Parents: Banish this phrase

“You need something to fall back on”

Tonight while I was sitting there zoning out my mind began to wander.  I started
to think about people who are good at what they do, or rather people who are known for being good at something.  And that led into me thinking about my own upbringing.

When I was in High School and was at that moment when you have to decide what path you want to take I decided that I wanted to study theater and become an actor.  I told my school guidance counselor this as we talked about Colleges I was looking at.  He told me that theater was a difficult profession and that I should also study something more practical.

Around that same time my parents were asking me what I might want to go to college for and I again stated theater.  That is when I was told that I needed something to fall back on.  Something practical like a teacher.  Not wanting to disappoint them I enrolled in college as a Psych Major with a minor in theater.  Within that first year I switched them around and became a Theater Major/Psych minor.  I did not tell them.

It wasn’t until I was a sophomore that I had my “coming out”.  I remember it vividly.  We were standing in the kitchen, my parents listening as I mustered up the courage to tell them who I really was; “Mom, Dad.  I am a theater major.  I know that you may not approve, but it is who I am and I hope that you can accept me for that.”  Things were easier after that, but in the back of my mind that niggling voice just wouldn’t go away “You need something to fall back on”.

I know my parents were trying to be as protective as they knew how.  I know now that it was not malicious or meant to be unsupportive in any way, but that phrase stifled me.  Instead of me getting the message that they cared about my future and wanted me to be financially secure the message was:  You can’t be successful at that, why don’t you try something more realistic.  They just wanted me to be….stable?

Recently, when my cousin was deciding what college to go to study music, my aunt (his mom) asked me about a future in the arts.  She said she was concerned that he might not have “anything to fall back on”.  Now my cousin is crazy good at music and that is all he wants to do with his life.  He doesn’t know what specifically, but he knows it has to be in music.  My response, “he doesn’t need anything to fall back on.  He needs to hear what you are going to do to help him reach his goal”.

I had to become an adult to realize that I didn’t need something to fall back on, I needed some support so that I didn’t fall flat on my face.  I needed to know that people had faith in me, that people believed that I could achieve my goal, and that devoting myself 100% to what I REALLY want to do is better than giving 50% to something I really DON’T want to do and whatever is left over to my dream.  Imagine how far you could go putting 100% into the journey.

If my son want to be a ditch digger, my first response is going to be “OK, let’s see if we can find you some classes on proper digging technique or buy you a new shovel”.  If my daughter wants to be a mortician, I am going to encourage her to be the best mortician she can possibly be.  And if they want to be actors, or dancers, or NBA stars I am going to be right there if they need something to fall back on.  And then I am going to prop them right back up and tell them to get back on that horse.

FYI – My parents are fantastic supporters of my and my family.  They are 100% behind our big move and that phrase uttered so long ago was their way of showing me love and I know that.


4 responses to “Parents: Banish this phrase

  1. This is great stuff, Jeff, and a recesses-of-the-brain echo that I think may well have impacted me pursuing music as fully as I could have in my first few years in the city.

    Rare is the time I’ve encountered anyone in my life who pursued a dream with reckless abandon and regretted it.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dan. I think there are a lot of us in this age range that have heard that same sentiment. I always tell my kids that they can do whatever they want – I just ask that they do it the best that they can. If they want to be data entry clerks, I want them to be the best damn data entry clerks the world has ever seen.

  2. Hi! Your perspective on this phrase could very well be the “aha moment” many parents need in encouraging their children in their future undertakings. I’m glad your future turned out the way you wanted it and your family is totally behind you. In essence, family should be the “something” we have to fall back on. Thanks for sharing.

    • Exactly! And it took me this long to figure that out. My parents (and all adults for that matter) were products of their environment. They had heard that before and thought they were doing me a favor by preparing me for the future – something practical, dependable, and functionary in society.

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