Glee & dreams

May 25, 2010

I watched my second episode ever of “Glee” last week.  I watched the first episode because of the buzz, thought, “It’s a show about underdogs but they still need the white male jock to save them.  No thanks.”  I watched this episode because I wanted to hear Neil Patrick Harris sing.  (I’m sure I’m not the only one.)

Harris played a character whose dreams of Broadway stardom fizzled, and now has made it his mission in life to make sure no child ever suffers the disappointment he did.  He does this by lecturing high school show choirs about how their dreams will never come true so they should just give them up now, which he proceeds to do to our intrepid heroes.

That scene really upset me.  Really upset me.  I’m sure it was supposed to.  Either that, or I was supposed to think it was funny.  I couldn’t quite tell.  But it hit a little close to home.  Don’t ever do that.  Don’t ever tell a kid his/her dreams will never come true.

I was about sixteen when I started telling people I wanted to be a writer.  I got a lot of polite smiles.  And I had a few well-meaning and completely hateful adults tell me that I really ought to have something to fall back on because I would probably never become a writer.  You know why this is a really terrible thing to do to a kid?  Kids can’t argue with grown-ups.  They can try, they can pull out all sorts of rational, reasoned, well-thought out and correct arguments to counter them.  And the grown-up will just say, “Yes, but I’m the grown-up so I know more than you.”  As if that trumps everything.  And we wonder why teenagers get so surly.

Every once in a while I think about calling up those unimaginative adults who told me I would probably never become a writer.  But when I think about what to say to them, all that comes out are really impolite versions of “Screw you.”

The adults who tell kids that their dreams will never come true think they’re being helpful.  They think they’re saving the kids from some sort of disappointment.  But you know what?  Most kids will figure out pretty quickly whether they’re really going to go after that dream or not.  Most of them figure out on their own that they’d rather spend all that time and energy on something else, like starting a family or getting a rewarding job that they didn’t even know about when they were sixteen because let’s face it, you don’t really know what all is out there when you’re sixteen.  And because they figured it out on their own they’ll generally be okay with the fact they didn’t become a Broadway star.

You want a disappointed kid?  Find that kid at age thirty, looking back and wondering if he could have made it if he’d tried a little harder, if some grown-up hadn’t told him he needed to get a real job instead of following his dream.

25 Responses to “Glee & dreams”

  1. James Says:

    Totally agree – I was lucky enough to have parents who basically said “do whatever makes you happy and we’ll support you” and they continue to do so … although I am sure they haven’t been 100% convinced all my decisions were good ones but that’s what parents do… 🙂

  2. Nicholas Says:

    Yes, I think there’s a difference between saying “it’ll be difficult and you’ll have to work really hard” and “the chances of you making it are so small that you might as well give up now”. The former is realistic but motivating, whereas the latter is just discouraging for no good reason.

    There’s a nice story about the computer scientist George Dantzig which illustrates this sort of thing. One day, while he was a graduate student in the late 1930s, he arrived late for a class and quickly copied everything down from the board, including a couple of what he assumed were homework problems. He went back the next week and handed in his solutions, only to be told by his astonished doctoral supervisor that it wasn’t an assignment but a couple of previously unproven conjectures.

    Because he’d missed the bit where the lecturer told the class not to bother trying, he wasn’t aware that he wasn’t expected to be able to do them – so instead of being in the “this is effectively impossible, don’t bother trying” category, the problems were, for him, in the “this is hard but theoretically doable” category, which ultimately made all the difference.

  3. Anthony Says:

    Oh, this hits so close to home, it almost made me cry.

  4. carriev Says:

    I should mention that my parents have always been extremely, magnificently supportive. (I’m a writer and my brother’s in theater — what does that tell you?)

    Which made it much, much easier to ignore the adults (like my Girl Scout leader — WTF?) who told me not to dream big.

    Nick, that is a great story!

  5. James Says:

    @carriev – I’m a writer (non-fiction published x five) – albeit I also toil away at IT so I can eat – and my sister is an artist and a gold & silversmith so our family is about in the same boat. 🙂

    I suspect your royalty checks are a bit bigger than mine though. 🙂

  6. wygit Says:

    “Those who discourage your dreams likely have abandoned their own”

    It even has a bumper sticker
    http://www.cafepress.com/+those_who_discourage,38485472

  7. Becca Says:

    As a teacher of little kids, I hear their dreams on a regular basis. They have ranged from wanting to be president, to being a teacher, a singer, and (the most recent) a golf pro. I always try to let them know that they do have a lot of work ahead of them, but to try. It never hurts to try and you don’t want to look back and regret things.

    I always tried to encourage the kids I worked with. I was able to be advisor to the drama club this year… and there were kids who would never make it into a play in other schools, but I just loved their personality and passion for what they were doing. They put their all into their acting, and even if it wasn’t the best, they worked with constructive criticism and practiced. To see the joy on their faces when they got up in front of everyone or when they talked about it was just amazing. I hope they never lose it.

