Saturday, August 25, 2018

Hopeful Thinking, Saturday, August 25, 2018 - What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

     This is truly my favorite question to ask people of all ages. I don’t ask it to be cute. I’m curious, of course. I’m always fascinated by learning about what fascinates others. But there’s much more to the point of my asking the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
I like the new synapse it likely creates in people’s brains when a question that is probably a new thought for them is posed. Especially if they’re already a grown-up. For that’s exactly what a new thought or idea does. It actually creates new structures in our brain. The more a new synapse is reinforced by repetitious thinking, the more strength an idea has for us.
This phenomenon can be used for both good and bad, of course. Society convinces us all the time that our value to the world has a limited shelf life. Western culture does not revere the wisdom of age as it should. But I say, if you’re not dead, you’re not done.
I once knew of a woman in her 70’s who was attending law school. She didn’t seem to mind one her age bit. Didn’t care how long a career she would have. She was determined to do it even if she only ever argued one case. She had always wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. One might argue she wouldn’t grow up until she did it. That is how to live fulfilling life.
There’s an irony to the idea that we should make our living by what makes us happy, however. Studies have shown it’s not always a good thing. For some of us, it ruins the thing we love entirely. We want no part of it once we have to monetize it. Or, even more likely, it’s difficult to monetize in the first place. It’s better to find work that makes us happy rather than insist upon the thing which makes us happy paying all the bills. Fulfillment doesn’t always come from expected sources. The ‘what do you want to be?’ question isn’t necessarily about employment.
I love to make stained glass, for instance. I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. Sometimes I’m commissioned, sometimes I’m just making presents. Whether or not I’m paid is not the determining factor in my satisfaction. And if I had to go to the studio 40 hours a week and make it my career, I can tell you now I would lose my love for it within weeks. All of its capacity to fulfill, burnt away. As a hobby it is gratifying. I think I’ll keep it that way.
One thing that gets in the way of wondering if we have more ahead of us than behind us is our views on age. Should our increasing age mean we are of declining value? Our gut reaction would be, of course not. But in our youth we cast a value of the aged, flattering or not, and once we reach that age ourselves we often live up to what we once believed. Or don’t. I am nearly 50 now. Thank God I don’t think of 50 the way I did when I was 20. But if I did, I sure could see myself as a person of limited usefulness now. Is that what launches decline? Are these thoughts the slow beginning of the end?
To the question What do you want to be when you grow up? I would hope the answer might first be: Fulfilled. Because that opens up a wide swath of possibilities. Not all of them are vocational. We each of us deserves, and is fully capable, of achieving fulfillment. Move toward it, money or not.
But first, check your synapses. What thoughts repeat in your head? Especially when pondering the future. Are you hearing cheerleaders in there or naysayers? Likely a combination of both. Pay attention to them and question their motives. Consider the source of each voice. Reinforce those which spur you forward and turn your cheek from those that don’t. Be practical, of course, but don’t let practicality convince you that you don’t deserve fulfillment. If there are enough neural pathways working toward solution, a solution will be found. Give them a chance to grow and mature. Give yourself the same.

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