If I Taught Myself ... Lesson 1 - Do What You Want To Be.
Over the years, I have worked in several different teaching roles. I have taught students from birth through adulthood, in many different circumstances. Thinking back, I recognize that many of the concepts I teach have not quite made their way into my life. Today I'm beginning a series on some of those lessons that I have taught and not learned.
Today is the first of 12 installments - If I Taught Myself . . . Do What You Want To Be.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to an endless parade of different lives. I have wanted to be an actress and a geologist, live in a hip loft and in a rural farmhouse, and over the years, I have begun courses including aerial gymnastics, improvisation, Spanish, podcasts, painting, anthropology, and many, many more. To me, the allure of varying lives has always been strong. I have often said, “One day, I’ll be a (fill in the blank).”
The catch: the blank has been a revolving door of ideas, changing with each new experience.
Finally, as a 30-something, I’m grasping that I cannot be everything. I am slowly accepting that, sadly, the possibility of my being an Olympic Figure Skater is waning. Not completely gone, mind you, but less likely than I always thought.
Ironically, I could have learned this years ago – when I taught a high school student the same concept.
When I worked as a job readiness teacher in high schools, part of my role was to arrange mock interviews. Each student would meet with a volunteer to complete a practice interview in preparation for real life interviews.
Occasionally, we instructors helped instructors at other schools by serving as interviewers ourselves.
One such time, I interviewed a junior in high school. I do not recall the exact conversation, but the general idea is as follows:
Me: “What kind of career do you want?”
Him: “I plan to be a pro football player.”
Me: “Oh wow, do you play football now?”
Him: “Nah, I think maybe I’ll start playing next year.”
Now, the goal of these events was to boost students’ confidence while preparing them for future interviews. Though I did not want to crush this student’s dreams, I also felt it was important to mix some realism into my pep talk.
I remember telling him that most NFL players have been playing football since they were children. “It’s not necessarily impossible for you to join the Bronco’s,” I told him, “but if this is the direction you want to go, it’s essential to start playing football immediately.” At the risk of bequeathing unto him complete and utter self-doubt, I added that many people want to be pro football players, and only a small number actually make it.
As I transcribe this conversation, I feel its harshness. Who am I to discourage youthful dreaming? On the other hand, who I am I not to? What would be the value of lying to this boy? Of encouraging him toward a dream with no foundation?
The truth is, if you want to be something, you have to do it.
I am a product of the “You can do anything you want” generation. Of course I believe that we are all capable of extraordinary feats. I do believe, I always have believed, that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. What I did not realize until interviewing this student was that I may be able to do anything, but I cannot do everything.
Spoiler alert: I cannot be a midwife and a computer programmer and a novelist and a wildlife veterinarian and a gold medal figure skater and a stay at home mom. Sorry, Meridee, it’s not possible.
Eventually, we have to make choices. Hard choices. And this is what I was never told (or perhaps what I never listened to): You can be anything you want, as long as you’re willing to DO IT. At the expense of all other things, early in the morning, late at night, on weekends, and on holidays. People don’t just wake up one day and become a pro football player. It does not happen that way. People work for it.
Just like people work to become a doctor. Or a writer. Or a teacher.
It’s fine to want to run a marathon, to dream of running a marathon. But eventually, if this is what I want, I have to get some running shoes, tie them on, and hit the pavement.
The dream alone does not get me to my goal.
So, as I relive this conversation, I realize, in way, I was telling myself these things. I have been trying to learn this lesson for years. Slowly, it’s settling in.
I think this is a common challenge of many young folks. The idea of “One Day”. That one day we’ll magically achieve the dream. In the haze of our future glory, we overlook the long road ahead, so we never even start the journey.
I have no idea what happened to that student. Maybe he’s catching passes and scoring touchdowns. Maybe he realized he didn’t actually like playing football and chose something different instead. Or maybe, he’s sitting in an interview, telling a prospective employer that one day he will start playing football.
Either way, I’m carrying the lesson forward now - Do What You Want To Be.