Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Looking Back at Potential

I love getting a glimpse into a stranger's reflections on their childhood potential. What did you think you were going to be when you grew up, and now that you're older, how did it turn out?
"Here I was, a really smart kid with lots on the ball--gifts that I hadn't even begun into tap yet--and I thought my life was over. I graduated from high school fearing the worst. I might eke out a few years in minimum wage jobs and then...magically expire. And it didn't help matters that I had a high school counselor for four years who gave me the excruciatingly mixed message of steering me toward a slate full of college prep courses only to tell me my senior year that she thought I had a great future ahead of me...as a legal secretary."
Thanks to Jory's ThirdAge Carnival for the pointer.

2 comments:

Brian said...

Nice post Jeremy. It captures an essential problem and is a direct reflection of what I have found to be a very common underlying pattern. Society seems to demand that we sequentially experience (oversimplified I know): 1) Something called early childhood; 2) Something called education; 3) Something called work or career; and 4) Something called retirement. These are assumptions that offer a significant challenge to the idea of lifestylism. In addition, they are often presented in terms of "preparing for the future," "making a contribution to society," "progress," and so on.

I see this underlying proposition as a form of propaganda that steers us away from the issue described in this entry. And that issue is the hopes and dreams of the individual to pursue their passion in life. It is sad to see the number of times people refer to "lost potential." In some ways I suspect that a lifestylist is a kind of warrior. But not a warrior that sets out to conquer and defeat, instead a warrior that consciously seeks more out of life then what is generally being proposed by the status quo. In this way, new and essential perspectives can be introduced into the bog of eternal progress.

The stories like the one you have presented here are vitally important. The key is to embrace the underlying problems in them in a manner that helps to build lives, not submit to external demands by the way of propaganda. A key capability for the lifestylist warrior is resilience. This is one of the things that has attracted me to write about people and life as a lens on the question, "How do we learn the things we value most?"

I can hear the distant call of Joseph Campbell, David Whyte, Stephen Biko, and others.

Jeremy said...

Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment, Brian. I think you've exactly hit it with the sequence you've outlined, and each of those stages also seems to have a set of expectations attached that make it difficult for us to integrate their lives. For example, for many people, the peak of their productivity and earning potential in the "Work and Career" stage now overlaps with the time in life when they are starting families. Try working 60-hour weeks (even 40-hour weeks!) with a couple of young kids at home...or try having both parents working that much and still develop meaningful relationships. No wonder you're using the warrior/battle metaphor!

"...a warrior that consciously seeks more out of life then what is generally being proposed by the status quo." I think this is exactly right. My hunch is that as we align our lives with our core values, the things we really care about, we're likely drawn into conflict with the status quo. This applies almost across the board to decisions we make about transportation, childcare, housing, friendships, families, work, leisure and spirituality.

I'm usually harping on the mismatch between our individual values and lifestyle choices...but when this report came out a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was a graphic display of our collective hypocrisy. Wouldn't most Canadians would say that we value the quality of our environment? Why aren't our lifestyles reflecting that value?