One day years ago as I was visiting my son’s elementary school, I noticed every student had a picture on their locker of what they wanted to be when they grew up. The girls varied mostly between veterinarians, pop stars and dancers, but almost all the boys wanted to be NFL players. I chuckled since no NFL players have ever come from our town (It’s true, I looked it up).
My son was seven at the time and also wanted to be in the NFL. He played in the youth league but it was clear he wouldn’t last long. He was half the size of the other kids and just not very aggressive. But even though I was freaking out over him getting injured or a concussion, I support him just the same. After all, my job as a dad is to encourage my son in whatever he chooses to do, right?
I was relieved a year later my son decided to stop football. I didn’t ask why but we both knew the answer. I told him it was fine. Besides, growing up is all about trying new things until you find something that fits. In fact, as a kid, that’s his job. And I told him that. I said he has the most important job in the world, and that is to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. And if he does it right, it’ll include three things:
First, you need to find something you love to do. This is harder than you think because it needs to be something you love to do every day for the rest of your life! I mean, I love mowing my lawn, but I couldn’t do it every day for 40 years (kudos to lawn care people everywhere!).
Second, it’s not enough to love something, you have to be good at it. Everyone knows at least one person who wants to be a singer. But when they try to sound like Adele it comes out like a sick coyote. Let’s face it, desire and hard work is not enough. You need talent or you’ll never make it past karaoke night.
Finally, you have to find something that can make money. I know a guy who is an amazing guitar player, but installs sprinkler systems during the day. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who can make it in Nashville or Hollywood, making money in a band is rare. In fact, most of the artist vocations – painting, sculpture, even writing this article – doesn’t pay enough to replace my day job.
So I told my son the trick to a happy life is to find something with all three. You can’t just have two. I know a guy who is a great salesman and makes a lot of money, but hates his job. So you need all three. My son said thanks and walked away. I sighed. With kids you never know what sinks in. Instead he went about his life trying lots of other things and with each one I supported him fully.
That is, until now. My son is 13 and today I asked him if he thought about college yet. He responded with the statement all parents dread:
“I’m not going to college.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“I’m going to make money posting videos on YouTube.”
“You’re going to what?”
He looked at me like I was an idiot. Now, I will admit with all the things my son has tried, one thing has remained constant. Video games. Like most boys, he loves to play Pokemon, Mario, Minecraft and others and he’s actually pretty good at it. He told me how people are making money posting videos of their games on the internet.
“You’re kidding?” I said. “People will pay just to watch you play video games?”
“But Dad, you sit and watch sports on TV, what’s the difference?” he said.
He had me there.
“So how do you make money?”
“Once you get enough followers to your site, you can start advertising. Some people have millions of followers and make thousands of dollars a year.”
He showed me several sites. Sure enough, there are people out there making decent money just posting videos.
“But this can’t really be a real career, can it?” I asked.
“But it fills all three things you told me about. It is something I love to do, I’m good at and I can make money… so what’s the problem?”
Crap. I’m freaking out on the inside again as my own words are used against me. How do I respond? I could tell him that posting videos is just a fad that won’t last, or that the odds of him making a stable career out of it is zilch.
But the truth is the odds are always stacked against you.
It’s just like football. Sure most kids never make it to the NFL, but a lucky few do. And just because the odds are high doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the chance. Like I said, I don’t want him to settle for two out of three.
If he’s found that one thing that meets all three, how can I be anything other than supportive?
“Fine,” I told him. “But if that’s going to be your career, maybe don’t give up on college yet. Go into video production or digital marketing. That’ll help make your videos better.”
He said thanks me and walked away. I sighed again. Next week it’ll be something else and I’ll be freaking out on the inside while being supportive on the outside again.
But as a father, that’s my job. I love it. I’m good at it. And if this article does well, maybe I can even make money at it.
Russell Heidorn lives in suburban Minneapolis and scatters his time between working and family while pursuing his dream of writing music and fiction. He has received enough success to think he might have some untapped talent deep inside, but also enough rejection to realize his hasn’t found it yet.