I’ve been off topic for a while now, so let me set things straight. America, you got it wrong and you got it wrong in a big, profound way. School, college, picking out the road that leads to one’s life work – the lot.
I usually avoid such topical discussions of the direction that America goes in – or lack thereof at these days, as it typically leads to discussions of whether or not America should turn teachers into gun slingin’ Dirty Harrys and who is the real next Top Model, but alas, I can’t sit idly by on the sidelines as I look for my latest working overseas exploit indefinitely. The truth of the matter is that the paradigm was broken before it even began. I speak now of course of how American culture, and its education system as an accomplice, churn out America’s educated youth to the “real world” with a piece of paper clutched in one hand, a massive IOU in the other, without even seriously addressing some bigger questions that will eventually arise down the road. How can you expect to funnel kids into careers and life choices when they aren’t even sure what their values are? Sure, they have gobbled down YouTube videos in between episodes of the Kardashians, but what life experiences have they had to merit such grandiose decisions? When were they ever sat down and asked – what do you want to do? Surely not everyone wanted to be a millionaire, American Idol, or YouTube child prodigy.
I don’t even have an answer for the question. I didn’t then and I don’t have it now. It’s an evolution. But one that should have started with a different premise. Not what do you want to do to make the most money or be famous or be considered successful. But what do you actually want to do. For me, the question was never asked. It isn’t like you see in the movies with some drab disillusioned high school guidance counselor who is relentlessly abused at the hands of unruly adolescents who torment him with jokes about his loserdom, or the other version of the story with some uber do gooder crusader who wants to make a difference in the lives of the kids. I don’t recall ever seeing that guy. I recall it being heralded from the heavens to point your arrow north to the best school possible to ensure the best paycheck possible to afford the best unaffordable mortgage possible because that is how we do things in America. We kick ass, rise to the top of the ladder, and impress our friends with our 3 series leased BMW – but nobody said wait a minute – what kind of ladder do you want to get on? Being at the bottom of the ladder isn’t all that bad – when you actually are on a ladder that you want to be on. The work word disappears along with the “have to” and all of sudden you are living a life filled with “get to”s if you consciously choose a ladder that answers that tough question. The hard part, which is ignored, is the bit about what is it that fills you with excitement. I haven’t hidden the fact that travel as a means of self-exploration bundled with a bit of hedonism can lead you to a pallet of wonderful new options that you might never have considered, but when the music stops and the travel romance wears thin, you are still left scratching your head wondering – what do I want to do in my life?
Don’t worry – the solution never was – damnit, I should have gone into the workforce and put something “valuable” on my resume – unless you were one of the fortunate few who already knew what gave you enough goose bumps in the morning to wake up with a jump in your step. The people that always wanted to tinker with cadavers or the guy who wanted to build big things reaching to the sky – the fortunate souls whose compass was already tried and true and knew that they wanted to be yelling at a judge defending those that needed a defender– no the solution was to start early and to ask better questions. Ask the right questions and guide us to our own answers. Start at the break of dawn of awareness, that in life you can do what you want but you first should put the wheels in motion to figure out what it is that you do want, so that you aren’t left on graduation day, paper in one hand, no money back guarantee receipt in the other, overjoyed with relief that it is all over. The tests, the exams, the push. Nor should it be saddest day, for your best years are now far behind you and you got one big ass bill to pay. No – the feeling should be one more of joy, because tomorrow is the first day that you “get to”.
We should be instructing the youth to be getting experiences that lead them to their own values, and toward a road of happiness based on their standards rather than on a ladder that marks accomplishment with making it one more rung in a ladder they didn’t choose to begin with. America got it wrong.