Looking for the "College of your Dreams"?
Advertising media is full of exhortations and promises about finding the consumer product "of your dreams." The car of your dreams. The vacation of your dreams. The bathroom remodel of your dreams. Everywhere we turn, we are urged to pursue perfection. To be perfectly happy, perfectly dressed, perfectly toned and tanned. We've worked hard for it. Gosh darn it--we DESERVE it.
I think it's a trap.
Our world presents so many choices. Have you looked for toothpaste lately? When I log on to my website platform or my word processing program, I could spend 45 minutes just trying out fonts. I could spend my whole day in pursuit of the "font of my dreams!" And more importantly, I could feel as though that time were justified. After all, maybe the perfect website font is all that stands between me and all the other Independent Counselors who are trying to make a living helping students. Maybe that's the key to my business success--the career of MY DREAMS. It's a jungle out there, you know.
So picture the typical 16 year old embarking on her college search. There seem to be infinite choices. And she is surrounded by well-meaning friends and families telling her to "Follow Your Dreams!" "Find a Passion and Pursue It!" (and be sure and document it and stash that in your locker for later). Loving parents say, "Honey, we want you to be happy. We want you to be able to do WHATEVER you want to do in life! You can be ANYTHING you want to be! We want you to find the college that is PERFECT for you and that will propel you into the career of your dreams. The life of your dreams. Find the partner of your dreams and be happily ever after!"
Most 16 year olds want to hang out with friends, watch YouTube videos, wear out their thumbs texting, and stop being nagged to put away their dirty dishes.
I think we should dial back the hyperbole. I think we should stop telling teens that their entire future depends on 1) Finding their passion and 2) Identifying the PERFECT college at which to pursue that passion. It's one more example of how we have encouraged narcissism, a sense of entitlement, and colossal self-absorption in our children. We have taught them that their primary mission in life is to focus on their own happiness, and that the only worthy pursuits are those that will polish their own images or fulfill their own naively-formed "dreams." Is it really reasonable to encourage a 16 year old to have and pursue a "bucket list"?
Can you imagine a world made up entirely of people pursuing their personal bucket lists and following their dreams? I don't know about you, but I think there would be a whole lot of overflowing trash cans, filthy bathrooms, and unwashed socks in that world.
Maybe we could try telling them instead: Find a place that will support you as you explore options. Find a place that will require you to work hard, learn new things, and new ways of understanding the world. Find a place that gives you opportunities to help others. Find a place that will prepare you for a life as a contributing adult.
Mike Rowe, the television celebrity famous for his "Dirty Jobs" series, has taken up the cause of skilled labor. His mikeroweWORKS Foundation encourages young people to value hard work, and to celebrate craftsmanship. It may sound counter intuitive for someone like me who helps young people look for colleges to draw your attention to an initiative that suggests that college is wholly unnecessary, but the message is powerful. In a recent virtual Commencement speech, Rowe suggests that we stop telling kids to Follow Your Passions. It's worth listening to.