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My daughter was two when she started picking out her own outfits, each day looking through her drawers with her chubby hands until she found the exact shirt she wanted to wear or the polka-dotted tights she thought to put on with a dress. Friends never believed me when I said she put her look together herself.

At five, she outpaced me in the crafting department. She would follow the picture directions or look at the box and create the finished product while I was still trying to figure out which end was up.

By eight, she started watching YouTube videos of young girls creating elaborate hairstyles, begging me to sit so she could try a new side braid or top-knot bun. If you asked her, one of her favorite gifts she ever received was a mannequin head used by beauty students on her 9th birthday.

Now at 12-and-a-half, she has already perfected the smoky eye and knows how to contour her cheekbones at just the right angle. She’s like a beauty savant.

While fashion, beauty and art are her passion, I’m grateful that she is also a strong student. She is as diligent in her studies as she is about practicing the application of lip liner.

Recently a few of her friends were at our house, and I overheard the gaggle of girls talking about what jobs they might want as adults. I was surprised at how serious and steadfast some of the girls were about their potential career choices.

I heard “I want to be a physical therapist, but specifically for sports injuries” and “I took a coding class last summer, so I think it would cool to be a programmer at Apple” and, “I think I want to do something with money or business.” They talked about the prestigious schools their siblings attended or visiting their parents’ alma maters.

Previously, my daughter always responded with: “I want to be an elementary school teacher because I could do so many crafts!” That day, however, she meekly said, “I wish I could do hair and makeup all the time. That would be the best.”

I wrote off her comment at first. I mean, no one looks at their baby and says, “I hope she grows up to be a beautician.”

But, as my kids get older, and I get older myself, I have started to question what will enable my daughter to grow up into a happy, satisfied adult.

And I’m just not certain a traditional four-year college is it.

I’m not sure when we dismissed trade and vocational schools as substandard or only for those kids who weren’t “good enough students” to attend a university. I’m not sure when we started believing that using our hands to earn a living was menial and sitting behind a desk prestigious. I’m not sure when achieving the American dream meant racking up college loans.

But here we are, focused on filling up our kids’ resumes with service hours and AP classes and sports and extracurricular activities while telling them that their passions of art and cooking and creating are great “hobbies”.

My daughter is still in middle school, so I started digging. While not as readily available as it used to be, there are still many community and local colleges offering vocational programs at the high school level. Traditionally these courses only focused on training for skilled labor such as plumbing, electrical engineering, and nursing, there are now a slew of choices, such as culinary skills, photography, child care, and even fashion and beauty.

When I mentioned to my daughter that during high school she may also be able to complete cosmetology courses, she squealed with delight.

We started discussing non-traditional career paths, such as fashion design and makeup artistry. She went online and found success stories of professionals who made a great living in these sectors, but even more importantly, talked about the fulfillment of following a career path that they loved.

We have some time before she needs to make any drastic decisions, but for now, it feels great to tell my daughter that she can be anything she wants in this world, and that may mean following a different path than other students.

And if she becomes a beauty school drop out?

Well, there’s always college.

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When I mentioned to my daughter that during high school she may also be able to complete cosmetology courses, she squealed with delight.

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a freelance writer, and co-partner of the site parentingteensandtweens.com You can find her on Facebook at WhitneyFlemingWrites.

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