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A Letter to Creative Kids in a STEM-Heavy World

“What do you want to be when you grow up” shouldn’t have a wrong answer.

If you have ever even considered pursuing a creative field, you know the look.

Maybe you first got it at seven years old, when you wanted to be like J.K Rowling or Frida Kahlo instead of an astronaut. Or maybe it was at 17, looking at music schools for college. You might have gotten it at 25, discussing your new photography job at Thanksgiving next to techy cousins.

For anyone not familiar, the look is what you get whenever someone asks what your goals and aspirations are and your answer isn’t STEM-related. The asker looks simultaneously disappointed and concerned. It’s as if they pity you for not pursuing a field they classify as realistically “successful.”

You’ve probably gotten pretty used to hearing things like “what do you want to do with that?” and “you know you won’t make much money, right?”

“What do you want to be when you grow up” doesn’t have a wrong answer, so why do people keep acting like there is? Your friends in nursing or engineering programs deserve nothing but respect, but their paths are not more valid than yours.

My own first memories of the look are from middle school, when my career-research presentation about becoming an author seemed to negatively stand out against those with “legitimate” aspirations. I was one of those artsy kids once upon a time, and still am. From a young age, I consumed books like oxygen, filled up journals and started writing my own stories. My writing consistently earned high marks in school, so I figured it was something I could pursue into adulthood (even though grades are a poor tool to predict futures, but that's a whole other discussion).

What happened next is unfortunately a similar story to most fellow creatives. After entering high school, I was pressured by the school system to choose a career path that made more sense, earned more money and included concrete steps to “success.” I remember my musically talented peers being told that they would almost certainly change their major in college because that wasn’t a valid path, either.

All young people dread conversations about college and the future, but for creative kids, these conversations can be full-on anxiety-inducing. It becomes the norm to start mincing your words to avoid judgment. Or worse, you may begin doubting yourself enough to trade in your passions for a “sensible” career path. And for the young people in as many AP and Honors courses as you can handle: just because you’re good at math doesn’t mean you have to ignore your natural talent for art.