“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Ask a young child that, and the answer is likely to be filled with promise. The sky’s the limit. Answers might include: “The President!” “A movie star!” “A doctor!”
As that child becomes an adolescent, the dreams often become smaller, “more realistic” or might have even vanished.
Why is that? What happens to those big dreams?
Sadly, dreams are often squashed by a few discouraging words from a parent or authority figure.
And it doesn’t take much to crush a child’s belief in his or her potential.
What role should parents play in shaping a child’s dreams?
Do we understand the sacred gift that has been entrusted to us as we raise our children?
Do we help our children discover their passions and desires and fan those into flame?
Or do we say: “Oh, you don’t want to do that!”
When my daughter, Anne, was in middle school, she was amazingly adept at Broadway-style tap dancing. And her dream was to become a Rockette. A noble goal, but not when you are vertically challenged. No matter how talented a 5’1” girl is, she will never become a Rockette. And sadly, I needed to tell her that.
But as a high school freshman, when she showed a great interest in football, I encouraged her to talk to the coach and see if there was a way she could support the team.
She was exasperated by the lack of attentiveness of most of her peers at the weekly games. Most students seemed more interested in roaming in packs than in cheering on their classmates taking the blows on the field.
Before sophomore year, she made an appointment with the coach and expressed her desire to help the team in some way. The coach offered her the position of statistician. “We’ve never had a student do stats before,” he said. My daughter was good in math, so thought that the role of statistician sounded like a good fit.
He handed her a notebook. That was the extent of the training.
At the first scrimmage, she nervously climbed the stairs to the press box. As she was sitting down in that sacred space, one of the coaches admonished her: “Anne, what you hear in the box STAYS in the box.” That didn’t do a lot for her nerves.
The scrimmage began and she quickly realized that keeping stats for football was vastly different than doing problems for math class. When she got into the car after that scrimmage, she dissolved into tears. “Mom, I can’t believe you talked me into doing this. It was awful!”
I encouraged her to hang in there, knowing that she was a quick study and would commit herself to understanding her new role. And she did.
That year, the team made it to the State finals. For that game, she took the press elevator to the top of the Georgia Dome to perform her role as statistician. And the team won the State Championship!
Her passion for football continued to grow. She worked hard to perfect her abilities as a statistician. After each game, she waited for the game film and would watch it twice more over the weekend to ensure that her stats were correct.
Just before her junior year, Anne’s dad died of cancer. After that summer, those teammates became a band of brothers for this “only child.” And the wonderful group of coaches loved and encouraged her throughout her high school years.
As a senior, she was chosen as Homecoming Queen. What a memory, seeing the crown on her head bobbing up and down as she did stats during the second half of that game.
And her football passion continued to grow.
When she was accepted at the University of Georgia, she knew she wanted to pursue a career that involved football. She chose Public Relations as a major and immediately began working for the Sports Information Director at UGA. She paid her dues working at practically every sport played at the University in order to earn the coveted right of being assigned to football.
She worked tirelessly. Most of those working hours were unpaid. Opportunities arose, like working at SEC Football Championships, year after year. A summer internship with an Olympic committee allowed her to live in the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. She spent ten days during her Senior Year as the youngest member of the Public Relations staff at Super Bowl XLIX. And despite her many hours working, she graduated summa cum laude, with Honors.
Sometime during her college years, Anne set a goal of working in the NFL. And as she prepared to graduate from Georgia, she was offered the coveted position of Media Relations Intern with the Denver Broncos. The first person she called after receiving the offer from the Broncos was the high school football coach who opened the world of football to her back in 10th grade by entrusting her with the job of statistician.
From stats to the NFL in eight years. Truly amazing.
Even more amazing? The Broncos won Super Bowl 50, and Anne was rewarded with a Super Bowl ring.
Last season, she again worked as a Media Relations Intern, this time with the Tennessee Titans. Another great learning experience, but at the end of the season, her internship had ended and she was again in search of a job, facing another move.
It would have been easy to give up on her dream. But she chose to press on, to keep praying and to keep working hard in search of a full-time position with an excellent team.
Her time of unemployment didn't last long. She recently was offered a full-time position as a Media Relations Coordinator with the New England Patriots, the franchise that leads the NFL in Super Bowl appearances. An exceptional organization and a highly coveted opportunity. And she will continue to grow.
An unlikely career for a young woman? Definitely. But to quote one of Anne’s favorite ads: “Cookie cutters are fine if you’re making cookies.”
What about your child or grandchild? What is their dream? Does it sound crazy or far-fetched? While not every career is possible, many are.
Some lessons every parent can learn:
- Encourage your child to explore and develop his or her own interests.
- Remember: it’s your child’s life, not yours. You’ve had your chance.
- Help your child connect with people in a variety of fields and learn about different careers that are of interest. Encourage them to ask questions such as: “What do you like about your career? What’s the most difficult part? What has your career path been? Do you have any advice for someone just starting out? What type of education would best support the pursuit of that career?”
- Don’t place geographic limits on your child as they pursue their dreams. Every bird needs to leave the nest to learn to fly.
- Just wishing, dreaming and praying doesn't make dreams come true. Hard work and sacrifice are also required. Our kids need to know that, too.
- And please be careful about the words you speak to your child about their dreams. It’s tragic how frequently dreams are aborted because of a parent’s dismissive words.