“Mom, I wish there was a time machine where we could fast forward and see what we were going to be when we grew up and then just concentrated on that in school,” my younger daughter said the other night.
Brilliant, I thought, remembering my own frustration in school learning about ancient civilizations, memorizing Latin conjugation and math equations that were much better suited for a calculator than my brain. With no internet or smartphones to distract us, I actually brought crossword puzzles or a book to occupy myself in classes that I found especially boring. Basically, I wanted to read and write, and perform in the school play-all things that lent themselves to my current career as a television journalist. But of course, at the time, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.
As I mulled my daughter’s statement a little more, I realized that laser focusing on a career in middle school would be ridiculous. School is not so much about learning and memorizing facts as it is about learning how to learn, how to conceptualize and how to communicate effectively in the spoken and written word what you have gleaned from the material.
“But you would miss so much if you just studied what you love, and what you excel at (in her case language arts, French and art),” I said, knowing full well my argument wasn’t convincing her. “What they’re really teaching you is how to learn, and how to think for yourself. For example, every day I have to take a lot of new, sometimes complex information that I’ve never seen before and put it into a short television story that people will understand. I learned how to do that in school, not directly, but indirectly in each one of my subjects.”
Another reason not to have children laser focus is that they might miss something they didn’t think they would be interested in, but didn’t know about because they were never exposed to it. French is that way for my daughter. She had taken Spanish for years, and begged us to try French because she was interested not only in the language, but in the culture as well. We’re so glad she did because she is passionate about it. This is reflected in her grades and how hard she studies.
So, while the time travel to choose a career idea is a tempting idea in theory, it would take all of the mystery out of life, the possibility of an unexpected fork in the road that we might take instead of the path we’re on. I’m still looking for those forks, and hopefully, so are my children.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.