I once met an extremely calm, settled, and wise man. It sounds like something out of a story book, but it’s the truth. I met him. He exists. In fact, I have him on Facebook. He grew up in a certain environment, as we all do, and somehow, miraculously, managed to see beyond his own experience. He found a path that he had never been exposed to, that he never knew existed. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe he forged it.
And he gave up a life of ease, a life that he had been raised to expect and that had been expected of him, in order to devote himself to his newfound ideas.
It was incomprehensible. What led him to leave the life he knew, to pursue something of which he had no personal connection, no vested interest?
When he was young, he had been injured. There had been an accident, and he was bed bound for an extended period of time.
In that time, all he did, all he was able to do, was think. To think and dream.
And he did. He thought so much, and in so many different ways, that he claims to have earned a new understanding of the people and the world around him, all from his bedroom.
When this man told me that, I smiled. I smiled because I was in awe of him, and amazed at the life he was living. I smiled because I respected him, but I did not smile because I believed him.
It seemed ridiculous, the thought of learning about external life through isolation. And having an epiphany - while that made a nice, romantic story, it sounded a little far fetched to me.
I do not know much about that man. I only met him for a short time.
But his story has been playing in my head quite a bit recently.
Right now, the majority of my peers, of my friends, are facing some kind of decision.
As they finish their various degrees, they are confronted by the question of which path they want to pursue. Is more education the answer? Perhaps getting some work experience? What kind of work experience? And where do they want to live?
I have the same questions, running constantly through my head.
Essentially, we are trying to decide what kind of a life we wish to live. And once we figure that out, what we need to do to get there.
For every idea that is put forward, innumerable steps are immediately attached. Steps that will lead us to our goal. A path.
And that’s great. It really is. It’s reassuring to know what is necessary to achieve a goal, reassuring to have a plan.
And if you have to do something that you may not want to, that you may not choose to do, that’s okay. Sometimes, you have to just make it through the hard parts. There is always an element of give and take in achieving one’s goals.
And if you don’t have time to develop other interests or skills, because you are busy following a full time path, then that’s normal. It’s too bad, but clearly those interests and skills are not relevant to your goal, and would only serve as a waste of time. Maybe if you win the lottery, you’ll be able to indulge that kind of frivolity.
Because the path is important. The path is what you need to follow, to have the right items on your resume, to get hired, to do what you have chosen to do, what you want to do.
So many of my peers are experiencing this realization. Some are panicked. Others determined.
But my experience has been a little different.
I was on a path. I had chosen my path in high school. Probably earlier. Perhaps it was chosen the minute I first asked my mother for voice lessons after seeing a magical production of Beauty and the Beast at age 3.
And I was doing everything right. I had to sacrifice for my chosen life, no doubt about it. From missing potential family vacations in order to partake in a competition, to avoiding any semblance of a social life in favour of practice and rehearsal, I gave up so much for the sake of the steps. As time went on I dropped sports and volunteering from my after-school activities, adding piano and theory lessons instead.
Even within music, I had to let go of certain things. I stopped singing musical theatre as I was told that it would only distract me and take away from the time I should be spending perfecting my classical technique.
And I was completely okay with all of that, because I wanted to be an opera singer. I wanted to become an opera singer. And I would do whatever I had to in order to get there.
I also had a plan for after I became a singer. I always wanted to create some sort of program that involved accessibility and music. That had been my long term plan for years.
But the first step was to become an opera singer. And to get there, I had to get a degree, and practice, and audition, and devote myself entirely to the craft.
Then, of course, everything changed. Then, I could no longer sing. Then, being an opera singer was no longer an option.
And I spent years floundering, unsure of what everything meant, unable to comprehend that there was a crater in the middle of my perfect path. Not knowing whether to turn right or left, or just sit down and cry.
And slowly, as my body started to gain bits of strength, I searched for projects to occupy my time.
And I did things that I enjoyed. I listened to music, I watched movies. I began to write. I dreamt.
As time has gone on, I have expanded upon those activities. From cooking a nice meal, to volunteering, to teaching, to singing - whatever strikes my fancy.
And in pursuing my interests, the arts have risen to the forefront. Not just singing, but music in general. Classical, yes, but also musical theatre, jazz, rock, indie, and so many other styles. Beyond music, I am developing an interest in crafts. In visual arts of all kinds, from stationary to knitting. And I have discovered a fascination for words. I love writing. I love reading. I love thinking.
I have also become increasingly devoted to social issues. This interest has crossed over into many of my activities, from sketching plans for a fully accessible café, to volunteering with existing non profits and researching composers with various medical ailments.
And I am slowly discovering what it is I want to pursue. What kind of a life I want to lead, what it is that I truly care about.
Amazingly enough, it’s the same thing I aspired to, years ago, arrived at in an entirely different approach.
By investigating what interests me, I have re-found my way to a passion. The very same passion which I had sacrificed for, attempting to sculpt myself into the perfect candidate, I have now arrived at through a practice of positivity and curiosity.
I still have worries. I don’t know if I will be physically capable of accomplishing my dreams.
But I feel confident. I feel excited. I feel good.
And I will continue to develop myself as a person. I will pursue all those things that look interesting, I will keep myself as open as possible and I will see where that leads me.
Following a path is reassuring. And often, it is necessary. Having a goal in mind can be extremely motivating, and for many professions there are certain qualifications that are mandatory.
But maybe there should be a bit of space within those moulds. Maybe there is, and we just aren’t seeing it.
Because it’s completely possible to squish yourself into a certain shape, if you’re willing to work really hard and make a few sacrifices.
But in the end, by fitting yourself to a mould, you are essentially trying to become someone else, someone who has already existed.
And why on earth would you want to live another person’s life?
Carving your own route is scary. There is no map, no light shining ahead to see you through.
It involves trial and error.
It takes time.
And in the midst of this busy world, it is so difficult to stop, to take a minute to see what it is you actually care about. What it is you actually want.
It is so difficult to allow yourself the time to try something new. To fail. To lie on the floor for a while. To pick yourself back up. To have an adventure.
But maybe it’s important. Maybe it’s important to step away from the path for a minute, and to see whether or not it is truly your path.
You can force yourself into whatever mould you choose.
But it sounds awfully limiting and uncomfortable.
The man that I knew briefly and am friends with on Facebook was not uncomfortable. He was at peace, with his decisions, with his beliefs, and with his life.
And maybe his time alone in his youth led him there. Maybe it really was all down to being given the chance to think, uninterrupted.
I’m not sure.
But I think it’s worth a shot.