It might feel overwhelming when your child says they want to grow up to become a famous actor or world-renowned scientist. Maybe you worry that your encouragement would set them up for disappointment. But what would happen if you leaned into their big ideas? You might be surprised by what they accomplish.

By Emma Sutton-Williams
November 15, 2019

One of the most beautiful qualities children possess is not knowing their own limitations. When your child tells you they want to be the next Neil Armstrong, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Yo-Yo Ma when they grow up, what would happen if you took one of their crazy ideas and leaned into it, no matter how ridiculous it sounds? With the right approach, you might be surprised what can come from it.

Take it from me. When I was 6 years old, I announced to my parents that I would grow up to become a professional violinist. I wanted to be on the stage. After months of prattling on about it, they finally gave in—but offered a bargain in exchange. They agreed to rent—and eventually buy—me a violin so long as I kept it up until college, which would mean constant vigilance and years of dedication to my craft. I accepted.

Of course, the novelty quickly wore off. I struggled to maintain the enthusiasm of my dream. But instead of responding to my waning interest by forceful browbeating and intimidating control, they instead planted seeds of curiosity. They took me to concerts, encouraged me to join a youth orchestra, and signed me up for a chamber music program to allow me to be in the presence of other children with similar interests.

Illustration by Kasia Bogdańska

Instead of a mere slog of endless practice by myself, learning with other aspiring artists made it fun again and became the highlight of my week. Being part of a community made all the difference. It exposed me to exotic-sounding musical holy sites, including Juilliard and Carnegie Hall, and legendary artists like violinist Itzhak Perlman. I quickly began dreaming of attending Juilliard and performing at Carnegie Hall.

My parents also gave me a vision of what could be by surrounding me with inspirational and aspiring prodigies. Sure, watching their expert skill could be discouraging, but I'd dust myself off and get back up.

After years of dedication, I walked through Juilliard's doors as a student. Not long after, I gave my first performance at Carnegie Hall. What began a childhood whim became, after years of patient nurturing by my parents, a reality.

Emma Sutton-Williams performing violin at St. Catherine's Hall near Louisville, KY in partnership with the New York-based program, Music That Heals.
Kathy Lord

I have found the key is daring to follow the dream. To accomplish any goal, write it down, map out a practical plan, and surround yourself with mentors. These three basic steps will guide you on your quest.

A wise mentor once told me at a young age, "I can't promise you will 'make it,' but I can promise you the journey will be worth it." After performing on Broadway, recording movie scores, and performing with some of the world's greatest orchestras, the journey has certainly been worth it. I feel a peace inside that whatever I dare to dream next will be worth it, too.

So the next time your child says they'd like to be the next soccer star like Abby Wambach or artist like Vincent van Gogh, don't be afraid; just take them up on it. You might be surprised who they become.

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