Tuesday, May 7, 2013

An Allegory For My Missionary Friend

       Not that long ago, an idealistic young man, frustrated with a lack of awesomeness in his ordinary life, came to Alaska and, armed with a small rifle and a bag of rice, found a remote location and settled in to learn more about himself.  He kept a journal of his thoughts and activities through a long winter as he slowly starved to death.  A movie was made, portraying him as an hero of sorts, struggling to define the terms of his own life. He saw himself as a seeker, an explorer, a radical missionary for independence.  He is viewed somewhat differently here.  The folks who found him, the folks who removed his body, and most of the folks who paid to clean up his mess think of him as a fool whose grandiosity of thought outweighed his food cache.  There is empathy here too, for nearly every dreaming newcomer to this country came not altogether prepared. The main difference between him and some of them is that they survived, perhaps because they understood up front that the world can treat naivete harshly, in spite of whether one is driven, passionate, confident, or even superior in their conviction. The risk he took was not entirely his own, and the one thing that could have saved him was contact with the ordinary society he disdained until it was too late.
      There will always be a group of people who will cheer you for putting all your chips in no matter the hand, and there are forces in the arena that aren't playing a game.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dear Nora: On Lifting your Head

Dear Nora:
      I hope you are aware that they are sharing and celebrating that you are lifting your head.  No bubble bursting intended, but head lifting, while a valuable skill, is neither rare and unique, nor party worthy.  Almost everyone I know can do this.  It's somewhat akin to birthdays, in my mind; Cake and balloon animals as rewards for simple survival.  You are, therefore we eat cake.  Put that way, I like it better.
      Don't worry, I won't Grinch your birthday parties.   I understand that birthdays are a celebration of the person, letting them know they are valued and supported by friends and family. Birthdays are tradition, people expect them, and there is value in that I suppose.  There are worse things to suffer through.  You've a distance to travel before YOU have to deal with that first candle on a cupcake, but call me with questions. I have extensive experience with birthdays, and a fondness for fire and cake.  
     Well it's obvious, Nora, that your parents wish you to be someone who holds her self up, but have you discussed in depth what else it is they wish you to be?  Have they even approached with you their definition of a successful human?   It may surprise you how little guidance many receive at the critical phases of their development, perhaps because many parents haven't explored those topics themselves.  Ask, but don't be surprised, when dealing with adults, at some of the vague things they'll say to avoid the question:
     " Be yourself" - It is quite impossible to be someone else.  You may model and wish to be like someone else, but an Elvis impersonator is not Elvis.  That you would emulate others, even your parents, doesn't make you a bad person, in fact it's rather expected to a point. You need a base knowledge of traditional behaviors just to function in society, and you need enough craziness to stay sane.  (Warning - Too much individuality can be so annoying to others they'll lock you up!  Too little is cause for anti-depressive drugs and locking YOURSELF up!)  Your job is to strike your own balance.   It's OK to cast yourself in the mold of those you respect , but only if their influence doesn't restrict your own growth.
     "Be the best at what you do" - The limiting factor here is that necessarily, you're compared to all others.  There are nearly seven billion people on the planet. Fortunately, not everybody is doing the same thing, so that narrows the field some. To prove you're the best, you have to continually measure. Often the measuring takes resources from what it is you actually do, and the rules of measure are always changing. Competition limits cooperation, and one great joy (of mine, anyway) is learning and growing with others. I won't deny that it's a competitive world, Nora.  There is only so much world for all those people.  I can only submit that many of the best in any field are supremely talented, have wonderful teachers, and are driven more by a passion for their work than judgement of their relative worth.  If you make up your mind to love what you do, and keep getting better at it, maybe even innovative at it, then you are successful; Maybe even gaining recognition and money along the way if that's what you're into.
    "Be all you can be" - I like this one better, in that it suggests growth, but it also implies limitations.  Adults use only 10% of their brains, and even you aren't doing much better.  Obviously, "all you can be" isn't finite.  No matter what you achieve, how far you stretch, you can and should ask yourself for a little more.  That doesn't mean you won't have setbacks, or won't ever change paths.  If you settle for "Well, that's all I can be", you might be right.
      Notice Nora, all the mention of growth. I'm not talking of the stretching of your body, measured by marks on the door frame. (Misc note: Magic marker takes a long time to wear off your scalp.)  I'm describing the growth of your mind.  I think that's the secret of a successful life.  I don't know that all things that happen TO you make you stronger, but I'm pretty sure they offer ways to learn and grow, then to make informed decisions with consequences from which you learn and grow, from which you'll find OTHER opportunities to learn and grow, etc, until you don't anymore.
       If you would ask me for advice (you didn't) about choosing the person you would decide to be, I would suggest, and am asking you now, to please don't NOT be.  As long as you are trying (growing), the process of you defining you is alive.  YOU are a positive work in progress, no matter what mistakes you'll make, or obstacles you find.  The best way to find your way is to keep looking, even when it's really well hidden, or even when you think you've found it. Unless you choose to hide from your own potential, you are a success.
      So.  I propose that you and I forego each other's birthday parties, and get together at random intervals and discuss what we've learned since our last growth party.  As long as we are developing, challenging ourselves, and not NOT being, everybody gets extra helpings of bacon and fireworks.  What?  Oh, trust me.  You'll like them.
      And now that I think of it, your parents were just celebrating a phase of your growth with your pictures.  They look at you, and hold their heads high.  I guess I learned something today.  Wish me a happy growth-day! To you as well.
      I'll think a thought, record it, and stuff it in a bottle just for you.  You do the same.  K