Try this experiment. Ask a kid or young person what they want to do when they grow up. Pick them when they're old enough to have some idea of what they're talking about but still young enough so as not to be cynical. I've tried this many times, and the answers are always "pro football player", "pro basketball player", "actress", "artist", "writer", "musician". Yet, here's a funny thing. In a fairly long life with literally thousands of friends and acquaintances, I don't know a single one who really makes a living from being any of these alleged professions. (I can think of one who barely scrapes by.) I never hear the children say they want to be a "plumber", "coal miner", "letter carrier", "bus driver", "nurse", "engineer", "businessman", "house builder", "accountant", "exotic dancer" or indeed any of the thousands of other real jobs that real people do.
Which leads to mucho human unhappiness. For when graduation comes and reality hits we have a whole lot of folks out there who don't have permission deep down to do what they're doing to make a living, who don't really believe in themselves or their work. Who are just bearing life's loads instead of joyously exhilirating in this wonderful world. Or who hate themselves for what they are. Or, perhaps worse, who are stuck in jobs they hate or which don't bring them the rewards they deserve because they are convinced that "It's important, damn it!—to be a starving musician waiting tables.
But wait, it's worse. Turn on any interview show and observe the people interviewed: actress, writer, director, artist. Never coal miner, plumber, nurse, or developer. Even on the supposedly high-brow NPR (Terry Gross anyone?). Somehow I can't remember a single interview she has done with a bricklayer, accountant, or saleswoman. And the NYT devotes pages to the output of yet another photographer, none to a hard-working electrician who makes sure your lights come on in the morning.
The problem permeates our society. Here's another example. Go to flickr and poke around. You'll discover some great pictures, but you'll also discover scads upon scads of pictures working very very hard to be "artistic". They're dark, have weird shapes or effects, passed through strange filters. It's not that these people can't take good pictures, it's not that these people aren't creative, it's not even that these pictures aren't good; it's that they're so obsessed with being "artists"—it's clear that their lives will be utterly devoid of meaning otherwise—that they make it worse, they make it ugly, they miss the point. What they don't see is that ultimately we're all artists on the canvas of life.
When trying to understand the genesis of this phenomenon with respect to my own kids, I tried to put myself in their shoes. I thought about what the jobs that are out there are, from their point of view. There are maybe 20 or 30 engineering jobs—friends of the parents—and a smattering of maybe 5 or 10 jobs for plumbers, heating experts, handymen and the like who occasionally make the rounds. A few people mow lawns for a living—usually Mexicans in these parts. Then there are hundreds of jobs for actors, actresses, several hundred professional baseball players, hundreds of famous actors, hundreds of fabulously wealthy musicians, a hundred rich and powerful politicians in the Senate alone—you see them 24/7 on all the channels. Given these choices, isn't it obvious? Because on the one hand you have only a few jobs which a) don't pay all they well, b) are mundane, c) don't make you famous, and on the other hand you have many many jobs which have it all. What's to choose?
But can't we expect just a wee bit more sense from our Peabody Award-winning adults?