Nolan Harkness on Why Telling Young People ‘You Can be Whoever You Want to be’ is Not Helpful

In my many years of working with teens, the second joy I had in addition to seeing them come to Christ was helping each one discover their God-given gifts and talents. I have since learned that an astonishing number of people are very frustrated and angry with their jobs or careers because a family member or guidance counselor launched them out on a path for which they had no natural gifting. That is why I cringe whenever I hear someone tell a child; “You can be whoever you want to be!” To young Christians I say, “You can be whoever God has created you to be.”  I say to teens who are unbelievers, “You can be successful if you work hard using your natural gifts.” I believe that the pandemic is magnifying our teenagers’ perception of accomplishing unrealistic dreams and is one of the causes of the current epidemic of teen depression in our nation.  When well-meaning adults tell teens, “You can be whoever you want to be,” but that dream does not happen, youths lose hope, become depressed and even suicidal. 

I began to discover as I worked with teens an interesting fact about them. I saw that each one had been born with a God-given talent. I could tell that different kids’ gifts were in different stages of development. There were always a few whose gift was so hard to see that I had to tell them honestly that they were “growing into their gift” and would discover it as they got older.  Adolescents are usually gifted in one of three areas: artistically, athletically, or intellectually. Some are wonderfully gifted in more than one area, but I always encourage parents and youth workers to start by looking for one of these three. As I got to know them, I looked for signs indicating which category they fit within.

The “artsy” kids are not hard to find. They are almost always carrying a tablet and they typically love to draw, write, or take photographs. I would often direct these students toward teaching, which is a really good day job to provide their needs while they pursue their artistic goals.  Teens frequently pick on intellectually gifted kids, calling them “brain-iacs.” They are your straight “A” students or are the kids who are so intelligent that school is boring for them. They definitely should be encouraged to work toward a professional career. The third category, which are the athletically gifted students, are the easiest ones to spot. They are the ones who win all the youth group sports competitions. They probably are on at least one sports team at their school. I usually encourage these young people to pursue a career or trade that involves physical activity, which will help them use a lot of their built-up energy.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Nolan Harkness

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.

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