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Posts tagged ‘career’

Pluripotency Lost: The Suckiest Part of Growing Up

My younger sister and I were commiserating the other day about how life seems to be getting increasingly difficult and depressing as time marches on. Though our respective strengths and staminas have developed over the years in the face of new challenges and allowed us both to cope fairly successfully, life has inevitably lost some of its sparkle as the harshness of reality has become more and more tangible.

There is so much lost in the process of growing up: the security and safety and companionship of family, freedom from financial responsibility and worry, the black-and-white simplicity of a childish worldview…

Perhaps the most painful thing, at an underlying level, is the loss of possibility. Like an embryonic stem cell that may yet differentiate into a nerve, blood, intestinal, or ANY cell type of the body – you possess as a child the potential for everything. When you are a kid, EVERYTHING is possible. You can have infinite plans for your life – marriage and children, traveling the world, writing a book, dancing, exploring outer space, curing cancer, doing something about world hunger…in the future these things are not mutually exclusive. In your imagination and dreaming, they can all live simultaneously. You can be and do everything you’ve ever wanted to.

But in real time, sadly, you must make choices. In choosing one path, you must leave others untravelled…and there is no going back. Time keeps moving forward. Once a stem cell is dedicated as, say, muscle, it loses its pluripotency. A muscle cell is what it must be for life. And it is the same with us.

And that is hard.

As time drops away behind us, dreams and possibilities do too. As much as we like to tell ourselves that we are free to go and do and be anything we want to, at any time, the truth is that we can’t. At the age of almost-thirty, my becoming, say, a professional dancer is no longer in the cards. It’s just not going to happen.

So, as I sit here at another crossroads in my life, trying to decide in which direction to head career-wise, it is making me think hard about what I really want to be doing…and what I am giving up in choosing that thing. And it makes me a little anxious and sad.

On the other hand, that is just a part of life; that we must define ourselves and actually embrace something – ONE thing – fully and completely is a part of the beauty and bittersweetness of it all. We must choose our color and become one real, bright thread in the tapestry of life…and learn how to find joy in whatever role we adopt and whatever place we land.

Because, as we all know, the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill, and no life path is perfect.

Karl Barth, an early 20th century theologian, once said, “Joy in this world is always in spite of something. It is a defiant ‘nevertheless’ against all bitterness, resentment and despair.”

And I think that is true.

I look at my grandparents who are nearing the end of their lives, and find that they are some of the the most patient, loving, grateful, happy, and content people I know.

So maybe having your story all written isn’t really a bad thing. Maybe there is peace in knowing who and what you are, and how it all works out, and learning to embrace it.

Maybe the loss of pluripotency – of infinite possibility in all its overwhelmingness – isn’t so sucky after all.

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Ordinary Days

It is just a fact of life that most days are ordinary for most people. That they happen regularly is exactly what makes them ordinary. And we need them, these ordinary days. Without them, there would be no EXTRAordinary days.

It was the last day of my first semester of teaching today. I thought it would feel a bit more significant than it did. I thought my students might break into song or at least heave a big, collective sigh of relief/accomplishment/satisfaction. They didn’t, of course. They were as exhausted as I am, just putting one foot in front of the other like all of us, not to mention trying to maintain a whole additional life and social status online…poor kids.

Maybe I should have done something to make it more special. Honestly, though, I didn’t have time to even think about it. I was up until midnight two nights in a row this week writing my finals (just in the nick of time).

With each passing day of teaching I am deciding more and more that I hate it and also that there is nothing else I would rather do. I’ve been looking through entry-level job postings in all sorts of fields. They sound glamorous at first. And the appeal of a regular 9 to 5 schedule is great. But when I picture what I’d actually be doing every day, I realize that what I get to do every day right now is…delightful.

I get to teach kids. I get to laugh with them. I get to be creative. I get to talk about life (a little bit). I get to [try to] bring a little joy and hope and help into their crazy little lives.

I’ve thought again about what I would go back to school for if I had the option, and I still just don’t know. I’d love to do music. Or dance. But the reality is that almost EVERYONE would love to do something artistic like that, and that almost NO ONE (even the extremely naturally gifted ones) can make a dependable living in those fields.

(Here’s what it would actually take to become a Radio City Rockette – one of my top five favorite pipe dreams).

