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  • Writer's pictureLaura Fedolfi

Follow Your Viable Dreams

This fall my husband and I were walking with our college-aged daughter, weaving between dorms after having listened to an amazing choral concert she had just been in and she was talking about how "unhelpful" it was to have older folks tell younger folks to follow their dreams.

"What they really should say is "follow your viable dreams." If that was on a t-shirt, I would wear it."

That was all I needed to hear. Jump to Christmas, and it was under the tree- because there is almost nothing you can't make on the internet these days. I used Custom Ink, and they have this "auto-design" option where you type in the text you want on your shirt, and they spit out dozens of design variations you can choose from. It was actually fairly hard to pick because I couldn't seem to find one that showed the emphasis my daughter had placed in her statement- one where "viable" was the featured word. It was as if the computer program behind the "auto-design" disagreed with the sentiment and refused to endorse it. If it could talk, it might have argued with me, "But what is the point of dreams if you are limiting them before you begin?" This was the best I could find- where "viable" is smaller- like a secret joke hidden in the shirt.

Why am I telling you this story of how I battled with an online computer program to make a fun present for my daughter? I was recently thinking about how what we say to children and what they hear can be vastly different. We think we are being supportive, "follow your dreams" but what they might hear is "do something you haven't even imagined and it better be good." I remember when both kids were in high school and the guidance office was encouraging students to "follow their passions." This isn't a bad sentiment, but if I had followed my passions when I was a high school junior, I might have left school to become a professional Egyptian Rat Screw player, and we all know how that would have ended...(in pain and confusion if you stayed up too late in the Langdell Common Room and Sarah Allen had twisted her rings to be stone side down)

In all fairness to guidance counselors and all of us "older folks", we are just trying to cheer kids on and we want them to be productive and happy and because we know how hard it can be to deal with real life and we want them to persevere. I am personally guilty of having subjected both of my kids to my favorite young adult encouragement, "follow your curiosity"- (which I viewed as an improvement to "passion") -

and they manage not to demand to know:

What does that even mean, anyway, Follow your curiosity. Like, curiosity about anything in particular? Follow my curiosity for how long I can go without doing my laundry? Or maybe my curiosity of how long we can all wait for politicians to take climate change seriously? Or is the curiosity I should follow the one singular idea that should frame my intellectual pursuits for my lifetime, ultimately leading to a happy and fulfilled life? That curiosity?

My kids are far too kind to ever say these things to me. But sometimes you can read a lot in the face of a teen waiting out their parent's pep-talk. And then I remember that I am not a cheer leader and they are not on a team, and we are all people just trying to live our lives, and I translate my sentiment and ask them, "So how was your day?" Because sometimes the sentiment we want to communicate only highlights the uncertainties, leaving us with miscommunicated support sounding like overwhelming expectations. And that would not work on a t-shirt at all.

What do you say to your kids that with a little tweaking could make for a solidly ironic t-shirt? Or what was your favorite thing said to you growing up that made no sense at all?

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