Sunday, April 06, 2014

What becomes of a life?

Perhaps its the intersection of a personal existential crisis and parenting a teenager and preteen that prompts me to articulate the question of what becomes of a life. To borrow from the Jimmy Ruffin hit, What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted:
As I walk this land of broken dreams,
I have visions of many things.

I know I've got to find,
Some kind of peace of mind.
Help me..
Recent events have made me rethink many of the things I thought to be true about my own path. Things that seemed imminent and certain are no longer so. Pathways and passions that were converging seem now nothing more than an oasis. Changing the world and giving a voice to the voiceless just around the corner. It's possible those things are still within reach, but on a different path. Events still to be determined. Complicating the picture is the reinvigoration of a previous passion - one in which I excelled, but with a path just as uncertain. I think, therefore I am, is not enough, but for now it must be.

As I think about where I've been and where I might be going, I can't help but think about my children and what their paths might be. At this point, the world is indeed their oyster. And yet, as I think about how they will soon be off into the world mostly on their own, I can't help but be scared about that prospect. My fear has very little to do with them but more to do with my ability to properly prepare them to be successful.

I suppose the world is changing no more rapidly now than when I was a teenager. My current awareness makes it seem so. I don't recall thinking much about my own future outside of going to medical school and becoming the world's preeminent cardio-thoracic surgeon. So much for the best laid plans of mice and men. I see the same sort of future thinking in my kids and can't help but think it's my responsibility to prepare them for the time when the best laid plans go awry. They are both incredibly talented and intelligent. They both have designs on what they want to do in the world, reserving the right to change their young minds, of course.

I worry most about how to prepare them to take on a world that we can't yet envision. The cost of a college education is becoming such that it is reasonable to question the value. What kind of life can you have coming out of college $100,000 or more in debt with a career that might not pay that much over a several years? What if their talents and passion lead them to career that innovation makes obsolete by the time they start out on their own? How do I help them see the value in their strengths that don't currently fit with their passion? It's easy to say, "do what you love," or "follow your passion," but it seems reasonable that their are limits to that for those who weren't born on 3rd base or didn't win the lottery (we weren't).

Part of my current job involves counseling my team on career development and I've become excellent at it. It's mostly not difficult with people who are already in a career. I have a more difficult time figuring out my own path. I know what I would tell one of my team in my position, but it seems harder for me to do it myself. It's even more difficult for me to figure out what best to tell my children. It's quite scary thinking that I could steer them wrong and cause them to live a less than fulfilling life. I don't know what the answer is. For now I suppose it is best to continue to create an environment where their intellect and talent can shine and hopefully have the foresight to help them find a direction that will be satisfying for them.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of those in a similar position or those who have already been down this path.


Teresa Mayfield said...

Dearest Jeff,

As my children are a bit older - I may not be wiser, but I have a little more experience.

My first advice to you is to let your children be. You cannot live their lives for them, nor can you give them any meaningful advice on a future they have yet to plan. They have to find their own path. The best you can do is to model a life where you take good advice (and follow your own) and live well and with passion. They will watch more than they listen and if they watch you being miserable, they learn what not to do. While this might be a good lesson, I think it would be preferable to have them watch you be happy and in turn seek their own happiness in positive ways.

Guide them and nurture them, but do not dictate. Punish them when it's appropriate, but do not force your ideals and values on them. Listen to them and learn to appreciate what they find interesting (never tell them it is stupid - you will just push them toward it!). Foster their interests and help them find a path that can offer them success that includes those interests.

But before you can do any of this, you have to find your own way. How can you help others when you cannot help yourself? Raising children is not an easy thing and I sometimes think that if anyone knew the heart-wrenching it causes, no one would ever have them. You will have to ask those who care for you to help you and you will have to be open and honest with both them and your kids about what you are feeling. Keeping your existential crisis to yourself deprives you of the support you might get from those who care and your children of seeing that we are all human, we all have hard decisions to make, we all experience times of doubt and struggle in life, and that is OK as long as we have friends and family to help us through.

You are not alone. Anyone with children has these feelings. Don't hesitate to talk with any family or friend who will listen and then drop the judgement and listen to what they say as well. You might end up with an answer you never considered or find the courage to take the step that you really want to take.

And don't worry about your kids - they are great! They will find their way in the world with help of many, some of whom they haven't even met yet. Your job is to be there, to listen, and to offer help and advice when you are able. But most of all it is to model the life you hope for them, because it will surprise you just how much they will model their future life on what they see you doing in yours.

That's my advice - take what seems right for you and leave the rest. And know that I am here to listen and support both you and your children in any way that I can.


Anonymous said...

Doc Stymie,

As the best child psychologist I happen to live with, I can only offer you a couple of things. Our kids are going to have to fail. And we have to let them. I type this as my kids are across the street trying out for a musical in which they probably won't get a part because competition will be quite stiff. They're both really talented and would do a fine job with whatever part they get, but that doesn't mean they'll get it.

Be real. Don't give them any of that "you can be anything you want" b.s. We all have limitations, even kids who have superior genes within them.

As for your own existential crisis, you should think about joining a band.

Doc Paul