  8. Todd Says:

    I think a lot of kids, especially teenagers, have their own inner doubt-monster whispering negative things into their ears. If even well-meaning adults add their two-cents (or twenty dollars) worth into this mix, a kid’s self esteem and motivation can plummet. I know. I’m a prime example. Fortunately one class (and one professor) my freshman year in college turned it around for me, allowing me to realize my potential. Otherwise I shudder to think where I would have ended up.

    I’m glad your parents were so supportive of your dreams. Wish mine woulda been.

  9. carriev Says:

    That’s exactly it, Todd. It takes so little one way or the other to change a path like that. The right word can be such a boost, and the wrong word can be devastating.

    Becca, you’re awesome — it seems like a lot of people have a teacher in their lives (like Todd) who ends up being the one to encourage.

  10. Gillian Says:

    *Sigh*. I wish I had a teacher like Becca when I was at school and obviously I’m not the only one.

    Becca’s kids are really lucky!

  11. Markysan Says:

    I saw a sign in a doctor’s office once that read, “A child’s spirit should be nutured, not broken.”

    I always tell my kids, if you’re going to dream, dream BIG. My “practical advice” advice to them is that dreaming alone does nothing, you need action to make those dreams come true.

  12. Jackie Says:

    My son – the school hater and anarchist – decided he wants to be a lawyer. He is now in freshman year at college with a political Science major. He didn’t do great, but he did do well especially considering his learning disability. I have never said a negative word about his choice, because what’s the worst that could happen? If he changes his mind and does something else, at least he will have these years of learning to his credit. If he succeeds, well maybe we will finally get a good lawyer. anything is possible, right?

  13. EmeraldWolfHeart Says:

    Wow…I think pretty much everyone has said all the right things, kids should be encouraged to dream. I just wanted to say my piece since i have a slightly different perspective, this is only my 2nd year out of high school and you know what I’m not in college despite every adult I meet implying without a college degree I’ll fail at life. I know those adults mean well but my dreams don’t fit with going to college, I want to be a dog trainer (not behaviorist) and possibly a part time writer if I can improve my writing skills. Dog training is a passion of mine and I can’t see myself getting more enjoyment out of any other career. That said I admit that following my dreams has been no piece of cake and I’m struggling to figure out how to make everything work still, luckily though my parents despite their doubts are doing their best to support me and I have older adult friends offering to help me succeed. So now I can only hope to and work at not failing, I want to be a success story like many others.

  14. Re Williams Says:

    @Emerald Wolf Heart,

    As some one who trained sled dogs professionally several years I just have to say GO FOR IT!!!! I never have used those five years I spent at University except for the fact that I love to learn.

    If you want any free (or possibly useless) advice feel free to write. winklealli (at) hotmail.com

  15. spiderorchid Says:

    The best advice my mother ever gave me was that you can only be good at something (and work effeciently, aka get results without burning out) that you like to do. There is no such thing as ‘the right thing’ or ‘the sensible thing’ because that means something different for every individual.

  16. Chris Says:

    Carrie…don’t call those people. Just send them boxes of your books. 🙂

  17. Ann Says:

    ^ With a note: “Support my next bestselling novel! Monetary support will go to thought-fertilizing food, mood-boosting chocolate, and quality-ensuring research materials. Appreciative letters may go to the return address, as well.”

    They didn’t help then, but they can help now.

  18. Kathryn Says:

    I think Lois McMaster Bujold puts it best, via Miles Vorkosigan, in her book Komarr:
    ‘Some people grow into their dreams, instead of out of them’
    ‘That depends on whether your dreams are reasonable’ said Vorsoisson….
    ‘No it doesn’t.’ Miles smiled slightly. ‘It depends on how hard you grow.’

  19. carriev Says:

    And there’s another Miles quote, I think in “A Civil Campaign:” “Aim high: you may still miss the target but at least you won’t shoot your foot off.”

    I’m doing an event in August in the town where I went to high school — we’ll see who shows up.

  20. Jakk Says:

    Sadly, i *AM* the “kid” who didn’t follow his dream and did the responsible thing of finding “respectable” work. I like my work at times, but i often wondered if i listened to myself and not listened to the expectations of others where i would be now.

  21. Doruk Says:

    If I had fifteen thumbs, they would all be up for this post.

  22. Jackie Says:

    Jakk – It’s never too late. The average person will have at least 2 carreers. Maybe it’s time to start the one with the dreams attached.

  23. carriev Says:

    Yes, what Jackie said.


  24. […] probably never be able to make a living at that.  That’s not very realistic, is it?”  I’ve talked before about what a hideously bad thing it is to discourage kids like that.  (I still hold a grudge […]


  25. […] how parents can support kids who are budding artists, writers, actors, etc… She also has two previous posts on the same […]


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