I will never forget that agonizing moment as a parent when all of my trite speeches and motivational sayings were suddenly put to the test. “Do you think I could make the NHL?” my son Mike asked. I realized this was one of those watershed moments in father/son relationships upon which peoples’ futures often turn. What I said next could propel my son into the Hockey Hall of Fame, or crush his spirit so severely that he became a penniless, unmarried, directionless adult who lived at home for the remainder of his miserable life. I had to get this answer right.
I had taken my two sons out to play some pick up hockey that sunny Canadian afternoon. We’d had a lot of fun. Both boys had done well, netting their fair share of goals. Now my firstborn child wanted to know if he had stumbled upon his life’s calling. The truth was, Mike wasn’t good enough to make the NHL. He was a teenager at this point and had never played minor hockey. He was a pretty good recreation player. But this was Canada. There, boys start strapping on skates before they can walk. Young kids are learning to power skate before they can tie their skates. Mike had missed all of those formative years of training and teaching and frankly, now it was too late.
As a parent I could either lie to my son to make him feel good, or I could tell him the truth and risk crushing his dreams. I chose to tell him the truth. I explained that I loved playing hockey too, but, I had also started playing later in life and therefore missed any chance of a professional career. That didn’t mean I couldn’t still enjoy the game. In fact, the vast majority of kids who grew up playing hockey would never be good enough to become professionals either.
My wife was aghast that I had not assured him that he could do anything he set his mind to. But somehow I believed that if it were possible to will yourself to become a Wayne Gretzky, there would be a bumper crop of hockey superstars popping up all over Canada. Will power is undoubtedly important. But unusual amounts of talent and years of top tier coaching don’t hurt either. As it turned out, my son soon moved on to wanting to be a rock star and I then had an entirely new set of parenting challenges to deal with!
Fast-forward several years. My daughter Carrie earnestly sought counsel from her father about her future. She wanted to be a writer. The head of her university’s English department had urged her to enroll in a masters program in non-fiction writing. Nevertheless, Carrie listed the numerous reasons why it would be ludicrous for her to waste her time pursuing a career in which it would be impossible for her to earn a living, let alone coffee money. Better to come to her senses early and enter law or medical school so she could eventually earn a decent living.
As I saw it, there were major differences between my son becoming an NHL player and my daughter becoming an author. While it was still a long shot to assume she would become the next J.K. Rowling, she certainly had enough talent to be published. Her English department recognized her obvious ability. Furthermore, she hated science and math! It would be pointless to enter a field that she despised merely to earn more money. Since I was bankrolling her Master’s degree, Carrie enrolled, though under formal protest.
Thus I was confronted with age-old questions about life and careers. How far do you pursue your dreams? Do you check them at the door when you leave high school? Or college? At that point do you survey the current job market and steer toward the field that is currently doing the most hiring? How important are your passions? Is it merely a luxury to actually like what you do for a living?
Conversely, is every dream worth pursuing? Are all passions legitimate? My son dreamed of playing hockey because, well, every Canadian kid does that, because it’s cool. My daughter dreamed of writing, I believed, because God had wired her that way. It wasn’t necessarily cool (unless you wrote a best seller). It was actually a lot of work, called for great sacrifice, and demanded delayed gratification (to the extreme). The only reason you would embark on such a difficult journey is if writing made your soul sing.
The key is to determine where your dream and passion came from. If it is inspired by pride or greed, perhaps it’s best to move on and get realistic. But if from an early age you thought, breathed, dreamed of certain activities, then perhaps it is because God hard wired you that way. Or perhaps God has placed a heavenly dream in your heart that you simply can’t let go of. If that’s the case, it’s best to hold on tightly until you can say, along with the apostle Paul, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).
I fear that too many people have prematurely forfeited their life’s dream. They had too many people tell them their dream was unrealistic and it didn’t pay well. So they set it aside and trudged along until they found a soul-numbing job that would pay the bills. They may be currently employed, but they are also in danger of a mid life crisis when they realize their dreams and passions succumbed to a severe case of neglect.
Never give up on your ideals. They are what inspire the human race to greatness. They fuel our passions and they inspire us to enthusiastically get out of bed each morning. And, most importantly, they just might be a gift to you from God.
– Dr. Richard Blackaby
President, Blackaby Ministries International