He looked at me intently, and his big brown eyes radiated all the cosmic concern that an eight-year-old is capable of as he asked, “Dad, how can I become a race-car driver?”

Frankly, I didn’t have the foggiest idea. And as it turned out, the problem was more complex than I realized.

It seems that some months ago he and his older brother entered into a type of agreement that is frowned upon in our house and usually goes under the name “bet.” The terms were that he has to pay his brother five dollars if he does not become an astronaut.

I began to smile as he told me about it, but the gravity of the matter was reconfirmed by his solemn look. Put yourself in his place. You have your whole life ahead of you. The excitement in anticipating a career as an astronaut has palled. Now nothing looks quite so exciting as driving a race car. But standing in the way is a bet that involves the gigantic sum of FIVE DOLLARS and a considerable amount of personal pride. I tried to assure him that when the time came to make the final decision, the five dollars wouldn’t really matter. But it didn’t seem to help much. He still feels vocationally boxed in.

A few months after this incident I talked with a twenty-eight-year-old whose vocational problem was similar. It seems this young man holds a Ph.D. in a rather obscure branch of engineering. He got this degree, he said, “sort of by accident.”

The way he explained it, his grades were good in physics and so he was encouraged to consider engineering. When he finished his bachelor’s degree, he was encouraged to consider specializing in an area where there was scholarship money and little competition.

As a result he holds a Ph.D. and a considerable commitment to a field ...

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