Developing Their Passions

St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who you were meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

Wise words indeed.

I vividly remember nearing the end of my time at university and thinking, “Oh my goodness, what now?” It was probably the first time I’d given any serious thought as to what I wanted to do with my life. Up until this point, my sole focus had been on achieving good grades so I could get into the university I wanted, and then to do a degree in a subject (biological sciences) I enjoyed and found relatively easy.

But is biology my true passion? No. I find it interesting yes, but it doesn’t fire me up in the same way as some of my real passions, such as writing, human behaviour & learning, travelling, running, exploring and adventure. Although our family’s crazy travels throughout Indonesia ignited a love for some of these obsessions, no part of my formal education encouraged them. And I certainly never even considered following a career within any of these fields of interest.

Now if you asked the Beans what their passions and interests were and what they would like to do when they grow up, they would give you clear answers.

Bean10 loves cricket, music (playing guitar and singing) and, to a lesser extent, comic-book writing. His ultimate dream is to play cricket for England and then be in a band!

Bean11 loves writing (fiction), acting and exploring. Her goals are to be an author and actress, to circumnavigate the world in 80 days like Phileas Fogg, and have an entry in The Guinness Book of World Records by setting a world record! If she was lucky enough to be successful in either the writing or acting field, her next aim is to be invited to dance on Strictly Come Dancing!

Big goals.

Difficult goals.

Some of which they may never achieve.

But ones they’ve held for many years and are fully committed to pursuing.

Dressed up for one of her roles at the Marlowe

I love that they have such clear ambitions at such a young age and that their God-given gifts match these desires – Bean10 has a talent for cricket and music and likewise Bean11 is a gifted and imaginative writer and actress.

But is having an aptitude for something enough to succeed in this highly competitive world? And let’s face it, they’ve not chosen the easiest of industries to crack. What can we do as parents to support their dreams? Because surely, helping our children to find a job they love has to be one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

Here are some ideas:

Give it Space and Time

If your children are too busy to be bored, they’re likely too busy to discover their passions. So, embrace the boredom. Don’t spread yourself too thin and overcram their days with a plethora of scheduled activities, playdates and time spent on video games or watching TV.

Exposing them to wide and varied activities is key, but so is not overcommitting on your weekly schedule. Don’t be afraid to try out new things, but then scale back on those commitments they are no longer enamoured about. Children need time to daydream, read and play to find out what they love.

And once they do, they need time and space to develop these interests. Give them whatever they need. Show them you value their passion by prioritising this above all else. For example, when Bean11 has an audition, I will give her whatever time she needs in the working day to learn and practise delivering her lines, rather than doing a bit more geometry or Spanish verb conjugation.

Sometimes they need help with this prioritisation and management of their time and energy. Bean10 recently had some district cricket trials – three sets of them. They happened to be scheduled directly after his hockey practice. I encouraged him to relax a little with his hockey, to not play so hard, so that he wasn’t too physically tired for the more important cricket trials.

This worked for the first session and he performed well. But the second session was half-way through the term, and he was tired. He struggles to not perform at 100% in any sport and this is exactly what he did in his hockey practice, throwing himself fully into the game. Consequently, he was exhausted for his cricket and the second trial didn’t go so well. He was so frustrated with himself, the tears flowed. So, we agreed that for the final trial, we’d skip hockey so that he was fresh and full of energy. As it was, hockey was cancelled anyway, but he’d felt good having a plan. The third trial went well, and we’ve just had confirmation that he’s made it into the district team!

Along with time, giving them the physical space to pursue their interest is important. For us this means that I have to get used to checking before I walk down our hallway in case I get a cricket ball bowled in my face. Or accept that the odd picture (or window, ahem…) gets broken, our Christmas tree looks like it’s taken a severe battering and that bats, balls and stumps seem to clutter every corner throughout the winter, and that much of my time in the summer seems to be spent searching for lost balls!

Bean11’s writing doesn’t take up much space, but given the scarcity of acting opportunities through Covid, they’ve decided to produce a homeschool production of Dodger, a play set in Victorian times. Once a month, this requires me to empty my living room, pushing sofas into hallways and hiding breakable objects upstairs to allow them all the space to practice their scenes. To see the love and enjoyment the children clearly have for this project makes it most certainly worthwhile 😊

Be Creative with Your Support and Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Finding specialist classes, be these in a group or one-to-one are the obvious way of supporting your child’s budding passion. I’ve always taken the approach of discussing my children’s interests with as many people as possible, just in case they know of someone who might be able to help. This has paid dividends. Recently, a good friend mentioned that she knew a successful actress through their church and, so I contacted her (a little nervously as I was somewhat star struck once I realised that I’d recently watched her in a series MrJ and I had been indulging in!) and Bean11 has her first Zoom session with her tomorrow.

Being critical about whether the lessons you’ve chosen are truly adding any value is important too. Don’t be afraid to stop them if they’re not working. When he was 7, after much requesting from Bean10, we started him at a local village cricket club which had been recommended to us. Apart from a lovely moment, when the coach came running up to me at the end to tell me what a pleasure it was to teach Bean10 & 11 as they were so polite, otherwise it was a bit of a waste of time. It was much more about simple ball games and if I’m honest filling time, than it was about teaching them how to play cricket.

A little disheartened, I decided to try somewhere new the next summer and we chanced upon his current club, which has been exceptional for Bean10. This is where he’s learnt the art of cricket with fantastic training and a whole range of matches throughout this last summer, playing not just the teams in their league but also the Kent U11 girls, the District team and other teams in neighbouring leagues.

But, moving aside from lessons, the lockdown has forced us to be creative with how we encourage their interests. Bean10 spent hour after hour after hour bowling down our corridor. So much so that he’s permanently marked the carpet where he releases the ball! Once the weather got better, we had all sorts of contraptions for catching balls set up in the garden, and invested in a Crazy Catch, allowing him to perfect his batting technique all on his own and also practise his catching.

For Bean11, whose dream role of playing Juliet in a Shakespeare production at a local theatre had been postponed, probably indefinitely, we focused instead on studying the play in greater depth together as part of her English work, and as I mentioned above, setting up a homeschool play for them to perform. Alongside working on her novel, she’s been practising her writing skills by composing stories for her younger niece, who wholeheartedly believes there are fairies living at the bottom of our garden who periodically write her letters telling her about their world 😊

Apart from the obvious, there are many other ways to support your child’s interest too, such as week-long intensive courses (such as writing retreats), studying for exams (such as the Lamda exams for acting), entering competitions, volunteering in local projects (Bean11 for example is volunteering in a Youth Voice project at the Marlowe Theatre, which will give her an understanding of all elements of theatre life), or work shadowing/online tutored internships.

Find Inspiration

This can have such a profound impact on your child and sometimes can come in the least obvious of ways. Back in 2019, when Bean10 had just started his cricket journey with his current club, he attended their end-of-year awards ceremony. We almost didn’t go. But something made me. That evening, when I tucked him up in bed, he looked at me earnestly and said, “Next year, I’m going to get into the first team and win one of those awards.”  

This internal goal drove his cricket all year long and not only did he make the first eleven, together winning the league and the cup, he was also awarded the U11 Most Improved Player of the Year award. My heart was literally bursting with pride!

Even in this most difficult of years, we’ve found loads of inspiration for the children. As part of my Introverted Moms group, there have been various talks with authors of children’s and adult’s books. The kids have had the opportunity to send in questions asking them about how they got started, their journey and the writing process itself. All of these have been so motivating.

Being inspired by Cressida Cowell!

Bean10 has read autobiographies of famous cricketers and tried to incorporate some of their tips into his game, and we’ve watched The Edge, about England’s rise to number one in the world, countless times. Before each match, he talked about channelling his inner Jonathan Trott and we’d repeat his quote from the film: “Concentration is the absence of irrelevant thought!”

So, whatever your child’s passion, find inspiration in the form of successful individuals within that field, be it through talks, documentaries, films or books. You might be surprised by the impact it has.

Invest Financially in Serious Passions

Along with prioritising time for their passions, I’m also a big proponent of prioritising finances in this direction too. For example, Bean10 has one-to-one weekly lessons with ex-England cricket player James Tredwell. These are not cheap but they’re worth every penny. Not only is he a fantastic cricketer, he’s also an exceptional coach. Along with teaching him the physical skills, he also coaches him on how to control the mental aspects of the game. It’s Bean10’s favourite part of the week and his cricket has improved substantially since starting these lessons.

Not every interest comes with a hefty price tag but investing your money into good quality equipment and tuition will definitely pay dividends in the long run.

Lead by Example

Making time to follow your own interests is important too, highlighting to your children the value of pursuing your passions. Sometimes these will overlap with their hobbies – Bean11 for example loves to travel, explore and write just as I do – but where they don’t, be careful not to force your loves onto them. I love running and do about 35-40 miles per week. The children run 2-4 miles with me each week during lockdown periods purely to keep fit and healthy, but I would never push it more than this for fear of putting them off.

Do however, make time to share learnings from your area of interest that can be applied to theirs. Just before his last trials for example, I told Bean10 a story about my running. Since having a Garmin to track my running statistics, I’d started to lose that love of running, the joy of being out in nature on my own, being able to cover long distances on my own two feet. Instead, I’d started to fixate on how quickly I was running each mile. The more I obsessed about my performance, the worse it got.

So, one run, I vowed not to look at my watch every time it buzzed to tell me my mile splits. Instead, I swore I’d just enjoy the run and get into my stride. I stuck to my commitment and when I finally looked at my watch, I’d actually run faster than I had in a long time, but it hadn’t felt hard, because I’d had fun along the way. So, I encouraged him to do the same with his cricket – to see it as another fun opportunity to play his favourite game and not to obsess over how many wickets he took or good hits he achieved, but just to enjoy the cricket.

Believe in Them, But Never Force an Interest

Believing in your children is critical. As adults we’re so used to considering the reasons why something wouldn’t be possible, that it’s easy to squash our children’s dreams unwittingly. And yet how many times have we heard stories of successful individuals who wax lyrical about that one teacher or adult who totally believed in and encouraged them in their dream. Be that person for your children.

Having said that, it’s a fine balance we parents have to achieve between showing a genuine interest in their passion – discussing it with them, getting excited about it and demonstrating our belief in their skills – whilst at the same time, not being so keen that we’re pushing more than they’re ready for. The drive for their interests has to come from them. The moment it’s more your goal than theirs is the moment it loses all its appeal. Encourage, but don’t take over.

Check in with them that they’re still enjoying what they’re doing to support their passion or whether it’s becoming overwhelming. There were a few weeks in the summer when Bean10 had cricket camp during the daytimes (from 10-3), matches in the evenings and at the weekend, along with his regular one-to-one. I took everything else out of his week, making sure he recovered in between times, but I still offered him the chance to back out if it was all too much. As it was, there was no stopping him; he was having the time of his life!

And finally, whilst they might have one overriding dream, encourage them not to put all their eggs in one basket and to have other interests outside of their primary focus. There will always be those bad days, when they have a disastrous match, or they don’t get that part they were desperate for. Having something else to fall back on when they need a break from their true passion can help them cope with these tricky times.

As I write this post, the kids are in the midst of a week’s homeschool in which the focus has been on developing their interests. They’ve planned their own week accordingly. Bean11 has been researching for and writing her novel and has made huge strides forward. Bean10, very conscientiously, planned a mixture of practising a variety of cricket skills, learning new songs on his electric guitar and starting to write a comic. He’s exhausted himself in the process but loved every second!

And one day, God-willing, they may well “set the world on fire!” Whatever that might look like.

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