When I was young, we used to have a piano in our living room. And I loved dinging away on that piano to my mother’s great dismay.
I went to an all-girl Catholic school where taking piano and being part of the choir was expected of you. It was considered one of the daily duties of being a Catholic girl.
At some point in my school career a Sister of Mercy called me aside before a Christmas concert and told me, “During the concert I want you to mouth the words.”
I said to her, “But sister I thought children were supposed to lift up their voices to the Lord?”
And she told me. “The Lord doesn’t necessarily need to hear everybody’s voice.”
It was then I realized I was never going to be a singer.
Now let’s go back to the piano in my living room. While clanging away on this old piano, my mother came into the room and said, “For the love of God please stop banging on that piano!” I told her, “I am taking lessons and I am going to get good at this.”
Then she gave me some life change advise.
My mother told me, “Let me explain something to you. By taking piano lessons you may get better, but you are never going to get good.”
Shortly after, she gave the piano away.
Now some of you may hear that and think what a horrible person my mother was. But, in her defense, you’re judging her with the 2021 version of the parental handbook of ‘words hurt’ and let’s bundle our kids in plastic bubble wrap to protect them from life.
The truth is what my mother did was absolutely freeing to me. One, because I hated piano. Two, because in essence what she said to me was stop wasting your time chasing things you are no good at. Now move along to something you are good at.
She did however encourage me to read more, write more and be creative. She often let me paint my own room. Something I am sure most parents today would be horrified by. I once painted an entire wall black with model car paint. She didn’t bat an eye.
I think too many people waste too much time and too many years of their life chasing things that are never going to happen. Even if I had moved to New York City and auditioned for Broadway I would have been another broken-hearted nobody in the city. Let’s face it, no one was ever going to hire me to play piano or sing for them.
In the end, the Sister of Mercy, and my mother both did me a favor. My dream of being a singing piano player was really a mercy killing.
My point being, I believe through our use of safe words and debilitating kindness, we encourage young people to go chase ridiculous dreams that are never going to happen for them instead of encouraging them to chase dreams that they have a shot at.
It’s that old adage: Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Our education system has one template that they fit over every child’s head. You’re either advanced, matric, or slow. When it really should be science, creative or working with your hands. Or a combination of all of it.
Jocks get trophies. Writers get pity.
In high school I had a teacher who noticed that I could memorize Shakespeare and that I loved to read. He told me people who love to read, make good writers. He gave me some life changing advice. He said, “Pick a career where you can constantly write. Then, someday write novels.”
He also told me, “You will never make any money as a writer because no writer ever does.” This was long before J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Apparently, Shakespeare died a penniless soul.
He was also right. I did choose a career that improved my writing. I went into broadcasting then communications. Now I write novels.
He wasn’t wrong about the money.
My advice to you as a parent and as a student of a strict Catholic upbringing: have a merciless kindness towards your children. If they can’t skate don’t tell them they’re going to be hockey players if they try harder. If they can’t sing don’t tell them they are the next Whitney Houston because some parenting book told you to push them beyond their dreams.
Find what they are good at. Not what you WANT them to be good at.
Go into your child’s room right now and tell them: you suck at the piano, you were never going to be a hockey player, but if you keep trying different things, you’ll eventually find something you are good at and then advise them to run at that.
Put that fish back in water. It was never going to climb a tree.
Don’t forget to tell remind them, the things you are good at, rarely make your money. You don’t want them to be delusional.
Tell them it will it’s okay for your passion to be a hobby, until you can retire from a boring career and get a pension and then you can pursue what you’re good at.
That’s exactly what happened to me. I picked a career where I could write. Each career change let me to better writing opportunities. I worked till I got a pension. Then retired and now I do what I love: write novels.
And I still don’t know how to play the piano or sing.