The Way of the Word

10. September 2010

The Road Not Taken

Filed under: Commentary,general,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 19:31
Tags: , , , , ,

Last week, I finally realized what I wanted to be when I grow up: a historian. I’ve always been interested in history, I find it exciting and fascinating.

I just wish I had realized it, oh, back in the early 1980s. When I got out of school and had to decide what to do with my life. At the time, I had considered studying psychology. But that was no option because of various restrictions (my grades weren’t good enough). I thought I might want to study archaeology, but I didn’t even have the patience to assemble a puzzle, so that was also not a realistic option. All I knew about what I liked to do and what I wanted to do was, I liked to write. So I was going to be a writer. I directed all my energies towards that goal.

Somewhere along the line, I drifted into advertising. Unfortunately, not the sexy, creative part of it. Instead, I ended up doing the number-crunching part of the business.

I always hated numbers. Basically, because I had no idea what I really wanted out of life when I had to decide on it, I ended up spending a decade doing something I hated, and working on what I liked in my spare time.

Last week, however, it finally occurred to me that I was actually interested in history. It wasn’t just fantasy, it wasn’t a passing fancy that was inspired by Indiana Jones movies. I could actually see myself burying myself in a library, reading historical documents and learning more and more about history. Back when I was young, I had mistaken an interest for history for an interest in archaeology, and had dismissed it as an Indiana Jones fantasy. History? History was something the teachers at school made seem incredibly dull.

Lesson learned: ignore the teachers. Teachers make everything boring. I don’t understand why. I would imagine that someone would study a subject, say, history, because they like it. And they would decide to become teachers because they want to share that interest, that excitement, with young people. Instead, every teacher I ever knew seems to have somehow lost their passion and fascination of whatever subject it was they used to love when they got around to teaching. Influenced by that… deadness, when it was time to choose what I wanted to do with my life… I made a mistake. I remember once telling my literature teacher that if I hadn’t already been a bookworm, his class would have made sure I’d never touch a book in my life. And true to form, my interest in classic literature didn’t develop until after my graduation.

And for similar reasons, because history class was so damn boring and uninteresting, and the teachers sucked, it steered me away from a career that, I now think, might have actually made me happy.

The question is, what now? I’m in my late forties now. That’s too late, I think, to just drop everything and start studying history. I don’t have much of a life now, I don’t have much of a career. But I’m too old to turn my life around a second time.

But, that’s my regret. The point of this is something else entirely. There are people who say that youth is wasted on the young. I don’t exactly see it that way. I know what they mean. The young have all that energy and power and lifetime ahead of them, but they don’t really know what to do with it. While we, the old(er), know what to do but we’re too worn out to do it. The problem, at least in my case, was that when I had to make the decisions for how to spend the rest of my life, I wasn’t ready for it. Influenced, in a bad way, by bad teachers, I couldn’t see what I really wanted and made the wrong decisions. I shudder to imagine just how many other young people are influenced that way and end up lives that are unfulfilled and unfulfilling, because the wrong people, people without passion and without vision, show them the wrong path.

If you have children, enable them to find their own way. Enable them to discover their passions, and help them nuture those passions. Don’t let anyone destroy these passions. If they can find their passion, and preserve it, they have a life worth living.


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