by Susan Wenger
Winsights No. 120 (November/December 2013)
It is common for adults to ask a child, “What do you want to be (do) when you grow up?”
The child will say something like, “I wanna be a cowboy and an astronaut.”
Then the adult says, “That’s nice,” and goes back to talking with the other adults present.
What if, though, you follow up with the question, “What do you have to do now to be a cowboy and an astronaut when you grow up? How can you prepare yourself for your future?”
It doesn’t matter what the child answers. Whatever he says, agree with him. Make him feel that the question is worthy of consideration. He will give you a top-of-the-head answer, but probably he will replay the conversation later just because you took follow-up interest in him and made him feel worthy. He may figure out that he needs to study science, or he needs to build his muscles, or he needs to learn how to grow food from seeds.
Whatever he figures out, it will be his thoughts, not yours, so it will stick with him and be meaningful to him. If he decides a year or a decade later that he wants to be a baseball player or a doctor or a beautician, whatever he does now to prepare himself to be a cowboy or an astronaut will stand him in good stead.
Whatever meaningful activity he does now to build himself or to learn something about the world will apply to whatever new path he wants to follow later on. You will never know the impact you made on that child’s life, but I believe that if you have this dialog with ten different children, you will change the world.
You will make a positive impact on at least one child in ten, and you will not have harmed the other nine in any way. You will be an unsung hero, and you can always take comfort in the possibility that you made a significant positive impact on another person’s life. Feel good—you deserve to feel good about yourself if you do this simple thing, which takes about ten seconds of your time.