In the class I teach at Temple University we usually wrap up the semester with career planning. There is an exercise we do where the students are asked to come up with a snapshot of their dream life when they are in their 60s. There are many who say they will be retired having achieved their dreams and saved enough to live comfortably. Another large group says that they are CEOs of their own companies. One even said he would be living on Mars. Once we establish the details of their life way out into the future we work our way backwards a decade at a time staying consistent with the future vision. We end up at present day with the students at their desks and the final question is, "What should you do now?" The purpose of the exercise is to show the students that "impossible" dreams are achievable and that the first small step towards that future can begin today.
But if you kids are 7 or 12 or even 19, do they have to plan that far ahead for today to be important? Can they skip all the future decades and go straight to, "What should you do now?" How different is their vision of 40 years in the future going to be from their hopes and dreams about right now? Wouldn't what they want to do now, effect what they are going think they want to do in the future? Your ballet dancer is going to want to be a ballet dancer in the future and want to do ballet today. Your soccer player likewise is going to be the same.
Perhaps we are expecting too much of our kids. We push them to figure out their future with the belief that it is necessary to give them an edge in the increasingly competitive job market they are going to have to navigate. I certainly believe(d) that having goals and focus makes our kids more attractive to employers. However, recently I have begun to think that the planning and discipline that is required to chase after a difficult future is not the selling point I thought it was. The passion that shows through in an interview when our kids talk about their current interests (assuming they are related to the job at hand) are much more attractive to interviewers.
OK, if I ask my son what he wants to do while he is watching TV, he is going to say, "watch TV". While there are plenty of TV-related careers, nobody gets paid only to watch. There are a few kids out there that might say “I want to bake a cake.” rather than “I want to eat a cake.” but my guess is that they are in the minority. If your child is (like most) focused more on consumption than production when you speak to them, you may have to tweak the question a little bit, but it can still be about the present rather than the future. Since all jobs/careers are designed around production of some sort, ask, "What do you want to make (or create, or discover, etc) today?"
The great thing about kids, especially the smaller ones, is that if you ask this question every day for a week, you will get 7 different answers. How fantastic is that!? 7 career options. With that kind of inventory you can then follow the Headhunter Dad's Dad's advice and consider all the things your kid is interested in and choose the one that he can make a living at.
Can you imagine if your own career was currently built around what you chose to do freely as a kid?