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What If My Kid Doesn't Have a Passion?

Photograph by Getty Images

I decided, somewhat unconsciously, that my 9-year-old daughter Aria is in need of a solid career track, one that will bring her loads of money and success. Most importantly, it needs to start now.

Lately, I've been on a quest to find out what the heck her said career is going to be. This way I can morph from Cougar Mom (having kids over 40 = lazy and tired) into Tiger Mom and nurture her until she's Steve Fucking Jobs. I'm going to find this secret talent and exploit it with whatever grocery dollars I have. I'm going to go into full psycho-focus mode like those parents of Russian gymnasts or professional ice skaters who wake up at 4 a.m. and drive three hours to the rink. I am not stopping until she's on the cover of Time, or better yet, Forbes, by the time she's 20.

It's about time. She's 9 for crying out loud. Clearly she needs a path, a drive, an emphatic direction. Why waste precious hours playing Barbie aimlessly, when she could be attacking those hairdos like a high-paid stylist—like Sally Hershberger, for example, who is rolling in it?

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"Aria, let's really work on a precision cut!"

"Huh?"

I knew what I wanted to be at 6. I wanted to be an actress. It was set in the stone like the Ten Commandments. Every move, every thought, every beat of my heart was a step closer to my goal of being a professional in the industry. I was fully immersed in my "career" with the laser-like precision of a CEO. I was on a non-stop train of determination that bordered insanity: tap, jazz, ballet, voice and "vaudeville" classes, head shots, theater camp, managers, agents, dialect coach, auditions, competition, competition, competition—all of it. I stuck with this myopic passion until I was 15 when one day I just quit, burned out from the focus.

"Mom, Dad — I'm done."

They shrugged. "OK." They didn't care either way. This was my thing. I was in charge the whole time. I steered the ship, they just wrote the checks for my classes. "You want to be an actress? You know how to ride the subway; take yourself to auditions."

I fear my daughter will be lost in life, that she isn't exceptional but average.

After almost 10 years of this, I wanted to be normal. I wanted to shoplift at Bloomies after school like the other kids in 9th grade. I wanted to cheer at varsity sports games. I wanted friends, to let go, to exhale. I wanted to be. What had made me feel special for so many years now made me feel like a freak. I fell into a deep depression and an identity crisis. Who am I, if I'm not "Emily, the Actress"? Yes, at 15. This was big deal. I wrote my college essay about it.

Oh the irony.

I make it a point to fully embrace and support Aria's career choices, despite her having made none. So by choices, I mean my subtle encouragements that come out of nowhere. Let's say during a heated game of Barbie, she's putting lipstick on Ken's feet. I may observe this budding talent with pigment and gently offer, "You know you can become a professional make up artist, it's a great career and you can work anywhere. Something to think about!"

"Maybe I can do nails?"

"You don't want to do nails."

I may do some incredibly gentle move like velcro Aria into my extremely comfortable Aeron chair with a bowl of marshmallows in her lap while I call up on my computer, say, a code class for kids.

"You can do Club Penguin in a minute. But let me show you something first. How cool would it be if you could code and just make really great apps and stuff? Or code your own awesome website? You could build a store! An e-commerce shop! The first 9-year-old with her shop! I can help you! What do you want to sell?"

"I want to have a store where everything is free."

Not the megalomaniac entrepreneur track I had in mind, but it's forward movement.

"You wanna cook with me? You could be a chef! Chefs are so cool, you just get to … cook!"

"Nah, I think I wanna be a makeup artist."

"Oh right, yes, that is awesome. I wish I had learned a trade. You know. A real trade. Like makeup. Or hair. These are things you can always fall back on. And guess what? No computer is ever going to give you a hair cut! Think about it. Hair stylists, Aria, makeup artists, massage therapists—the human hand, the human touch! No machine is going to replace these jobs. It's great back up stuff if say, being a liaison to the Israeli consulate doesn't pan out. This is why learning Hebrew is so important."

"Huh?"

"Forget it. Let's bake. Here, open this box of cornbread mix from Trader Joe's, it's so easy, we just add an egg and water!"

Because who doesn't love a shortcut?

Not going happen to my kid. Nope, she's going to be on the long-haul plan, the one that starts at 9. We just have to figure out what it is. And we will cook, sew, type, code, paint and dance our way until we get to the bottom of it. I'm the mother of an undecided kid who has no obsessive drive and no extraordinary talent. I'll be damned if it isn't about time she start hunkering down and getting serious about #lifegoals!

What is it with our cultural obsession with what we do for a living?

The other day someone on a grocery line asked Aria, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Aria paused, struggled, stammered and offered a barely audible, "I don't know?" to the floor. Aria's face was in a knot. She looked up at me in full throttle shame.

I rushed in, "She's 9! I think she has some time to figure that out."

I stomped off, fuming at this imbecile for asking my child such an ignorant question. How dare she impose her twisted belief system that what we do in life has any importance on my innocent child? As if what we "do" for a living has more value than who we "are." It hit me hard. What is it with our cultural obsession with what we do for a living? In Europe, no one asks what you do for living—they ask, "How are you? How's your family?" My mind was spinning.

I was in a full on stew when it hit me. Whoops. That woman is me. I too am a victim of career-track thinking: The more talented we are the better; the more money we make the better; the more successful we are the better; the earlier we know the better.

Fear. So much fear. This is the root of all the idiot things I do as a mom. I fear my daughter will be lost in life, that she isn't exceptional but average. I fear she may lack drive or get edged out of the workplace by computers. I fear the unknown. Will she be lost, floating, broke? What if she's passionate about something that wont bring her financial security?

I'm still trying to figure it out in my 40s. I fear she will be like me.

But I know Aria will find her way. Whatever it is. We will nurture her humanity, her natural drive to be generous, good and decent. We will nurture her morality and her exquisite instinct to express and articulate, to feel and to love. Thank you, annoying lady with the bad dye job in line at Erewhon for my wake-up call.

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My only concern for Aria as she grows is asking if she's happy and fulfilled. Is she living her potential as a human? Is she dropped into her heart and listening to herself? Is she living with purpose and passion, whatever it may be?

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