Encouraging my kids (and everyone else) to follow their own stars

I'm sharing this because I hope everyone has the chance in life to follow their own stars, preferably while avoiding some of the mistakes I've made in my life and while embracing mistakes and failures as valuable lessons.

I had a conversation yesterday with my 17-year-old son Sam, and this morning with my 14-year-old daughter Grace about what I hoped they could do in life considering their decisions about college and careers and life in general. I told them to ignore any pressure to “go out and earn a living.” The need to be self-sufficient and support oneself and family will happen one way or the other. They need not feel, I said, pressured to major in one thing or another based on what might be a lucrative career. They need instead to just focus on being what they are, who they are.

I plan to have similar talks with my seven-year-old son Ben when the time comes.

I want my kids to do their equivalent of what I wish I had done in college and upon graduation – I wish I had majored in music and upon graduation, grown my hair out, donned a pair of Jesus sandals and old blue jeans, a t-shirt and a duffle bag, a journal and some sort of musical instrument, and take a year or so to travel the world. I want my kids to be free to define and chart their own adventures.

Instead I got a degree in journalism with a concentration on advertising and public relations, bought a four-door Honda and went to Atlanta to work in corporate communications.

Now, there were benefits to my choices. I gained a lot of perspective on that way of life. I didn’t have the wisdom and experience then that the ensuing years have given me, and I don’t think that I could have been the musician and songwriter then that I am now.

I’ve had financial troubles and failures that I am grateful for, because I needed that experience and perspective. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for a clean slate because the lessons learned have been valuable on many levels.

At the same time, many of the biggest challenges I have had in my life, mainly things resulting from being somewhat misplaced and outcast in the corporate world and suburbia, could have been avoided if I had felt free to be who I was instead of measuring worth by a suit of clothes, a nice home and the appearance of being responsibile and prosperous.

Many of these pressures came from within, from a neurotic desire to please others and make a good impression. Some of the pressure was well-meant and came from my parents and educators.

But no matter what happens in my life, I hope that as a parent I am able to give my own kids the proper encouragement and freedom to be who they are, to be fulfilled and follow their own stars.

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