Friday, May 2, 2014

An Open Letter to the Well-Intentioned People who Keep Telling my Family to Hedge our Bets

Dear Well-Intentioned People who Keep Telling my Family to Hedge our Bets,

Here's the thing: Please stop. 

When I showed up at college, my adviser, an English professor, informed me that I couldn't be a Creative Writing major, alone. I had to be interdisciplinary because, obviously, being a writer would never really pay. He suggested I go into a field that looked promising at the time: computers. I told him that I had no aptitude for computers. He picked at the mustard crusted on his sweater and shrugged. I had to choose something else.

I went back to my dorm and called the chair of the department. I told him that I'd come here to be a Creative Writing major and asked why I couldn't just get the education as promised. He said, "What? Do you want to work at McDonalds when you get out?" I told him that it wasn't any of his business what I did upon graduation, that I'd come for an education not to become financial stable enough to give back to the alumni fund. I was this kind of freshman.

Since the foregone conclusion was that I'd fail as a writer, I wanted to make sure that my back-up plan was even less likely to pay off. I opted for a second major in French -- because I sure as hell didn't have a chance of becoming French.

So, yes, I was told at 17 -- my first weeks in college -- to hedge my bets. This is what we do to kids -- in high school and in college. We tell them to follow their dreams -- as long as they also have an incredibly practical back-up plan.

Look, it's fine with me if our culture wants to play it this way. Each individual parent has to figure out the kindest way to parent. And for many the kindest way is to give the advice: hedge your bets.

Dave and I aren't doing that. We've never done it.

We've said, "Go deep."

We've said, "If you lose yourself while making art, hours on end, make art."

We tell our kids, "Work hard at what you love. Put in the hours." Our kids know that if your passion is in one of the most competitive, maybe even brutal arts -- visual, performing, literary... -- they'll need the hours of craft. (I'll add hours in sports as well -- if that's the gift and dream.)

And you know what takes up a hell of a lot of hours?

Hedging your bets.

So, yes, when someone walks into our house -- a house that has been paid for by working in one of those brutal artistic fields -- and then while talking to our daughter about some of her art installations in our living room this person tells my daughter that she shouldn't major in art because she'll never make any money, I don't take it well.

When people use the phrase "you want fries with that?" when talking to my son about pursuing acting and film, it strikes a nerve.

So when we're counseled to suggest more practical, back-up plan majors to our kids -- when they're only 17 -- I try to accept that it's coming from a well-intentioned place. To be honest, I think it mostly is, but I wouldn't rule out that it might also come from a scarred place or a culture-on-automatic-pilot place. You know what? I don't care where it comes from...

Listen, sure, I'll tell a struggling 32 year-old that their back-up plan might need consideration, but I'm never going to tell one of my kids to hedge their bets before they even get to the casino.

My husband Dave's philosophy on betting on each of our kids? "All-in. That is the best bet."

You can raise your bet-hedgers. Let us raise our own kids.

In the end, there are worse things than "you want fries with that" and that's settling for something you don't love before you've even given the thing you do love a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, no more. Back off. Kindly shut up.



[Interested in supporting the artist behind what you've just read, click here for Julianna Baggott's latest novel.]