11/19/2014 05:35 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

Parents and College: How One Coach/Mom is Riding the BIG Decision

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The time has come. My oldest child is applying to colleges. Ever since I was that age, I thought it terribly unfair that 17-year-olds feel forced to decide what they'll be doing the rest of their lives. As adults, we know they aren't really deciding for life, but I still remember what that feels like as I relive it again with my son.

The irony this time is that while my parents forbade a degree in the arts (theatre being my passion and interest), my husband and I are faced with convincing my son that studying the only thing that has been his heart and soul since fifth grade (music) would be a good idea. He is the one worried about how he would make a living and what his life would be like if he pursued a degree in music, even though we aren't. It is mind-boggling to me that it's not the parents whining the classic "How will you make a living at that?" It's HIM!!

I had a feeling it was too good to be true...

Since touring colleges in April, Eldest Son was certain that a dual degree in music and recording engineering was his course of study to be. I loved it. He is not a center-stage person by nature, so working the booth with a deep knowledge of music and playing his instruments if and when he pleased seemed a perfect fit. There are only a dozen or so schools nationwide that provide equally strong programs on both sides, he didn't want to go further than four hours away, bada-bing, bada-boom, done deal. He just had to get in. We had no worries about that happening.

Three weeks ago, he declared that after less than one full marking period of computer science class with the coolest teacher ever that he wants to be a Computer Science major. WHAT?! Applications are due December 1st!!!

This meant changing out some of the schools he was looking at because they offered no computer science. His academic track has not been towards this goal, so right now, the plan is to get in for music and have room for the prerequisites in computer science. He still agonizes over whether he should drop music altogether. The suffering I remember feeling so deeply at that age has begun. Just mildly, but now I can see signs on his face that the knots in his stomach are growing.

It was time for the big guns to come out. Can Mom and Coach co-exist in the same body? It was time to find out. Coaches know the home should be a 'coach free zone' because it's hard to be objective with your own flesh and blood. With that said, I am who I am. It's going to come out, but the key for me has been to use it sparingly. I weave it in so they don't even know it's happening. Only once in seventeen years have I heard: "Don't coach me."

As the words came out of my mouth, I noticed my husband sit up a little straighter and look at me somewhat in shock and maybe with a little awe. OK... maybe the awe was just wishful thinking.

Anyway, I challenged Eldest: "Listen, you can go to school for whatever you want, but before you decide that music is not your path of study, please take some time to think and come back to me with an answer. Tell me WHO music allows you to be. What calls you to that drum set? What puts you in the music room at school every free moment you have in the day? What happens to you when you play? What do you put out into the world because of this?

I'm waiting for the answer.

My desired outcome is to see is if this DNA-driven gift my kid has belongs in hobby mode or life's work mode. I work with clients to discover these parts of what I call their Life Blueprint when we work on their life story*. The adults are usually brought back to this very moment my son is at trying to pick up a piece they left behind and integrate it back into their life. If not as a career, at least as an activity that brings them back to themselves, to wholeness, and to peace.

Music will always be a part of my son's life. We've explored many of the forms it can take. Last week, he sat in the orchestra pit of a Broadway show, and he'll observe in another Broadway pit Thanksgiving weekend. He plays in the school musical pit every year and has been hired locally for professional pit gigs. He LOVES that.

But here we teeter on the brink of the first decisions that will determine how music fits in his life and also reveal if I'm full of crap. His Dad and I did our arts-driven lives until we were 30 and then got 'real' jobs. No decision is forever and nothing is a waste.

As a parent, it's hard not to be attached to one outcome or another. As a coach, I want to see his gifts honored, and I believe each of us has to have faith that we can beat the odds to do so. As the parent, I don't want to see him give up before even trying. As a coach, I don't want him to make a decision based in fear.

"Life will tell you if you're wrong. You can't figure it out 100%." That's what I tell my clients. That's what I'll tell my son.


Originally posted on the Now What?® Coaching Blog
*Chapter Four of "Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction" instructs you on how to find the clues to your future direction based on your life story (not your resume).