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What would you do if your child told you that they decided to give up on a goal or dream that you know they could have achieved?
I’ve given up on dozens of goals in my life — possibly hundreds. Luis Alvarez, my mentor, used to tell me that the biggest mistake made by most scientists is continual striving after a goal long after that goal has lost its luster. A few of my projects in my life have succeeded very well, and they never would have had that chance if I hadn’t abandoned some earlier goal.
That doesn’t mean that your child should be encouraged to give up a goal, but only that setting goals and sticking to them, persistence, is only one of the important values in life. Just as important is the ability to be flexible, to be able to change directions quickly when appropriate.
So I would advise that you look careful at your child’s goal. Why is the child abandoning it? If the goal was to become a professional wrestler, I wouldn’t interfere. On the other hand, if the goal is to do well in school, then that is worth discussing.
A friend of mine once told her son not to “give up” on the goal of becoming a professional bicycle racer. At the time, I thought that was very bad advice. The child (then an 18-year-old) was looking for an excuse to abandon an earlier goal, and the mom didn’t make it easier. As I look back on it, it was a terrible mistake to encourage him. Being a pro bike racer is a terrible career.
I’m really happy that my daughter decided to give up on becoming a professional ballet dancer. She was very talented, but would not have been in the top 10 in the world, and that’s what it takes to become a successful ballerina.
And today far too many kids ignore their schoolwork because they dream of becoming either a professional basketball player or a rock star. True, some might actually make it. But 99.99% will not. If any kid decided to abandon the goal of being a pro sports player or a rock star, it could be wrong to try to talk that kid out of their decision, even if (in your eyes) the goal was (in principle) achievable.
Richard Muller is a professor of physics at UC Berkeley and the author of “Energy For Future Presidents.” You can read more from Quora here:
- What are some of the crazy first-time-parent things you’ve done for your first born that you did not subsequently do for the next one(s)?