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Career aspirations: when is it time to stop?


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We've had several threads recently that dealt with the "to push or not to push" spectrum. A post on the younger teens board made me think about a different, but related, issue: what's the balance between encouraging a legitimate dream versus prolonging false hopes?


Here's the quote:

i know it's really really hard to be a professional ballerina, but i know that i can do anything if i try hard enough you know?


I don't know this particular child, but my abstract response is, "Well, no. All the dedication and hard work in the world won't make a professional ballerina if the body is poorly suited. And you can't become a brain surgeon if you have poor spatial memory."


I know that examples abound of people who have overcome great odds to accomplish something they really wanted. But does it happen often enough that this unbridled optimism should be encouraged?


While I wouldn't dissuade a kid from pursuing a dream, and certainly not from working hard at something, I also would temper their dreams with a little realism. Am I just a party pooper? What say the rest of you?

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Realism has to come into it at some point, if indeed the child herself does not figure it out by around 16 or before. Most do. I don't believe they should be discouraged if there is any possibility at all, however, if a younger teen really shows absolutely no potential, then at least the parents need to be aware of that. In my experience the students themselves are a lot more realistic than we think sometimes. They know the reality, but they still love it and want to become as good as they can, and perhaps stay in the art form in some way by going to college and learning other areas where their ballet is still involved. I find that very often the parents do not accept the reality as well as the students. We have some teens who refuse to let go even when discouraged. So, if that is their decision then what can we do but go with it, unless of course the school is one which does not accept all students.

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This reminds me of a time when my oldest son was about 7 or 8 and told a school psychologist that he wanted to be a professional basketball player when he grew up. The child study team made a big deal about his unrealistic expectations for himself - at that age! I told them I thought it was ridiculous to tell him to give up on that dream. By his teens, he made the realization on his own and is now a happy college senior majoring in math and business. I guess my thought would be that the child would, at some point, recognize his or her own limitations. I agree with you that we should encourage their dreams, but be sure they are aware of the realities as well.

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Guest drval01

Victoria's reply is precisely on the mark. Children are smart enough to 'figure things out' by the time that the matter becomes critical. As parents, we can encourage, applaud, console, carpool, sew, pay, pay, pay.... But they have exclusive province over their dreams. And that is how it should be.

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Treefrog, you meanie you!;)


It's a tough call for us parents - are we pushy stage parents or are we " party poopers"? Do we contribute to "the dream" whether it be to be a basketball star, a brain surgeon, a National Geographic Photographer (does anyone still want to do that, they way I did?) or, even, :eek:the ballet dancer - or do we try to protect little Jimmy or Jemma from having their hearts broken, if we really know there just "ain't no way"!?


As a king in a famous, fictitious country once said: "'Tis a puzzlement."


I wonder if this is, for the most part, an American phenomenon - this "I can do anything if I try hard enough" belief? In this country, we've always prided ourselves on that "pioneer spirit"...you know, the "it's a big world out there, and somebody's got to conquer it!" theory, to the promise of "a chicken in every pot;" a car in every garage and a college diploma in everyone's future, i.e., the American Dream! Don't misunderstand me, I would never want to dash a young person's dreams - yet, I can see how it might present a very difficult situation for a parent: such as a financial one...


Nevertheless, I believe that I'll have to throw my lot in with the other posters here. :)

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I always knew I was a "glass half empty" kind of person ...


I think BW came closest to identifying the genesis of my question. What bothers me about the original sentiment was not the optimism of youth, it's the cultural arrogance.


Forgive me, I'm feeling excessively crotchety this morning. :)

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Guest balletmama

My tendency would be to not address the "I can do anything" dream head-on; if you don't dream when you're a kid, when can you dream? But I would be sure to point out and support other talents, interests, and dreams when the opportunity arose and to trust that reality will show its face at the right time...

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Treefrogs aren't capable of being crochety!


Balletmama has already written what I had planned on adding...the parts about encouraging other interests and offshoots...


Let's face it, there are different degrees of "no talent" - if my daugher wanted to be a singer and she was tone deaf, well then I hope I would try, gently, to explain this to her...but if she could carry a tune and loved to sing then I'd encourage her to do so, but would I pay for private singing lessons? :eek: ;)


Back to cultural arrogance, it's a much safer discussion!

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I saw an interview with the actor Matt Damon recently. He said that he had a dream his entire childhood of becoming a basketball player. His parents let him have that dream although family genetics being what they are, the Damons are all very short. He said that when he was about 13 or 15 (sorry, I forget which), his dad gently broke the news to him that he really ought to start considering other possibilities given that he really wasn't going to grow much taller. That's when he turned to acting.


I remember thinking Treefrog's thought while I watched that interview. So hard to know when to "break it to them gently". I do agree that childhood IS the time for dreaming. I also agree that adolescence is when many kids experience the reality for themselves. Most of the time parents don't have to say anything; the child knows.


I think that sometimes when teens are struggling with this issue, it comes out in other forms. The ballet studio is suddenly "unfair", or "too strict" or the kids "too rude", etc. Parents hear a plethora of complaints. Unconsciously, though, the dancer is really undergoing a weaning process. While every kid is bound to complain from time to time (and this normal complaining peaks around 13), when there's a sudden increase in frequency and duration in a dancer around 15 or up, it's often because the dancer finds the need to distance herself emotionally from the program so that when the break comes, it's not so painful.


I've seen this process repeat itself countless times at both the ballet school and at the Irish dance school over the years. It takes a little while before the reality is brought to consciousness but it nearly always happens. I can only think of a handful of cases where the dancer really IS misleading herself and where the parents have also bought into the fantasy. It's pretty rare.

