When I was young, I wanted to be a nun. My Hindu parents were aghast. My mother started action to divert me from the path and my father did what he always did—blame mother. She worked hard to get me to set my sights on something more mercenary.
It was hard work. Somehow, offices, dentistry, the Indian Foreign Service, chartered accountancy and even being a surgeon did not appeal. I still have an aversion to the thought of sticking my hands into someone’s body.
Over the years, I wanted to take up many different occupations. Not being able to comprehend exactly what a student of geography could do, I decided that being an archaeologist would be a good substitute—plenty of rocks and travelling the world. My father was clear, his ambition for me was to get me married.
While I dreamt of being a poet, a classical dancer, a great painter, and for one short summer, an Olympic swimming champion, my father went about accruing my dowry, and my mother brought long-suffering math tutors home in the forlorn hope that I would overcome my fear of numbers.
My friends had their ambitions too. One wanted to be a physicist, another a doctor, one wanted to be a choreographer, another a teacher. We all wanted to marry Robert Redford/Amitabh Bachchan, or least chase him round a tree, and most of us had fantasies of being one or the other of the female film stars who swooned around what now seem to be strangely portly male heart-throbs.
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We all had actress fantasies, but these were played out in all-girl school plays. My actress fantasy lasted longer than most, but was firmly knocked off when my father categorically refused to allow me to audition for the National School of Drama.
Now, everyone wants to be a pop star, a musician, or a famous sports star, regardless of whether they have a modicum of ability.
Over the last few months, there has been a steady stream of pubescent boys coming to see my husband. They have heard that he has connections with several English Premier League clubs and they all want to be professional footballers in the UK.
These are boys whose major achievement is to have played for their school team, and they have exhibited no evidence of being top-class athletes. They are not alone in their delusion. The talentless clog our reality shows hoping, almost expecting, to be the chosen stars of the future.
In other countries, the same phenomenon exists. In the course of a single generation, becoming a sports star, a pop star or a famous actor has replaced being an engineer, a chartered accountant or a doctor as the top ambition of the young.
A recent study in the UK had the ambition of the majority of boys as being the new Wayne Rooney.
As usual, some of the blame for this sorry state of affairs can be laid at the feet of the idiot box, but some of it must be the responsibility of schools and parents, academia and new-age religions.
Now, academicians are beginning to point out how the relentless promotion of positive thinking is undermining society’s development.
Children are being led to believe that dreaming they can do something is all that’s needed to be whatever they want to be. Unbridled optimism has replaced cool, calculated reality.
Worse, in many instances, it is seen as a replacement for hard work and discipline. In Outliers, Malcolm Caldwell highlights research that proves that 10,000 hours of practice and competition is a basic prerequisite for being a virtuoso in anything—from sports to music to business. Sadly, many of our children think that dreaming about something is enough to make it happen.
When we were young our parents encouraged our childish dreams and fantasies. That is how it should be; dreams and fantasies are an integral part of early childhood. They give us possibilities to aim for. Sadly, only a few people are hard-working and disciplined enough to turn their dreams into reality, but most do not.
The smiling everything-is-going-to-be-all-right approach is partly responsible for the current malaise, with its refusal even to entertain the possibility of negative outcomes.
Whereas parents still want their children to pursue the traditional professions—law, medicine and being an entrepreneur, they need to realize that pandering to their adolescent’s unrealistic dreams of film stardom or playing for Manchester United is a hindrance to more realistic goals.
Seeing the world through rose-tinted spectacles is a dangerous substitute for seeing the world as it is.
Getting your children to see the glass as half full rather than half empty may make the less discerning child slightly happier, but it does not increase the amount of fluid in the glass.
It’s time to put away the bright shining optimism and bring out the hard cold reality, and leave the dreaming to infants.
Abha Adams is an education consultant. She writes a monthly column on training and education as they relate to careers and the workplace.
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