01 June 2005

Although I’m a generally tidy person, I’ve tended to let my room go while in law school. Random piles of random stuff have merged together into random mountains of paper, and the chair that would have been perfectly good lounging has become the perfect receptacle for t-shirts and sweatshirts and jeans. Every few months, though, I manage to wake up with enough extra gusto to really clean my room—more than changing the bed sheets and clearing a small patch in the middle of my desk, in other words. Basically, I try to give everything some semblance of organization, somehow. The highlight of this operation, of course, is sorting through my desk and bookshelves. I’m amazed at what I find. Projects that I never finished, things that I printed for a very important reason I can no longer recall, work done for various people that in the end was not needed—all completely useless, except to drum up memories good and bad (which is, actually, rather useful). Occasionally, I find something that actually deserves being kept.

A few days ago, during one of my cleaning days, I found an old Cambridge graph pad, filled to the last page with various sketches and blueprints and ideas. I have no idea how old I would have been when these were done, or why I had it in my room at all. But I remember with startling clarity how much fun it was to do some of those blueprints. And then I found some of the rough drafts of the newsletter I was supposed to get off the ground at my previous “job” during my undergrad years. These were two things I really enjoyed. Even today, the best way I can think of to spend my free time is to design something or write something. It means being creative, and for me that’s something essential to my happiness.

Unfortunately, I always figured that these were simply hobbies—happy diversions away from the “real world” version of me. The “me” who would be a lawyer or doctor or researcher. These are all things I enjoy, but would I choose to spend the rest of my days writing briefs and browsing Westlaw? Probably not. But if I follow the typical path, I’ll spend at least eight hours a day over the next several years doing things that I’ll find a little mundane, while my supposed “hobbies” will be relegated to the sidelines.

Why is it so hard to find and pursue our dreams? As children, we have these big, uninhibited imaginings. We don’t care about the how or why or what, we just have this inner faith that we can do anything. Practicality be damned. Even the shy and timid among us are relatively fearless, at least compared with the adults we become later.

Maybe being an adult isn’t some grand event or wonderful evolution. Maybe it’s just the grudging acceptance that practicality itself is actually a thing—and an increasingly heavy thing—to be balanced in whatever calculus we use when making decisions. It happens when we first say to ourselves “that’s just not practical.” This is why some fourteen year olds seem regrettably very much like adults, and why some forty year olds are maddeningly childish (as opposed to childlike): it’s simply a function of how much they’ve been forced into the practical way of thinking. Perhaps being realistic is good sometimes, but I think most of the time it can be damaging. It causes us to take a path of least resistance, a path that will be efficient and sensible and smart for us and everyone involved with us.

But as much as practicality is used to define adulthood, I think that more weight should be accorded to how vigorously we pursue our crazy dreams. I’m not advocating bringing down the people around us in pursuit of self-serving goals, or a total abandonment of responsibility. Obligation and constraint tempers us and makes us stronger, and helps ensure that we are running toward something rather than away from life itself.

And this is where I have a confession to make: I think that I’ve spent too much time over the past few years being terribly practical, but running away from myself all the time. I can give a great canned answer when asked why I’ve done the things I’ve done, but the honest answer, too often, would be simply: “because that’s what I was supposed to do….” I’m not even sure where I came up with this set of expectations. I guess it’s some weird blend of what I think my parents want (even though they’re both big believers in being a dreamer) and what I see everyone around me doing. Maybe—probably—I’m expecting too much of myself. Maybe I’ve made the obstacles seem bigger than they actually are.

I think for most of us lost dreamers, though, the answer is simply that we’ve forgotten how to recognize what we love and what brings us happiness. We’ve forgotten how to distinguish between what makes us interested, and what makes us passionate. In my case, I can think of only a handful of subjects or activities that I would definitely say I strongly dislike, toward which I have zero curiosity. Everything else—most of the known universe, it seems—is fair game. Obviously, I’m blessed to have had so much opportunity to wait and think about what makes me tick. But, once again, I’ve managed to overthink. And, even worse, I’ve lost my once unquestioning faith that I would be guided along somehow toward where I was supposed to be in life. Instead, I’ve done so much steering and maneuvering that I’ve managed to get lost.

So when I was looking at my old blueprints and magazine layouts, I was confronted with the old dilemma of how to get myself back to a place that feels more true without completely rocking the boat and knocking apart everything I’ve done in the last four years. Basically, I was confronted with the problem of taking the “adult” approach to reworking my life. Honestly, it’s a problem without an easy solution, and I don’t have it all figured out. Perhaps no one does. Perhaps this is what we all have to slowly figure out in order to have a good and meaningful life, whatever that might be. But for as frustrating as it can be to feel “lost,” there is something to be said for admitting that we’re not on the right path. Despite the cliché, I guess admitting there’s a problem, and having the willingness to fix it, really is an important first step. Who knows—that just might be the meaning of becoming an adult.

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