I've stopped watching American Idol this season, as I always do after a few weeks. My only interest in the show is to watch the train-wreck auditions. The auditions where someone belts out a hideous rendition of "I Will Always Love You" or "Over the Rainbow" or tries to take a country song and give it the R&B treatment.
It's hilarious. But also kind of sad, especially after the judges give them blank stares of cut them down with some clever phrase they've been waiting to use. What the judges say, however, isn't the sad part. It's what the singers often say:
"I'm not going to quit. I know I can make it!"
Well, I applaud your doggedness. But I hope when the cameras are off, your parents come up with some better advice than, "That's right, honey. Don't quit. You are going to make it!"
Maybe so, but not as a singer. And that leads me to a message I want to send to kids. A message that could land me in detention.
Hey kids ... you know that inspirational "if you set your mind to it, you can be anything you want to be" speech? The one we’ve pounded into your head since you stuck the quarter so far up your nose that we couldn’t get it out?Well, it's a lie.
Not a big, horrible lie. Nothing like when parents tell their kids "and if you get out of that bed again, the invisible snakes will get you." Or like when my dad would tell me he had something called a "plumber's helper" to force me to eat vegetables.
(Note to kids: The plumber’s helper was also mentioned in the movie A Christmas Story, so I’m guessing many of you are being threatened with this contraption. So remember that if you just move the food around on your plate, it will look like you ate some of it. Also, you can hide spinach under a potato skin and green peas can be smeared on the underside of the table. Good luck!)
OK, back to the topic of "you can be anything you want to be."
For a 5-year-old, I think it's probably a good message. It provides motivation, builds self-esteem, all that good stuff. It's also hard to determine a career for the skill set of "knows ABCs, spells name correctly, can pop off G.I. Joe's head and place it on Barbie's body."
But let's move forward 10 years, to when the leaders of tomorrow become the Mountain Dewds and Dewdettes of today. That's when we have to be a little more careful with what we say. For example, last year I spoke to a group of teenagers and more than half of them planned to be pro athletes.
Sorry guys, you’re more likely to have athlete's foot. Just pull out your calendars and schedule the disappointment now.
That's harsh, I know. Especially for kids who've probably been told they can do anything. I remember the teachers at Apollo High School -- home of the fightin’ Hawks, ripped jeans and Motley Crue T-shirts -- told me that if I set my mind to it, I could do anything.
So I tried to be a professional basketball player.
And you know what? More than 20 years later, I can whip NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal in a game of H-O-R-S-E if no dunks are allowed. I also have above-average height, know all the rules of basketball, and although this is hard to believe, many people compare me with former NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash for my lack of fashion sense.
Still, I never made it to the NBA. And although it's possible that I didn't set my mind to the goal, I think my bling-bling career washed out because of a lack of quickness. And because I can't jump over a copy of The Da Vinci Code. Not even the paperback edition.
The painful truth is that we can't all be anything we want to be. We can't all have glamorous careers. Some people will be rock stars; some people will sing "Muskrat Love" on karaoke night. Some people will make a fortune in stocks; some people will make frappuccinos in smocks. Some people will be Mel Gibson; some people will arrest him on a suspected DUI.
This isn’t meant to squash dreams. The oldest of my three sons is 6, so I'm all about "go for it, guys!" right now. I think if you're 6 years old, it's good to dream big. Maybe you really will be a pro athlete, world-renowned doctor or performer in "Sesame Street Live."
And if you're a teenager, you shouldn't give up on your dreams. But if you can't sing, you can't sing and that's that. So have a backup plan as you consider this:
When you pass age 25, "dreamer" is pretty much code for "loser." Yes, even if you've almost learned to play guitar and you swear your band is about to get its big break. Yes, even if your Hollywood fame is just one juicy role away.
The one possible exception, of course, is if an NBA scout might discover you today when you’re shooting jump shots in your driveway at 6 p.m. My address is in the phone book.
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