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Guest Solballets Mom

I have a mixed view. There are many who possess talent, facility and drive. What's wrong with the pursuit? Perhaps the exact dream may not be realized for a variety of reasons. Perhaps something closely related to the dream will surface as a seed which will morph into something else. Perhaps it will fade to a life long passion that is carried in a variety of ways and means.


There are myriad ways in which the dreamer can come to terms. Some may experience a startled awakening. Others, a slow fade. A few for whom it will lay deep and slumber, to visit with fond memories, rememberances and comfort.


Who will write the review? What nutured that choreographers mind? Where do future dance educators come from? How does dance find it's audience? When will a dance class fill with adults looking for a way to stay fit and in touch with something they've known and enjoy?

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Lovely post Solballets Mom - and it strikes me so even more as I am listening to our Congress discuss whether or not to give their support to the current resolution re Iraq.


I think we have to realize that we have no real control over our children's dreams or interests... Oh sure we can forbid :eek:, or encourage and expose:cool: - but eventually we have to allow them to find their ways through the world and hope we're fortunate enough to be able to watch them enjoy the journey...while we're on our own.


I think one has to try not to worry too much about their children's future, but rather be glad they're engaged and "in love" with something as beautiful and worth while as ballet.


Last night as I waited for my daughter's class to finish, I couldn't help but overhear a teacher who was standing outside, looking in through the windows, say to someone that he loved to teach this particular class of students because they were just at that wonderful point in their lives where they "loved" the movement and so obviously enjoyed the moment so completely. :)

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I'm not a mom or a dad, but I'd like to contribute to this thread if I may. When I was in high school and middle school I was a competative swimmer. I lived, breathed, and dreamed swimming. My non-swimming friends got so sick of me talking about time trials and splits that I had to make concious efforts to find something else to discuss with them.


However, when I applied to college I decided that since I wasn't going to make the Olympic team or anything, it would be most productive for me to not swim in college and focus on my academic career. I was a good swimmer, placed highly in competition, but I knew without anyone having to tell me that I wasn't going to change the sport. I know this is a little bit different from ballet, because you can't be a professional swimmer, but bear with me.


When I got to college (small, liberal arts) I missed swimming dearly. So after the first semester, one of my friends convinced me to join the track team. I decided to give it a shot, and see if I could handle the commitment. Well, I had alreadly learned in high-school how to ballance my time, and the structure of running meshed nicely with my swimming experience. I excelled on the team, ran for all four years, and finished as a captain and MVP my senior year.


In the end I didn't regret not swimming in college, and I didn't regret not running in high school. What I found out about myself was that I really enjoy being part of a team, striving to improve myself, challenging myself physically, building endurance, and competition. These are all skills that applied equally to swimming and running (and to my later in life persuits of dance and yoga). I simply wanted to be a part of something that provided challenge and structure to my life.


I stay in touch with many of my high school friends. I can't think of one who wouldn't claim that the persuits of their younger days (dance, sports, music . . . ) helped shape their futures regardless of whether they are actually doing them professionally or not. Examples: the soccer player who now coaches; the theatrical performer who now is a film editor; the choral singer who now works with children, and uses music extensively; and the dancer who used her sense of rythm and musicality to become a classical guitarist. Not to mention the individuals who continue to run, swim, dance, sing, act, or play an instrument just for our own fun and fufillment.

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What a nice series of thoughts! Okay, not only am I less crotchety, I actually feel as though I am absorbing a life lesson.


Let's see, "better to chase a dream than your tail"?


"Follow your own dreams or you will stumble on someone else's"?


I like all the talk about finding new ways, new paths, new things about yourself even if the original plan doesn't work out.

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Guest Liz'smom

natashat, I have to agree with you that when our daughters/sons look back on the years spent in pursuit of their dream, should their dream not become a reality, that they look fondly on those years. I hope that my daughter will realize all the qualities that ballet has given her. As I have said in previous posts, she has developed into a beautiful, sensitive human being through her dance experience. Whatever the outcome in her life, I know that she will use her experiences that she has learned in ballet, and apply them with the same dedication that she has shown to ballet. I also have to agree with many of the others in saying that "they" know or will know often before we parents if a career isn't meant to be. Or perhaps, they're willing to admit it before us. For now, my daughter is going for it, and time will tell.

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I am in a little different position than most of you that have posted, because my daughter is one that spent many, many years pursuing a dream that eventually didn't work out. At about the age of 12, (after dancing since the age of 5) she decided that she was going to try and take the route necessary to become a professional dancer. She trained at a top-notch studio 6 days a week, was chosen to perform in many of the company's performances, and went to SI's when most of her friends were getting jobs and noticing boys! She had the drive, the desire and the heart to work hard and succeed. Her dad and I, as well as her extended family, supported her endevour, while all the time questioning what might happen if it didn't come to be. And, as many of you have said, she realized it for herself as time went on. While she was an excellent dancer, with stage presence that some only wish for, she knew that she just wasn't company-ready. She was able to appreciate the qualities in other dancers that "had it", so to speak. So she slowly backed off of her dance schedule as a senior in high school and had a normal senior year, enjoying the freedom to go to football games, get a job, etc. She's now in college, working toward a career that has nothing to do with dance, but she says that dance will always be a part of her life. She doesn't regret a moment of the time she spent training and learning. I have said all of this in previous posts, but it seems appropriate to post it again in this thread. So to all of you that are wondering and worrying about your own children, all I can say is - let them make the decision and come to the realization themselves if a career isn't in the cards for them. We've been through it, and survived just fine!

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