The Potential of Possibilities

I’ve had this restless unease my whole life about wasting time, always feeling a nagging guilt I should be doing something constructive instead of having so much fun.  I’ve always been a why do today what you can put off until tomorrow kind of a guy.  Bumping along this way, I’ve finished college, got married, kept a good job and basically done the essentials, but I never pursued those ambitions I dreamed about in youth.  Well, obviously everyone can’t be an astronaut or rock star, two careers ill suited for my personality even if I had had the natural aptitude, which I didn’t.  On the other hand, if I had applied myself I could have been an astronomer that occasionally wrote science fiction novels.  I was just too lazy.

When you’re thirteen and thinking about your future you feel you have endless time.  Just five years later when I had to fill in the forms that declared my major I wasn’t in the mood to buckle down to math and physics classes because by then all I could think about was majoring in the opposite sex.  Oh, I started the classes and got decent grades, I just didn’t have the discipline to keep taking them for eight straight years.

There comes a time when you realize you have to choose between chasing a dream and settling for being ordinary.  Becoming an original like Neil Armstrong or Bo Diddley takes a kind of focus that few people have, and being ordinary is a natural pursuit for those people who love variety.

But I can’t help but think of those five years of adolescence when I felt the potential of possibilities.  It’s a time when I viewed a vast vista of time and dreamed of all the ways to spend it.  That’s how I’m now feeling about retiring – I have an expanse of time that’s full of possibilities.  People often talk about young ambition, but what about old ambition?  Why is retiring seen as a time of withdrawal from life?

Everyone talks about what they want to be when they grow up, but why don’t people talk about what they want to be before they die?  How come when people retire they don’t go off to college and major in something for their retiring years?  If I can retire with thirty years before I’m sixty, and I could live to be ninety, then I have thirty more years for a second career.

Well the cruel answer of the fates is at sixty we don’t have the health and energy we did at eighteen, but is that a show stopper?  Once again, it’s a question of discipline and focus, and choosing between having general fun and pursing specialization.  Has anyone at age sixty ever set out to do something new like become an engineer, doctor, actor or pop star and succeeded?  I can understand you can’t pick becoming a major league baseball player, deep sea diver or fighter jet pilot because of the physical limitations, but what about thinking careers?  Isn’t old age supposed to be for the wise?

On one hand I think of retirement as catching up on reading all those books I bought and never read, and pursuing quiet activities like watching television and listening to music, and just plain relaxing after years in the rat race, but on the other hand why don’t I expect more of myself.   We ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, as if being grown is just achieving full physical height.  If growing is equated to mental development, then asking someone what they want to be when they grow up is like saying, what do you want to be doing when you die, because unless we’re attacked by some brain plague, we can keep growing to the end.

Jim

4 thoughts on “The Potential of Possibilities”

  1. Your life seems to have been a series of ‘falling into’ what what convenient. I know how that works. I was 36 before I worked out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Before that I took the easy route.

    I went to college because my mother told me I either had to go or stay at home with her. She’d just come home after 10 years away – college was the better option.

    I went into teaching because at that time a job at the end of three years of study was pretty much guaranteed. I didn’t need to do much more than pass exams. I chose Business education because I loved shorthand.

    I got married because I’d been with my boyfriend since I was 15 and it was expected – easier than the violent arguments trying to break out of the relationship would have been.

    Most people don’t make conscious decisions to take control of their lives. Not when they’re young, and often not when they’re older either. Occasionally I’ve caught myself self saying things that begin with “If only I’d done …” but I stop myself. My life has been what it’s been. I’ve had experiences no one else has had and it has helped shape me into the person I am, regardless of whether or not it was the life I would have chosen if I was more actively involved in it.

    My future looks like it’ll be more of the same. I’d love to travel but won’t take the risks (or spend the money). I want to change jobs – and still might if I can force myself out of my comfort zone into something challenging and interesting. I write but I don’t submit, partly because I don’t edit anything well enough to send away but also partly because it puts me at risk again.

    I tell myself at least I know why I take the easy way now. I’m not purely reactive like I was when I was younger – I accept that my decisions are my own.

    Can I change that pattern? I have a friend whose first published book came out just after her 84th birthday. She’s published one book a year since then – I think she’s up to number 6 on the shelves now. I guess anything’s possible.

  2. This post really made me think about my own future. I’m entering my last year in high school this autumn and will face major decisions in six months’ time. I will have to choose what subjects to take exams in, and at the same time be in control of all my plans for the gap year I’m taking before going to university.
    I’m not worried so much about my choices as I am of whether or not I will be able to push myself to the very finish and give my best every second of the way. I am a big dreamer, but lately I’ve been having a lot of doubts whether or not I possess the strength and self-discipline to achieve everything I want.

    This is something that I will have to face during the next three months of my summer break, and start taking the steps necessary so I would grow into a responsible person who does not shy away when confronted with challenges and risks. Otherwise I will never get to the places I want to go. I want to be big and respected one day, but that takes a lot of work, and I’m a lazy person. So I will have to push myself extra hard, I guess.

    I’ve been getting a lot of signs from life and the world in general lately, that if I will not start fighting and working hard for the things I want instead of just taking the easy (and mediocre) way out, I will end up in a place I don’t want to. This was yet another one of those reminders. Thank you for forcing me to think. ; )

  3. I wish you all the luck and discipline in the world. I constantly think about what it would be like if I could start over knowing what I do now back then when I was young.

    There is nothing wrong with being ordinary, and living day to day and just doing the best you can. But if you want to be exceptional, that takes a kind of dedication I never had. It won’t easy. I remember reading an interview with Bruce Stringsteen where he talked about being a kid who practiced the guitar twelve hours a day instead of going out riding in cars and chasing girls. I never could be that single minded, but I wished for it.

    Even now I know I could do so much more if I had discipline and focus. However, I don’t know if you can choose to be focused. Maybe some people are and other people are not.

    All I know is I wasted so much time watching crap TV, reading crap books, going to crap movies, working at crap jobs, turning my brain to crap with dope, that it should have been obvious how to live differently.

    It was always too easy to give up at working at something and fall back on having fun. So my advice is to keep pushing yourself towards your dreams. And if you get the urge to go have fun, tell yourself you can hold off awhile longer, even if it is just another ten minutes.

    Jim

  4. I would not mind being ordinary either, really. I just have a lot of big dreams, and the best and at the same time worst part about them is that I know they are all achievable, once I really put my mind to reaching those goals. It’s good, because I know I can get it; bad, because if I fail, I have only myself to blame, and being angry at oneself is one of the hardest things in the world.

    Thank you very much for your advice, I will definitely try to keep that in mind (the simplest things are usually the ones that work best but are forgotten most easily).

    Triinu

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