I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
Born This Way, Lady GaGa
It’s surprising how much weight the words of someone you respect carry.
I’ve been thinking about my growing up years. Actually, I remembered something fairly traumatic that I had forgotten. Or repressed. I might write about that, later.
But today I was thinking about something my Dad said.
We were talking about life and what I wanted to do for a living. Did I have any thoughts? Did I have any plans? I’m not sure how old I was, but probably in my early teens.
Dad was a no-nonsense kind of guy. From a different era. The hardest working person I have ever met. Serious. Not a lot of laughs. He believed that we were put on the earth to work. And work hard.
He and I had differences of opinion on other things, as well.
I knew what he wanted me to say. An accountant. Or mechanic. Or tradesman. Or … well, anything practical. This is what I usually said, just to make things easier.
That day, though, I told him the truth.
“I like to write. I like to entertain people and make them laugh. I thought maybe I’d write funny stuff.” Not really knowing what I was talking about. More of a general direction kind of idea.
Dad looked really serious. Even more so than usual. He paused, and then he said, “No one ever made any money making people laugh.”
Now I think I know what Dad was thinking. He wanted me to do something that made a good living. So that I wouldn’t have to worry about where the next meal or house payment was coming from. Something steady.
Something secure and practical.
His words, that day, made me say to myself “Well, I guess that’s out of the question.”
If I were to hear those words now, of course, I could point to many people who make a living making people laugh. And with the internet, the possibilities are endless. Not easy, but possible.
At the time, though, I figured it must be impossible.
It’s so easy, as adults, to say something that we really think is best for a younger person. Musician? No one makes a living doing that. Do something more secure. English major? No English major made any money. Go into computer science or engineering. Or be a doctor, if you are that smart.
That’s always a favourite. Be a doctor.
Not that there’s anything wrong with computer science or engineering or doctoring. Unless you are totally not wired for things like that.
Then it can be difficult. Maybe even soul crushing.
I’m not complaining. Or even suggesting that Dad somehow ruined my life and my dreams. I’ve had (and continue to have) a very good life.
It’s just good to remember, now and then, to be careful what we say. Especially if we have some authority with the person we are talking to.
We’ve all heard the stories of famous authors who were told by their English teachers / college professors / parents that they would never sell a word and should go into … well, probably doctoring.
We are all wired differently. While I think we all can do anything we set our minds to, I think we have the best chance of being happy when we are doing something that we are wired for. Something that winds us up. Something that turns us on.
As I get older, I realize how important it is to be true to myself.
One last illustration of the power we have over the younger people among us.
I was going to deliver the valedictory speech at our graduation. Yes, I did graduate. Wanting to do a good job – and not screw up too badly – I ran it by Dad. Why? Well, he’d been a teacher all of his life and basically made a living by talking to groups of people.
He suggested a change here and a change there. Rework this. Cut that.
I gave the speech and, thankfully, didn’t pass out. I think it went OK. When I sat down, I asked my friend what he thought.
“It was OK,” he said. Then he looked at me. “But it didn’t really sound like you.”
I happened to run across my old yearbook, a while back, and I read my speech. My friend was right. It didn’t sound like me. It sounded like my Dad.
In all of time, there is only one you and one me. We are originals. We are the only ones who have ever thought our thoughts in our way from our point of view.
I intend to be careful about suggesting to others that they think their thoughts the way I think mine.