I was what you might call a “late bloomer”. By that I mean that I did not attempt to do anything serious in life until well after most other folks were well into that life phase. My problem was that for a considerable period, I found it impossible to be serious. I would not have called myself a “rebel” at the time, but in fact I was rebelling against the notion that people should take themselves so seriously. Because I equated doing serious things with taking oneself seriously, I had developed a mental block to dipping my toe into the pool of “work choices” that enticed so many of my peers . Instead I reveled in doing things that offered fun and some adventure, but which had no serious consequences.
Eventually — around the age of 25 — I grew somewhat bored with this stasis and decided to attempt law school. And not too long afterwards, I found myself adjusting my tie in the mirror, sitting through endless meetings, writing clever memoranda, and engaging in heated telephone conversations, like normal people did at work. I also ordered out for dinner, boasted about my apartment, brunched on Sunday, and planned exotic vacations. I had joined the ranks of the serious!
That was many years ago. Now I am in a position to watch young folks in their early 20’s go through similar challenges and I would offer a few observations, based on my experience.
Most important, no matter what your situation may be, it does pay to grow out of the idea that one has to be someone before one does something. For example, one does not have to call oneself a writer before one writes on a regular basis. One does not have to adopt the persona of a lawyer before studying law. Creativity emerges from doing, not the other way around. And some folks in their 20’s — including me back then — blunder by thinking that their immediate challenge is to decide who to become, or indeed to rebel against becoming anyone at all (the Bartleby’s of the world know what I mean). In fact, the immediate challenge is to fall in love with something you like to do. and then to do it. You will become various people as you go forward. Those identities are interesting, but not the core purpose of doing serious things. That core purpose is to create meaning.
This is not to say that identity is meaningless. I am not so much of a Buddhist to make that claim. Embracing who you are as evidenced by what you do offers rewards. But embracing a wannabe or don’t wannabe fiction before doing anything about it does not.
There is a lot more that could be said, but diving into those things here might dilute the importance of the above message. Think about it.
Got that? Great! Go for it!
BTW, you might wonder what inspired this rant. I am glad to share that. I read Fred Wilson’s post about the globalization of work and began reflecting on the types of work that would inspire people to leave home for.