I have no idea if it’s still like this or whether you had the same experience, but back when I was in high school in the 60’s, by junior year, we were supposed to decide what we wanted to do for our careers, for the rest of our lives! I was 15 when that question was put to me. Yikes. I don’t know about you, but at 15 I didn’t have anything like the maturity or self awareness it takes to make that kind of decision. And yet it was expected and required. This represents an endemic societal way of thinking that suggests we should KNOW–a kind of boxing us in before we have a chance to sample the possibilities–and it’s not just an expectation surrounding career choices. The need to know infuses absolutely everything in our culture, part of our product not process sensibilities I think. The notion that children should decide what they are going to do when they grow up, before they are at all grown, before most have any inkling of who they are, or who they are becoming, is one of the ways we can lose our dreams and miss our potential. Did this happen to you?
Last night I watched the movie, Something the Lord Made, a true story about Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas who teamed up in the 1940’s to develop a medical procedure to save children who were suffering from a heart defect. Vivien Thomas was a carpenter, by trade, who was laid off during the depression and went to work for Alfred Blalock cleaning his lab. As it turned out, Mr. Thomas had a natural medical aptitude and his mind and hands were critical to creating this life-saving surgery. He never took one class in medicine and yet he advanced its practice immeasurably. On accepting an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University he said, “When I put my hammer and saw down 40 years ago and was offered an opportunity to work with a young surgeon, I had no idea that I’d be able to make a mark on an institution as prestigious as this one; I had no idea that I would have any contribution to make to medicine…”
And therein lies the problem with prematurely choosing our life’s direction and purpose: If fate hadn’t brought Thomas into Blalock’s sphere, or if he had allowed himself to be limited by his identity as a carpenter, many thousands of lives, by now, would have been lost. When we force or rush the process, any process, be it life direction, romance or a painting, by needing to know an outcome, by needing answers, now, we can miss the natural unfolding that’s trying to take place. By allowing the carpenter space and time and opportunity to think like the doctor, Thomas found his true calling and medical history was made. But this is not the usual way of our system.
For most of us, we don’t know where our lives are taking us. We make choices, often by default, often when we’re very young, and then we usually stick with them, allowing them to define us. How much better to let whatever is being born, be born. I believe we are actually meant to let go of control, to fly like a feather on the wind, and that flies in the face of everything we are raised to believe.
I wish this for us: May we make our peace with uncertainty and find patience in the beauty of life’s unfolding. May we dance on the breeze, as light as air, and land where life best expresses us. May we find our soul’s power and beauty in simply being, as the cosmos intended.