What did you want to be when you were little? For little American boys the classic answer goes from being Cowboys, to Policemen, and in many cases professional sports, to the jobs that seemed to be the most fun, until we found ourselves going to school and finally college where we selected or settled on a profession. Sometimes people are lucky and they figure out at an early age what they want to be and they set out on that path right away. That was not the path I took in my career, I never really dreamed of being what I am today. The little American boy that I used to be dreamed of the fame and fortune of professional sports at point even wanted to be an archeologist.
I was reminded of that desire a few weeks ago when I stood in front of Pit #2 in Xi’an looking over the immenseness of the pit and its Terra Cotta Soldiers. I was reminded by my subconscious that I never set out to be an Engineer, nor did I have any pressing desire to operate or build nuclear power plants. I didn’t dream of making electricity for the 2nd and 3rd world. I did however dream of finding and excavating dinosaurs, fossils, buried civilizations, and yes, even human remains. I am sure it had to do with the unique perspective that I have of the Yucatan Peninsula and the events that might have taken place there. Yet, here I am nothing that I ever dreamt of being. How did I end up so far from any dreams of what I would do for work?
Maybe this is a story for my posterity. Maybe this experience is something to let my descendents realize that sometimes life happens and the desires of youth get lost in the shuffle and hubbub of life. Maybe it is counsel to them to not just let life happen to you; don’t let life decide what you will do for work. Maybe it is a recommendation to keep dreaming. Don’t give up on doing or being something that you want but don’t ignore other opportunities if they look like they will work in your actual living of life. I am sure that if I had a better plan when I was 10, or 12, or even 22 I would have ended up somewhere else doing something different than I am now. I read a story the other day about an author that had an experience where teachers appeared to discourage some young students to dream big, I am glad that my dreams were never crushed by those that taught me. I am certain that I would likely be as happy or unhappy as I am right now if had followed that plan. You see, even when we are disciplined and committed to something life happens anyway. But that is no reason to quit dreaming and no reason to quit learning.
Who knows why I changed my mind and decided that I didn’t want to be an archeologist, I still think that would be an awesome job. If I had still desired to be one while going to college it would have only been reinforced when I watched the great Dr. Jones of Indiana Jones fame. I suspect that I didn’t follow through with that plan because there really never was a plan. I never really knew enough about it to make a plan, I didn’t tell anyone of the desire that I can remember. I never explored how to become one or what kinds of experiences I might need to have to prepare to get that job. It is also quite likely that I learned that you had to get a PhD to do that job and the last thing my little mind wanted to do was that much more school. I mean, if you want to dig in the dirt and discover lost cities and buried pottery soldiers do you really want to spend another 12 years in school after you graduate from High School? I do know that I didn’t want to do that and never really set out to get more education than I will really ever use.
The interesting thing that I learned along the way of life happening is this: Time Goes By Anyway. When life is happening, and you are working, falling in love, going fishing, and hanging out with friends, time is going by. You can choose to do something while that is happening or you can choose to do nothing; either way time is still going to go by. The thing is, why let it go by without getting something for it. Investing that time into something will make a difference, just like it would have if I had chosen to become an archeologist.
As I reflect on the past few decades and look at what I got for my time, I think I am pretty happy with the results of that investment. Sure there is no Dr. in front of my name and there is no PhD behind my name but I only quit going to school because I couldn’t see the return on that investment. I didn’t see where the time spent to earn those credentials was worth what I would be giving up to get them. Do I sometimes now wish I had go ahead and done it anyway, sure; but I still don’t see where the sacrifice was worth the return, I traded that bunch of letters to go with my name for time with my family. I guess it came to down to giving up something that I wanted for something that I wanted more.
I have been lucky in my life, even though every plan that I had for work has gone awry, I have never wanted for the things of this world. I have been blessed with great friends. I have a wonderful family that I love dearly. I have had and continue to have spectacular experiences that will make me a great story teller when my children and grandchildren can get me to tell them. I have worked in places and on things that a little boy in Wyoming, USA could never have even imagined existed. As sad as I might ever be for not getting to be what I planned to be when I grew up or how many letters aren’t behind my name; I can’t be too sad as this has been a wild and wonderful ride.
So here is to another 50 years of life by the seat of my pants. Here is to having a plan and then ignoring that plan because you know that everything is going to work out on the path you have chosen even when that path is completely new. Here is to being willing to step into the darkness of the unknown, knowing that it is at the very least going in the right direction. Where listening to the Spirit is way more important than keeping to the plan because sometimes our plan isn’t very grand; and the real plan and the new path is oh so very grand and all we have to do is be ready when the time is right. Sure, I often had to go kicking and screaming but I went knowing it was what, where, and when I was supposed to be doing it. I have learned that it really doesn’t matter what I do when I grow up so long as I do the best I can where ever I am.
Today, I no longer dream of the fame of professional sports, I do some days still wish I could play Cowboy a little more often. I don’t really want to be an archeologist and I am not really ready to quit being an Engineer and I actually kind of enjoy building nuclear power stations in the far reaches of the 2nd and 3rd world. I only wish that it wasn’t so far away from all of those that I love so dear. I am glad that my wife and I have made the journey together and I have made so many friends that will be part of my life for as long as I live, even as long as they live. Those people that are now part of my life are much more important than anything I have done for national security, for impoverished nations, or for shackled peoples. That is the lesson that is most important, friends and family matter more than any title, letters after your name, or job that you may perform.