And a part of me suspects that making those things I love – music and dance – the focus of my days and source of bread and butter would kill the joy I find in them. Maybe not. But I suspect…

I think I lack the attention-span/drive/focus it takes to be an expert at one thing anyway, especially an art form that requires serious discipline and dedication. I guess I am kind of a “Renaissance Woman.” Though, “Jack of all trades, master of none” is probably more like it. I like to dabble in things. All sorts of things. And then, once I’ve gained a fairly basic understanding of what is going on in that arena, and attained a very minimum level of skill, I loose interest.

Here is a list of some of the areas in which I have achieved mediocrity:

Piano

Guitar

Knitting/Sewing

Cooking/Baking

Skiing

Dance (ballet, modern, highland, salsa)

Biology

Chemistry

Education (though my alma mater, SPU, has declared me “highly qualified”)

Biblical history

Various sports (soccer, basketball, softball, track, hiking, biking, climbing)

Writing…

The list goes on. I always manage to do decently well at most things I try, but I never buckle down and do the hard work it takes to really go somewhere. I think it all stems from one of my greatest character flaws – indecisiveness. Although I will say that I see this indecisiveness as the flip side of two of my strengths – open-mindedness and optimism. For me, everything is a possibility to be considered and explored, and all hold the potential to be good, true, and valuable. It makes it really hard to pick, you know?

This post is already too long and I need to go to bed.

The point is – maybe ordinary is okay. Maybe ordinary is good. If you live extra-ordinary every day, it just becomes ordinary anyway. I’m sure touring and playing and singing feels to U2 a lot like teaching feels to me – some days magical, other days…ordinary…and tiring.

I think if I can just figure out how to do this teaching thing more efficiently (like, in about 2/3 of the time that I am spending now) I will LOVE it.

It might be a while though. Like, maybe years. And I might end up as the 50-something, single, crazy teacher-lady with the wild hair and a sweater vest for every season.

But that’s not SO bad, is it?

You Gotta Do What You Wanna Do

I’m wondering today if maybe deciding on a career is kind of like deciding on a significant other. I have realized that when it comes to relationships, its no good to try to reason yourself into one just because it makes sense on paper and looks good to everyone else. Just as you must ask yourself, “Do I want to be with this person?” you must also ask, “Is this what I want to do with my time? Is this how I want to spend my days?” And then you have to let your gut speak. And go with it.

I think we usually know what we want.

I think when we get confused about what we want, it is because we are letting all the millions of other voices in our heads (i.e. our mother’s or father’s voice, the media’s voice, the cool kid from 8th grade’s voice) get in the way and drown out our own inner voice.

There’s a song by the Mama’s and the Papas, the chorus of which says this:

You gotta go where you wanna go, Do what you wanna do, With whoever you wanna do it with…

I used to think that was really bad advice. I used to think, as a Christian, that my essential nature, my “gut” if you will, was broken and sinful and incapable of leading me well, and that I must therefore base my decisions on “the will of God,” which, as you might imagine, is a rather difficult thing to get a real handle on. At the end of the day, it usually came down to reason and logic, the advice of those I loved and respected, an overall aim to align my actions with the principles in the Bible that seemed good and made sense, and a last desperate prayer for Divine intervention if, after all, I was headed in the wrong direction.

Now that my perspective is a little different, I think the Mamas and the Papas might have had it right.

I’m not saying reason and logic should be thrown out. I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek advise from those older and wiser. I’m not saying that, in making decisions, we needn’t think about right and wrong and remind ourselves that our actions affect many lives besides our own.

What I AM saying, and what I think the M’s & P’s were getting at, is that life is too short to not spend your precious few days doing what it is in your heart to do. My reason and logic may tell me that being an oncologist, for example, is a noble and meaningful way to spend my time, but if I am miserable doing the things that the day-to-day life of an oncologist involves, should I really be doing them?

Is it better to be helping people in a huge, tangible way and be miserable, or to be affecting fewer lives on a smaller scale and be a happy, mentally healthy person? You may have your own answer, but my gut leans toward the latter.

The point of all this is, I think we SHOULD “go with our guts.” I think my “gut” or “the still small voice” inside of me – or whatever your particular perspective leads you to call it – knows what it’s talking about. I think that, maybe, it takes you directly and instinctually to the very place that reason and logic (untainted, of course, by all the “shoulds” and “coulds” and voices of the crazy world around you) would lead you eventually.

That little voice, after all, has been with you from the beginning. Always. Through everything. It knows you like no other person will ever be able to. It knows what you really want, deep down, because what you really want deep down is who you really are.

And doesn’t it seem like a better idea to live who you really are, than to try to live the life of some other person you think you should be?

I think I’m going to be a nanny and not a teacher…at least for now…because, when I am honest with myself, that is just what I wanna do.