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Why I Don’t Care If My Kid Winds Up Being A Ditch Digger

The following was syndicated from Quora for the Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at

Would you accept mediocrity in your kids?

My mom always (sporadically yet periodically) told me and my brother that she would always love us no matter what we do with our lives. “Even if you become a ditch digger, just love being a ditch digger.”

As a kid between the ages of 10-18, I never really understood that.

Well, I understood it on the surface perhaps — it’s what you expect from all parents, but maybe as kids we suspect something else from them that they aren’t telling us. But as a suburban kid with great grades and a high affinity for math and computers, I really never contemplated that statement. I kind of expected myself to get a degree and a job. It was just what I was expected to do.

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Success Doesn't Equal HappinessFlickr / Roco Julie

At 18, I went on to college, and decided to pursue computer engineering. My mom said this mantra a little more to me, and I don’t blame her. Engineering’s a hard field, with one source saying only 58 percent of freshman go on to complete these majors and sometimes over a span of 6 years. A lot of students and families pay a lot of tuition for a possibly failed investment in education, so of course parents get worried.

But I was a smart kid, didn’t really worry about dropping out of engineering; kinda knew I was gonna make it, so I didn’t really pay much attention to the “ditch digger” phrasing.

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Then sometime around my junior year of college, I started to realize the importance of happiness in life. Through a lot of research (both external and introspective), I’ve been coming to the conclusion that you have to live life for yourself. Don’t do anything because it’s “expected of you,” because you’ll end up unhappy down the road.

I mean think about it … people spend 8+ hours at work each workday. We actually work longer now in modern times, which means if you don’t love what you do with your life, you won’t love yourself, and that will negatively effect your happiness, which can also effect your health.

So back to my little introspection. I thought a lot about people who didn’t love their job and how that negatively affected their home life. And then I thought back to my mom’s saying about it being okay if you’re a ditch digger, as long as you love it.

Success Doesn't Equal HappinessHoles

So, what she’s really saying is “Do what you love, so you can love yourself.” What I take from that is to love the person who you are, not to condone the person who you are expected to be.

So if my kids become “mediocre” in terms of their finances or professional career, that’s not what I’m worried about. There have been people who have gotten by on their finances on those jobs, and they put food on the table.

My biggest concern for my kids is that they are happy and confident with the people that they truly are. They need to love themselves fully so that they can love others and the world around them. I want them to build empathy for themselves and to make sure that they are prepared for the world by being true to themselves. If I can instill that in my kids, I’ll be secure in whatever they end up deciding to do.

Even if they become ditch diggers

Leland Warren writes about politics and psychology. Read more from Quora below: