More YouTubers, fewer astronauts

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cowboy. I would dress up in my version of Western attire, which consisted of cowboy boots, a leather vest, jeans, and a turtleneck. It was the height of cowboy fashion to my 5-year-old brain.

Me exploring career opportunities as a kid.

Cowboy is a common career choice among children, along with doctor, astronaut, fireman, and President of the United States. We encourage kids to dream big and shoot for the stars, even when their dreams are unlikely or even downright impossible. “It’s good for them,” we say. “Don’t lose the innocence.”

Strangely, once we reach a certain age those expectations change. At sixteen, Mom and Dad are no longer impressed when you say you want to be an astronaut. “If you’re going to live around here you’d better earn your keep,” they say, and that means giving up those childhood fantasies and making minimum wage at a local fast-food joint.

Societally, we treat this transition from dreams to day jobs as the tragic, inevitable death of childhood optimism. It’s a story we love to tell ourselves, blaming the cold, hard world for killing our noble aspirations. We were so brave, we tell ourselves. To be a child again.

But what if we aim high for the same reason we aim low?

They don’t accept 5-year-olds into the space program. Not the Presidency either. And while it’s fine to encourage long-term goals, too often we have the opposite effect: instead of encouraging people to act, we’re telling them they should wait. Wait until you’re older. Wait until you’re more skilled. Wait until you’re done with college. You can be all these things later. Not now.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things that people can be right now. They don’t require degrees; they don’t have age limits. For the able and willing, all they require is action.

Author. Photographer. Chef. Actor. Runner. YouTuber. Storyteller. Artist.

These titles (and many more) are all defined by simple actions. Once you take a photo, you’re a photographer. If go for a run, you’re a runner. It’s a distinction between a dreamer and a doer. It’s a mindset shift from experts to experiences. You don’t need permission or validation or certification or acclaim. You just need to pick up your tools and get to work.