When Will Ferrell was in middle school, he qualified for the gifted and talented after-school enrichment program, so his mom signed him up. When Will found out, he told her there was a conflict—he had signed himself up for square dancing. He could only do one or the other.
To a parent, there is an obvious choice. It’s not even a discussion. We know which one will teach more, which one will be better for career prospects, which one is “cooler.” But our kids, they don’t know anything about decision-making. They don’t know about mental models. They don’t know about long-term consequences or second-order thinking. They don’t know about weighing pros and cons. They don’t know what’s best for them. They only know what they like, what excites them, what they want right now.
But, as actress and fellow SNL castmember Ana Gasteyer tells the story, Will’s mom put all that aside. She looked at her son and said, “It’s up to you. You decide.” Will chose square dancing. “And that, to me,” Gasteyer said, “sums up why Will is the amazing Will Ferrell.” It explained, in her mind, how Will Ferrell became one of the greatest comedic actors of all time. His parents had encouraged and allowed him to.
We talked recently about not getting in the way of our kids’ primal inclinations. When they feel a pull towards something, the worst thing you can do as a parent is prevent them from going in that direction. Your job, it’s worth repeating whenever there’s a chance, is to encourage them to be who they are, to follow their natural inclinations, to decide what they want to do after school.