Try Everything

When my daughters entered middle school, they were given the opportunity to sign up for two electives each semester. During the first registration, they asked me if they should sign up for band, theater, athletics, art, choir, or cheerleading. My answer for each daughter was the same: “yes”.

Like to Do & Good At

After delivering that answer, my daughter replied by informing me that they were only allowed to sign up for two electives each year. I reminded them that over their three years in middle school, they could actually try all six electives. When they asked me why they should do that, I gave them my “like to do versus good at” lecture.

Over time, people discover the things they really like to do and the things they are really good at. But the mix of those attributes for any given activity is really important. I think of it, and described it to my daughters, this way:

  • Really like to do, but not good at: Hobby
  • Really good at, but don’t like to do: Potential missed opportunity
  • Really like to do and really good at: Potential long-term career

In this context “not good at” mostly just means not being good enough to make a living from the activity. When I was a late teenager and young adult, I really enjoyed playing the guitar. I became good enough to play in a band and our band was just good enough to get some gigs at local night clubs. But after a few years, I discovered that I wasn’t a natural musician and would never be able to make a living from playing the guitar. So it truly was what I would refer to as a serious hobby.

There are some things we fairly quickly figure out whether we’re good at. But there are more things that we aren’t initially good at, and with enough time and effort we are able to determine our likely full potential. I also imagine there are some things that, as we improve our proficiency, we enjoy it more and more.

Nonetheless, you get the basic idea of the exercise.

Foretelling a Career Aspiration

The benefits of my daughters’ middle school elective selection experiments didn’t just relate to the specific activities they engaged. Rather, each activity also gave hints about like/good in other contexts. Below are some examples of the hints that can be gained:

  • Band – analytical, methodical
  • Art – creativity
  • Sports – competitiveness
  • Theater, Choir and Cheerleading – performance and extroversion

A child’s education experience gives tons of feedback in this same regard. Being really good at math and physics but not enjoying those exact disciplines doesn’t have to lead to a dead end. Rather, the logic and analytical skills needed to be really good at math and physics are also ideal for certain careers in technology and financial services, as just two examples.

Below are some other examples of activities that can provide a child, and their parent, hints about like/good and a potential future career:

  • Numerous paying jobs as a teenager
  • Reading
  • Travel
  • Collecting
  • Writing
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Video gaming
  • Photography
  • Yoga or meditation
  • Tinkering/building things
  • Scrapbooking
  • Scuba diving
  • Rock climbing
  • Interior decorating


Like the title of this article suggests, my wife and I suggested that our daughters try as many things as possible while on their quest to find the intersection of things they both really liked to do and were really good at.

I hope you find this tool to be valuable for your own parenting experience.

Author: Gordon Daugherty

Gordon Daugherty is a best-selling author, seasoned business executive, entrepreneur, startup advisor and investor. He has made more than 200 investments in early-stage companies and has been involved with raising more than $80 million in growth and venture capital. From his 28-year career in high tech, Gordon has both an IPO and a $200-million acquisition exit under his belt. Now, as co-founder and president of Austin’s Capital Factory and as author of the book “Startup Success”, Gordon spends 100 percent of his time educating, advising, and investing in startups.

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