“There’s nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” – Buckminster Fuller

This quote made me think of my West Point class. Before I arrived there, I had made straight A’s for 12 straight years, graduating as valedictorian. But during my first semester as a cadet, I was amazed at how many of my classmates were so much brighter and more mature than I was. And then later, after graduation, I was surprised at what happened next. Many of the guys I knew did things I never could have predicted. One friend became an astronaut, one of the first to walk in space to build the space station. Another became president of a vast system of universities. Another became a billionaire by investing in the stock market. One friend, a varsity football player, became a celebrated plastic surgeon. Another, a male cheerleader, became Secretary of the Army. And I never could have predicted the fellows who became four-star generals.

Who knew? These guys had done things that prepared them for challenges that led to their amazing accomplishments. While I was a fairly successful student at West Point and had a satisfying military career, at no time as a cadet was I conscious that there were ways to prepare myself for my future.

I wish I could have understood that at the time. Maybe I would have chosen to get involved in activities that I knew would help me. It would have been nice to have a mentor to guide me and coach me about the future. Like this father, who decided it was time to plant a few seeds with his teenage daughter….

Dad: “Sweetie, I’d like to talk about the future.”

Daughter: “Cool.”

Dad: “Your future.”

Daughter: “Okay.”

Dad: “Have you ever thought about what kind of career you’d to pursue when you’re grown up?”

Daughter: “Sometimes.”

Dad: “What are you thinking?”

Daughter: “I guess nothing definite. It’s all kind of hazy to me.”

Dad: “So right now you feel an exciting career may grab you sometime when you’re in college.”

Daughter: “I hope so.”

Dad: “Maybe I could introduce you to some people I know who could tell you about their professions, if you’re interested.”

Daughter: “That would be cool.”

Dad: “A lot of kids end up following their parents’ lead. That’s what happened to me. My dad was a high school math teacher. I ended up teaching math at the university. Your mom’s a school counselor. But that doesn’t mean you have to do anything like what we do.”

Daughter: “I know.”

Dad: “Do you realize there are things you can do while in high school that will prepare you regardless of whatever career you choose?”

Daughter: “Like what?”

Dad: “Well you’re already doing a good job in one area. Academics. I love it that you take school seriously. I bet some of those courses really make you think. And you’re learning how to learn. Your grades are wonderful. ”

Daughter: “Thanks. I like it when my teachers think I’m great.”

Dad: “I know. Of course I’m especially proud that you like math. But not because math is my area. It’s because math will help you wire your brain for reasoning skills. Being logical will help you no matter what career you choose.”

Daughter: “Yeah, I guess so.”

Dad: “And you can build on that by taking more STEM courses.”

Daughter: “I like my biology course.”

Dad: “Yes, that’s a fascinating area. More practice for being a better thinker!”

Daughter: “Yeah.”

Dad: “You have a lot on your plate. Is it hard to make time for all that?”

Daughter: “Sometimes.”

Dad: “It’s like, you have to make choices about what to do, what to not do, to get the important stuff done.”

Daughter: “It’s like that every day. I’m pretty busy right now, with homework, my science project, and swim team.”

Dad: “This is a good time of life to be learning about managing money. Have you thought about getting a part-time job? Maybe after swim season?”

Daughter: “You think I should do that? I’d be busier than ever!”

Dad: “It’s up to you, of course. But you’d have more money to get things you want. And you could be saving or investing. You’ll need to know how to manage money wisely when you’re on your own. Fitting a job into everything else would push you to manage your time even better than you do now.”

Daughter: “I don’t know.”

Dad: “It would be challenging. But dealing with challenges like that can make you stronger as a person in many ways. Strong in ways that count when you’re an adult.”

Daughter: “I’m still a kid, Dad.”

Dad: “That’s true. I just wanted to talk about your future. Take it from me, the future comes at you faster than you might think. This time of life is special, because it’s not only fun, it’s your chance to prepare. You’ll find out when you get to college that some of the kids you’ll meet are further down the road than others. Smarter. Stronger. You’ll see. You can be one of the better prepared ones.”

Daughter: “I don’t need more pressure right now, Dad.”

Dad: “I know. You’re doing great. No pressure, Kiddo. Just food for thought, okay?”

Daughter: “Okay.”

Dad: “I just want you to know I’m here for you if you ever need anything. If you need to talk. Whatever.”

Daughter: “Okay. Thanks.”

Dad: “You’ve made some great choices so far. You have a good head on your shoulders.”

Daughter: “Thanks, Dad.”

Learn more about how you can help your child acquire vital thinking skills in my book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

Also, you can download 4 FREE guides, including  “The No. 1 Way to Nurture the Bond with Your Teen.”