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Why Teens Rejected a Speech About Pursuing Their Passions

Photograph by Twitter

How do we advise our children when it comes to making one of the most important decisions of their lives, one where they might have to choose between a passionate, risky career versus a sustainable one? An entrepreneur turned motivational speaker, Kash Shaikh, attempted to address this issue when he was invited to offer a speech to the students at Austin High School. During his speech he shared tidbits from his journey in business, admitting that he once held well paying positions at global companies like Proctor & Gamble. He left them to pursue his passion, going through hardship and financial distress, yet ultimately securing a million dollar investment in his business.

His #BeSomebody movement encourages individuals to go after careers they truly love yet, according to a report posted on Kut.Org, the students at Austin High School were not inspired at all. A group of students in the media program accompanied by a teacher created a skit ridiculing Shaikh for his advice and shared it in a video online. Drama ensued when Shaikh was made aware of the skit and he posted a rebuttal on his blog calling the students at Austin High School uninspired.

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Where did the discord stem from? Why was Shaikh blasted for encouraging kids to pursue their passions? I think the answer is all in the mental conditioning that students receive through formal education. Formal education teaches our children that the key to a bright future is through continued education, which will then lead to higher wages during employment. Students at Austin High School have been taught for many years that if they show up to class on time, follow directions by regurgitating lessons taught by teachers and appear to be happy to be there, they will be granted access to higher education, which will enable them to achieve the dream of one day earning a six-figure salary. All of this can be true. Success in a formal education setting does lead to success in a corporate or work environment because they are similar environments with similar expectations.

Sometimes I believe my sons are proud of my efforts and sometimes I think they feel sorry for me.

For the students at Austin High, Shaikh basically spit on the goal they had been taught their entire lives to achieve. According to the report, 33 percent of the students Shaikh spoke in front of were economically disadvantaged. The self-induced "struggle" that he spoke of after leaving his cushy job represents the lifestyle that many of them currently live. For these children, ending the struggle and reaching success means reaching the income Shaikh walked away from. For these children, continuing on in their current situation is not an ideal goal.

The fact that a teacher also participated in creating the skit that ridiculed Shaikh indicates that teachers may also have been offended. These teachers are leading the children toward a path of corporate employment, a path that they too have followed with unknown satisfaction. Shaikh’s advice may be a reminder of the dreams they never believed they could achieve.

There is so much disdain for a man who lived out the expectations expressed by society, found it unsatisfying and went on to create his own dream. This reaction is typical among those who watch others achieve and do not believe they can do it for themselves.

I have two sons, ages 12 and 14. Growing up with formal education, my sons were taught over and over again that education is the key to a bright future. While watching their dad excel in corporate America my sons know firsthand that life as a highly trained employee has its benefits. On the other hand, all of their lives they have watched me engage in the opposite experience, skating along life by extremely meager means, honing my creative skills and living on the edge. So far I have nothing but an incredible digital presence to show for a decade of hard work. Sometimes I believe my sons are proud of my efforts and sometimes I think they feel sorry for me.

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No one knows what the future may hold for me, but I continue to remind my sons that excelling in higher education and corporate employment are not the only ways to measure success in life. Regardless of a myriad of social influences that fight for their allegiance, I choose not to. I am honestly glad that they are able to witness their dad and me experience the results of both life paths so they can choose their life adventure for themselves.

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