Why We Don’t Tell Our Kids They Can be Anything They Want

It’s preached everywhere: “Believe, and it will happen.”

“Trust and you will find.”

“Try and you will succeed.”

“You can be anything you want to be and more.”

Once you get to a certain age you realize that’s all crap. Because, you know, when I was little, I believed I’d be an astronaut and go to the moon (there have only been twelve manned moon landings since 1969). I also wanted to be a cartoonist for a newspaper strip, but that was before I learned that Jim Davis already had the market cornered in that department.

The problem with me, then? Well, I believe there were two issues.

  1. My expectations were unrealistic. I hate science and always have, so any chance of me becoming an astronaut were doomed to begin with. And, even after some art classes, my cartoons were mediocre at best.
  2. I wasn’t consistent. I bounced around from one cool potential career to the next, whichever sounded most appealing at the time. Usually I was inspired by pop culture, and never really tapped into what I – little Andy – really wanted to do with my life.

Now that I’m a dad, I’m careful not to tell my kids they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, because let’s be honest: My daughter is too tall to be an Olympic gymnast. My son is too sensitive to be a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, and so far his hand-eye coordination is as great as his dad’s – never mind hitting the broadside of a barn, we’re lucky just to make the ball past the fence.

I love the movie Wreck-It Ralph. Ralph didn’t want to be a bad guy anymore, and no matter 982468_032how many medals he won or good deeds he performed, he was always going to be a bad guy. But he learned to make peace with it.

An even better one is the bold Monsters University, where young Mike wants to be a scarer, but he really just sucks at it. He’s small, puny, and pretty funny looking.

No, as much as I would like to change things, our kids cannot be anything they want to be. It’s just not realistic, and beyond that, it’s a lie.

That’s not to say that if they worked and studied hard enough that they can’t become doctors and lawyers, business owners and CEO’s, or any other profession that requires a large degree of panache and brains. And as their parents, we’ll support them in every way.

But if my son dreams of making it on Juggling with the Stars in sixteen years but he can’t juggle any more than his daily chores, then I’m going to be flat-out honest with him and suggest that maybe he could coach someone to juggle or something.

But whatever they set their mind to, it is my hope that not only is it achievable within their skill set, but that they stick with it and don’t give up.

Let’s Resolve for a Better 2018 (Yes, 2018)

I think I know why New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

It’s because we expect change to be immediate.Like, we plan to lose thirty pounds next year. That’s great, but we’re just now coming out of a candy-crusted, cookie-frosted, eggnog-chugging month.

Guys. We can’t go from heavy creamed-based mashed potatoes to carrot juice and Power bars over night. Seriously.

And yet, year after year, we think it can be done.

Or what about people who are like, I’m going to make a million dollars next year! That’s fine and great, and I applaud your spirit, but you made that vow last year aaaaaaannnd… here you are sitting at your same computer reading this same blog about to make the same promise, which will eventually lead you to this exact same spot exactly one year from now.

But what if.

What if, instead of making our traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2017, we instead resolve to prepare for a better 2018?

Stay with me here.

I think about 3/4 of the world can agree that 2016 sucked, right? I mean, we lost a bunch of beloved celebrities, the elections were going to be bad either way, and it seems like everybody lost a loved one, and if they didn’t, it was just a really crappy year.

I want to label my toilet and every toilet at work “2016” and just crap in it all year long. Okay, that’s achievable:

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My first resolution is that, one year from now – nay, ten years from now – I look back and say that 2016 was easily the darkest and worst year of my life. (Unless of the course the zombie apocalypse happens first, then that might be considered the worst year ever. Maybe.)

And one step to ensure that happens is to make 2017 the year of…progress. As in, “We’re not there yet, but we’re making progress.” It’s the year to rebuild on the ruins of 2016.

We can’t fix everything over night. And the older I get, the more I realize that most things take more than a year to fix or build.

So let’s build toward an incredible 2018. Let’s get in the habit now of eating better, casual exercising, socializing more, spending less, writing more, whatever.

If your resolution is to stay married next year, focus more on how to stay married so that in 2018, you can resolve to improve your marriage even more and make it even a better year.

If you really want a new job, don’t just settle for the first dead-end job that offers you an out from your current situation. This is tough, but spend 2017 polishing up your resume, taking classes to improve yourself, sharpen your skills, so that in 2018, you can seriously be ready to apply for a newer, better job.

So, here’s to 2018. May 2017 be the ladder that leads to a greater year.

 

Who’s Your TV Daddy?

Alan Thicke’s passing leaves many of us reminiscing back to calmer, gentler evenings where the family gathered around the TV every night to watch the next installment of their favorite sitcom. And for many families that sitcom was Growing Pains. 

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I wasn’t as invested in the show as I was others, but I can still hear snapshots of Dr. Seaver yelling at his son for screwing up or trying to sooth over an argument with his wife. I remember I wanted his job because he never had to leave his house since his office was built in the guest room.

