A ballerina today…and why not tomorrow?



Wells Fargo is apologizing for an ad campaign that appeared to some to belittle kids’ dreams. “A ballerina yesterday, an engineer today.” No, not everyone who studies ballet is going to become a prima ballerina, but there are an awful lot of other dancers in the company. And not every engineer is going to get that elusive “good job” and live a comfortable, upper-middle-class lifestyle. My cousin is an engineer. She’s in her mid-fifties and looking for a job outside her field. She had her own quite successful business . . . until her orders dried up because the precision work she did by hand was outsourced.

“An actor yesterday, a botanist today.” I haven’t seen a lot of of job postings for botanists. I haven’t seen any job postings for botanists. Studying acting can lead to a job behind the camera, or as a set dresser, or working in wardrobe, or screenwriting. What if we encouraged the potential ballerina, engineer, actor, and botanist? Why can’t someone study ballet and botany?

“Get a job with the city or county. You’ll be secure for life.” My mother and grandmother told me that when I was in my early 20s. So I did. And there was no opportunity for advancement. They were already cutting county positions and library hours 20 years ago. Now they’re forcing city employees to retire once they hit 65 even if they love their job and want to keep working. And those positions aren’t being filled by 20-somethings. Those positions are just going away.

I left the library and took a position as a paralegal in a small law office. But there was no health insurance and after paying for my asthma medications out of pocket, I wasn’t making a living wage.

I wasn’t allowed to work during my marriage. I started writing. That was what I had wanted to do since I was a child. After my divorce, I found a job as a copywriter. I take temp jobs, any temp job that comes along. I write books at night. I take care of my 68 year old mother. I wish that she and my grandmother had said “Write.” I wish I had been writing for the last 20 years instead of the last seven. I could be working in advertising. I could have a book published by now. Who knows? All I know is that settling for the “safe” option wasn’t the right thing.

I see a lot of discouraging “advice” directed at writers who aren’t published yet. “You’re not going to be signing your books in a bookstore unless you have the Next Big Thing.” “Not everyone is going to be the next J.K. Rowling.”

So the next J.K. Rowling shelves their manuscript and goes to a vocational college, studies medical office billing, gets a job in a doctor’s office, hates their job, but knows there isn’t any point in starting to write again because they surely don’t have the next big thing.

Don’t do that to young people.

I think it’s time we start looking at our kids’ dreams and talents and helping them find a balance between pursuing the dream and securing a day job. Don’t downplay the dream. Encourage kids to write, dance, paint, study advanced chemistry, pursue an engineering degree, and talk to them about the practicalities of life. Kids have multiple interests. I’ve always loved writing and reading. I also wanted to be a nurse. Why didn’t someone tell me to go to nursing school and write?

Let’s not pick out careers for our kids. If the ballerina isn’t interested in engineering, he or she is not going to put the effort into becoming a successful engineer. Maybe the ballerina also likes the idea of being a veterinarian. Let’s work on those interests. And remember that there’s a difference between an interest and a passion. A passion will follow you the rest of your life. Can we give kids a chance to try out their interests and see if one becomes a passion?

And can we stop bashing liberal arts degrees? I have a friend who completed high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Math because she scored so high in math on standardized tests that the school and her parents basically forced her into it. She got out of high school and decided she wanted to be a librarian. And now she is.

And don’t even get me started on standardized testing. Terrified kids memorizing facts just to get a high S.A.T. score aren’t learning.

Shoving a kid into a career path is no guarantee of success. Taking a job that consumes your “free time” too isn’t living. It’s existing. There are no guarantees of success in anything today. There are no guarantees of security. Kids who are pushed into abandoning their dreams and following a path the path their parents choose may be successful, but a lot of them are also bitter and resentful and they’re taking a totally different approach to raising their own children. I’ve also seen this in someone I know.

Pull that manuscript out of the bottom desk drawer. Maybe you’re holding the Next Big Thing.


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