Various situations in my life have lead to most of my contacts being between the ages of 10 and 30. It’s always fun to ask them what they want to do in the future and listen to an uncomfortably large number of them (especially in the late teens and late twenties, which makes me nervous as I’m headed into my late thirties) shrug and say, “I don’t know. Live off my parents (or some other person in their life)?” In a number of these cases, the person I’m talking to just has no concept of how you get from school to some sort of career. And their life path shows it (or ends up showing it if they’re in school).
Talking to them reveals that their free time is usually spent in a very small set of activities that, while fine and useful in small doses (Who hasn’t used an hour of veggie in front of the TV to force themself to relax once in a while?), are their entire life. They have no hobbies. They don’t participate in anything. They just exist, and it doesn’t occur to them that they’ll never do anything more than exist at the rate they’re going. (My personal favorite is the kid preparing to undertake his Eagle project…with no idea what he wants to do, what inspires him, what he’s curious about. We’re all curious to see what he ends up doing.)
It’s really hard to not thwap them (although my jaw hitting the floor does seem to make students uncomfortable).
I’m fortunate in that this group does not make up the majority of the people I know in this age group. For every kid who has no idea there’s more to life than just sitting at the park chatting with friends about reality TV, I’ve got two who are involved in school and community projects or working on their hobbies, and know where they want to go after they’re done with high school. They’re energetic, excited, and ready to tackle the next thing that comes along.
Most people look at the two groups and say the motivated group has all the right genes, but that’s not it at all. They have experience. They did something, which led to them doing something else. They saw something, heard something, that encouraged them to try it out for themselves. If the first group had had experiences, it would be harder to discern them from the second group.
When you have opportunities to try things out, it makes you want to try out more things. Point this sequence in the right direction, and a kid can find a life path that they’ve started practicing long before their peers start down that same road.