His passing got me thinking about other TV dads and how we all kind of have one or two that we believe act as our surrogates in some virtual way. For instance, Uncle Phil was definitely my surrogate uncle because I needed his discipline and loud yelling to get through to me and my stupid antics.

Tim Taylor from Home Improvement was definitely my TV dad. Probably because my own dad loves his tools and frames houses for a living. Unfortunately I identified with Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ dramatic arts-loving character, so I had a hard time identifying with my dad. It was just good to see it work in a TV world.

I think it’s kind of cool that we have these shows to look back on and adopt certain people as members of our virtual families. When Robin Williams died, I remember my best friend crying through a text message that he was the uncle he never had. We loved him, and yes we cried.

These actors leave an imprint on us. They’re magicians who breathe life into a character who otherwise would never have existed, and these characters live on well after the cameras shut off.

Who’s your TV dad? Danny Tanner? Mr. Cleaver? Homer?

Leave your answers below along with your favorite Growing Pains moment in honor of Mr. Thicke.

Breaking the Adult Shell

I marvel at how open kids can be. My two-year-old son, for instance, will just go up to anyone at the park and hug them. The awkwardness never simmers. And my almost three-year-old daughter will become best friends with anyone that has hair the same length as her and smiles.

When you’re a parent, you often reflect on your own childhood and marvel at how different you once were. I know I do.

I remember the first day of third grade, I sat across from this kid named Arty. We just kept staring at each other the whole class and kept seeing who would break and laugh first. We were inseparable that whole year and I blame him for not learning my long division.

Now, as an adult, I avoid eye-contact as much as possible with the guy that sits across from me at work.

It used to be that a new kid moved in next door and you’d go over and introduce yourself with a ball and glove. I just ran into our new neighbor for the first time last weekend and simply smiled and nodded. He’d been there for about a month.

Getting old means losing your edge. If you’re like me, it means getting bitter and growing more and more insecure. My shy and acne-infested high school self was Bruno Mars compared to who I’ve grown up to be.

My best friend of sixteen years has the same issue. So he came up with the idea of challenging each other to do out-of-the-box things every day. Ask a stranger for money, buy our wives flowers, fart in an elevator and own up to it, whatever.

So that’s what we’ve been doing. It’s an attempt to make us a feel a little more alive than our adulthood wants us to be. It’s an attempt to not be crushed by conformity. To not lose the luster of trying new things or be found ball-less when a challenge presents itself.

Last week I was challenged to give the Thanksgiving prayer. Not being one to pray, it was awkward and never-ending. The end result was that I sincerely hoped that “our bellies will be filled with this food.” It worked, but the prayer was a complete mess.

I used to love talking in public and sharing stories, but the fact that I almost lost my lunch when I was given that challenge just shows how much I’ve lost myself.

So that’s our challenge: To push each other to do things we would have done in high school but are too wimpy to do now. What do you do to keep yourself spry and spontaneous? What kinds of challenges would you issue your friends?

Click here for a coupla great books for your Christmas shopping budget. 

Is It Worth Being a Conformist?

When did we start to conform?

I’ve been trying to rally local foster parents to bring change to the foster program, but the response is usually, “It is what it is.” “There are laws in place for a reason.” “It’ll never change.” (All this despite a poll I did where basically everyone polled was unhappy with the system.)

Are we not civilians of a free and democratic country? When did we just get so complacent that we forgot that we can enact change (even small changes) in our surroundings? When did we go from authority-challenging kids to hands-in-the-pockets-heads-down yes-people?

I’ll tell you when it was for me.

When I took on a mortgage and had kids.

Those aren’t bad things. I don’t regret them. But I regret conforming.

As a teenage I used to often cry in private because one of my biggest fears was being just another face in the crowd. Oh, the thought of that seriously kept me up at night. I didn’t want to be One of Them.

And now I am.

I put on my slacks, hug my wife and kids goodbye, and drive to work each day. My music selection is as chipper as can be because I know I will be spending the next 8+ hours conforming, submitting, and dare I say it? selling out. Making people happy whom, quite frankly, I don’t give a crap about.

Working hard to please men and women who get paid higher salaries and complain that they’re bored all day at work.

Why?

Because I need to pay the mortgage and make sure my kids have Juicy Juice in the fridge.

So my question is this. We’ve got to do what we do at work to pay the bills. That’s fine. But once you clock out, are you still conforming?  Or are you figuring out each day how to live a little? How to have fun? To be spontaneous?

Make sure, when you clock out for the weekend at the end of today, you also mentally clock out. Once you get back in your car, you don’t belong to anyone anymore. The rules you follow are not rules at all (be good, stay quiet, blend in).

Do something this weekend to challenge yourself, to push yourself. Even if it’s embarrassing.

