Santa and the “Career Question”

I don’t remember how it happened, but when I was about eight or nine years old, I figured out the truth about Santa Claus.

I suspect that on some level, before admitting it to myself, I knew for a while that I was being duped. Still, when you’re that young you tend to possess some willful suspension of disbelief. I would have happily been proven wrong about my evolving theory on how those gifts got under the tree.

A part of me wishes that I could remember learning the cold, hard truth about Christmas. The fact that I can’t suggests to me that it must have been an early experience—it’s quite uncommon to remember much of anything before age five.

I do remember trying desperately—in collusion with my brother—to keep the wool over my little sister’s eyes for as long as possible. Some might call that dishonest, but I like to think of it as prolonging her state of innocence.

Is there anything more magical than the holidays for a small child? Even when the myth of Santa Claus has long been exposed, the Christmas season just seems to press all the right buttons for kids. I’m pretty sure that even if you removed the epic consumerism that shrouds the season, we’d still be in for a solid dose of tryptophan-enhanced holiday “warm and fuzzies.”

Thinking about the whole Santa Claus thing prompted me to ponder: what other “awakenings” do we (and by we, let’s just assume I mean “Generation Y”) experience in this day and age? Where else is our innocence being protected, and could that be to our detriment in the long term?

There’s a commonly (incorrectly) cited list of “rules kids won’t learn in school” that attempts to illuminate this issue, but while the points it makes are worthwhile, it comes off a little bit too harsh and condescending for my liking. While the above list probably resonates strongly with older generations that have difficulty comprehending the subtleties of Gen Y, it likely only serves to alienate and antagonize younger readers who may feel targeted by the author. I’m not a big believer in the effectiveness of talking down to an audience you’re trying to appeal to, so I’ll try something different.

I suppose if career development had a Santa Claus, its name would be “Career Plan.”

The Career Plan idea revolves around versions of the question: “What do you do?” More relevant to this post, though, is probably the form of that question persistently asked in earlier stages of life: “What are you going to do?”

It’s not an inherently bad question to ask. In fact, it can be very motivating under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, the circumstances that typically surround this question are not typically that great.

Why? Well, how does it feel to not have an answer to that question? In general, not having an answer doesn’t feel very good. And when we’re constantly pestered with a question that we’re unable to give a meaningful answer to, it’s not too long before we start to wonder if there’s something wrong with us. Too often, some decide that there is. Others might pick something arbitrary simply to give people an answer—any answer. Who could blame them? But should we be that surprised when they decide they hate their jobs years down the line?

Take the pressure off. Recognize that there doesn’t have to be an answer. Change the question to acknowledge that, or stop asking. Allow young people to be uncertain, and encourage them to explore and, yes, make mistakes!

Believing in Santa Claus is comforting. Easy. Magical. But the only way to grow up and move forward with life is to acknowledge a less impressive reality.

Now, how do I keep this from my little sister?

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