feeling dancing evoked in me, the same feeling I get when I sit behind my desk to write something. I want to become a published author and ironically, people still giggle when I tell them about my dream, similarly to how they did when I said I wanted to become a ballerina. It may sound like a silly dream, but to me it is a very real one, a dream I work day and night towards.

I truly believe that teaching children that they can be anything they want is wrong, unless we start teaching the grownups first.

This article was originally published in Modern Women.

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