Clock out and un-conform.

 

 

What My Three Favorite Movies Have in Common

Pixar and Disney movies aside, I have three ultimate favorite movies that I can’t ever get enough of and they all have one thing in common.

Aside from the fact that they’re all based on true stories and were nominated for best picture (one won), there’s an underlying theme that drives stubborn dreamers like me back to them time and time again.

My three favorite movies of all time are The King’s Speech, Frost/Nixon, and Moneyball. 

One is about the ascent to royalty, one is about the descent from power, and the other is about a guy who just wants to make a good living doing what he believes he’s good at. On the surface they can’t be any different from one another.

But a closer look will reveal that they are each about men facing the impossible. They are about men stubborn (and stupid?) enough to go after what they believe is best for themselves, their family, and their people, even though their treks defy all logic and even saneness.

Let’s look at The King’s Speech. King George VI had two things going against him: His name (reminiscent of Washington’s own Mad King George), and his tongue. He stuttered like a madman. He couldn’t get through a speech to save his life. He didn’t want the throne. He didn’t want the responsibility because he didn’t think he could handle it with his impediment. But when his lovesick brother abdicated, King George was left with no option but to learn to overcome his lifelong problem and take the crown.the-kings-speech

In Frost/Nixon, we find ourselves in the wake of Nixon’s resignation. But a British entertainer and talk show host, David Frost, is the only man crazy enough to elicit a confession from the crook’s mouth. He lays not only his reputation, but his money and career on the line to bring the darkness to light.

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And finally, Moneyball. You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate this brilliant movie about baseball, numbers, and ultimate risk. Billy Beane, the GM for the Oakland A’s, is determined to bring his team up the ranks from their rock-bottom status, just not the way his co-managers would prefer. His method is nontraditional, unproven, and unfounded. He lays everything on the line to test out his theory of selecting the best hitters, despite how they play in the outfield.

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Something about ultimate risk just makes sense to me, it calls to me. The way I see it is, if you have it all on the line, failing is literally not an option. I’d recommend you check these three movies out. They’re perfectly acted, they’re funny, and above all inspiring in a non-Hallmark way. Nothing about these stories is sappy or cute. They’re about real men storming the ups and downs of their lives and careers, not satisfied with the status quo. Willing to pioneer innovation in their fields.

Maybe one day I’ll get the guts to be like these guys. Because of their tenacity, bravado, and just plain awesomeness, we saw the business of baseball do a complete 360, we got a confession out of a crooked ex-president, and quite possibly the new world was saved by the steadfastness of a king with a twisted tongue.

What would your impression on the world be if you dropped all pretense and caution? What are your favorite movies and are they because they inspire you to be a better person?

Why Our Playground-Parenting Would Likely Tick You Off

90-degree-spiral-tube-slideOur oldest kids are about to turn two and three. With the weather being on its last stitch of niceness here in Louisville, Sarabeth and I decided to take them for one last hurrah at one of our neighborhood playgrounds.

Our oldest, Kat, is extremely agile and surprisingly skilled. Like, more coordinated than I was at seven. She’s also courageous and is a risk-taker.

Sometimes it’s hard to watch her climb to the top of the big kids’ skyscraper playground and keeping up with the toughest of them, but I’m not going to stop her. It’s my job as a parent to encourage growth and challenge – not hold her back.

At this particular playground we were at this last weekend, Kat got the whacky idea to climb on top – not inside of it, but up on top of the tube. So we let her, much to the chagrin of a couple of other parents whose older kids quickly followed suit.

I stood next to Kat as she attempted it the first time. She got a quarter of the way up, paused, said “no,” and I helped her down. The next time she tried it, she got a little further. I rooted her on the whole time while Sarabeth watched approvingly.

Why do we allow our kids to be such dangerous, risk-taking, rebel-rousing rule-breakers?

A couple of reasons: First off, there’s no rule that says she can’t climb on top of the tube slide. We were proud of her for thinking outside the box and discovering not only a new way to have fun, but to push herself.

Another reason: She was not hurting anybody. Sure, she inspired other kids to throw off their shoes and scurry up the top side of the tube slide, but you should have seen their exultant faces when they reached the top (even while their parents were yelling at them to climb down – I wanted to ask them why).

Also, what’s up with our obsession of obeying rules? I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately. I’m coming closer and closer to the opinion that our obsession to conform is actually what’s killing us inside. More on this in a later post. Much more.

But back to my daughter climbing up the top of the tube slide. I was teaching my youngest to hang on to the zip slide all by himself (successfully), when I heard Sarabeth call me. She pointed to the highest point of the playground, and there, on just her third attempt, my daughter sat high and proud.

My little girl on top of her own personal Everest. All because she found a better and slightly more challenging way to play. She refused to conform. And I encourage that in almost every way.