Friday, June 12, 2015

Never For Money; Always For Love

"Never for money; always for love." ~The Talking Heads

By the time our daughter Josephine was eight, she had already acted in several plays, but then she was cast in a production of Shakespeare's comedy All's Well That Ends Well. From that moment on she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. By the time she was 14 she had performed in at least a dozen more of his plays, comedies, histories, and tragedies, and had picked out the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU as the best place to continue her studies after high school. In the Fall, that's where she's going, the only school to which she applied, and from which I'm confident she will emerge with a bachelor of fine arts degree.

People keep telling me that we're lucky parents, that they worry about their own kids because "they don't have a direction yet." I know a few parents of these directionless kids who have more or less told their children what they will study and where, not really consulting them about their own futures. Fortunately, there are only a few of those in my circle, even as I know that there are far too many aspirational parents who condemn their children to a desperate, joyless life.

Much more prevalent in my world are parents of teens, some of the very ones who have praised our luck, who have more or less told their children what they are not going to study, saying they won't support their pursuit of a higher education focused on music or medieval history or literature because, after all, they're going to have get "practical," code for "finding a way to pursue money." My own parents didn't go that far, but they did successfully urge me in that direction, steering me away from fine arts and toward journalism, where I studied advertising, convincing both them and myself that it was at least a creative profession from which I had a likelihood of earning a decent income.

To say I regret my choices would be to suggest that I would trade my current life for some other, but even though I hold a degree that says I'm qualified, I've never worked a day in advertising and it took me until I was closing in on 40 to finally discover what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I do think I'm lucky, but not because our daughter knows she wants a life on the stage, performing some of the greatest art that has ever been created. I'm lucky because very early on in my journey as a parent, I was exposed to the radical notion that my baby was a unique, fully formed human being in her own right, and that my role was to keep her safe and to love her. My only aspiration for her, therefore, is that she should do what she loves, to ask and answer her own questions about life, and through that to explore what it means to be her, this unique, fully formed human being. Will there be hardships along her road? Of course, as there are in every life, but at least she will be doing what she loves which is the currency with the highest value.

Among the 49 kids in my daughter's high school graduation class, 10 of them have been going to school together since they were five, and a dozen more have been together since about the time Josephine set out on her current career path. Most of them at one time or another have been at my house. I reckon that many will follow a journey similar to my own, "practical" paths that teach them through dead ends and long dark tunnels, places where they might pocket money while searching for the light. 

When I ask them about their futures, most do not tell me the story their parents tell, or at least not with as much conviction. To them I've been saying, "Never for money; always for love."

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Anonymous said...

Ouch, TT. This one stings. While I am comfortable sacrificing much of what I want to give my kids what they need, I think it's unethical to send my kids into young adulthood with the kind of debt they/I would need to take on for them to pursue a theater degree at Tisch. I'm not saying other people shouldn't do it! I think it's fantastic that Josephine gets to pursue her dream, and that you have supported her from Day 0. But what do you say to parents who maybe can't afford to ethically support those dreams in the same way?

Teacher Tom said...

@Anonymous . . . I think you mean you can't "financially" support those dreams. I'll confess that it does help that our daughter has managed to secure scholarships and work-study that will cover well more than half of the expense, something she made happen, in part, because we've been having real financial conversations since she was young.

Ethically, however, would point out that life is shockingly short. We spend a huge amount of that time sleeping and working. My advice is to buy a good mattress and make sure to work at something you love. The rest will take care of itself.

Carolyn said...

Tom, I couldn't agree with you more!!! I had no idea what I wanted to do when I attended college so the first thing I did was take some practical classes that would help me get a job to support myself. I worked my way through school and took any class that I thought I might like. I ended up getting a degree in Fine Arts in Photography. I worked many years in minimum wage jobs in National Parks, having a lot of fun, travelling, taking pictures, etc. I still had no idea what I really wanted to do, but I was having the time of my life! I believe that we are all given special talents and interests and it is our duty to pursue them. When we do, we will eventually find our purpose and contentment. Anyway, I ended up starting my own website when the Internet was very young and built up a business that makes more money than most doctors make, and absolutely love doing it! Not only that, I used just about every class I ever took in college, including computer technology, accounting, office management, photography, art, social studies, statistics, etc. I don't think any class is a waist of time. Pursue your dreams and encourage your children to do the same no matter what the cost!!!! A lack of money is not a good excuse for not pursuing your dreams. I didn't have any money, and it took me a long time to get where I am, but it is possible if you are willing to sacrifice for what you want. There is always a way if you are willing to work for it.

Unknown said...

always for love... and i love this post ^^
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