Forget College: invent yourself

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Has anyone else noticed how much pressure and scrutiny is coming down on our teens? To design a profound life by age 18?  By senior year, you better have a great, big, status-oriented career goal to tell everyone about. And trust me, people are going to coming out of the woodwork asking.  Teens are no longer inheriting their family business or farm—they’re expected to invent their lives starting at about 17.  So much pressure.  Just 30 years ago, most senior high students weren’t asked, so where are you going to college? What are you going to do with your career? The obvious response these days, from about 90% of boys my son’s age is: “I don’t know. I sure like playing video games though.”

We were at the beach, ironically to get senior photos taken, and some guy in his 50’s wanders by and says “So where are you going?” Me, the photographer and my son stood in silence, surprised at this short-hand.  I found it annoying. His presumptuous, middle class, college-bound, flippancy. Its classism.

I liked my son’s steady response: “oh, I’m sticking around here.”

But the pressure. I’m stung by it every day. You see, my son is not going to college. He’s doing a gap year, or maybe many gap years. As far as any of us can tell, he doesn’t know what to do except go get a joe-job and start earning money. He wants a car and an apartment with friends. This is about as far as he can see. Okay, he has applied to several fire stations in the area, hoping to get sponsored for fire fighting training. But. He may not get chosen.

We decided as a family a ways back, that a degree for a degree’s sake isn’t worth the debt. Wait until you know what you want to study or specialize in and then commit –heart and bank. But, holy cow, the river floweth with parents and eager seniors all around us–heading off to college! And we’re standing on a rock in the river feeling the undertow, the pressure, the fear of NOT sending him off to college.

Meanwhile, in Italy, where we just visited for a couples weeks, Georgio is graduating with honors from his high school, and guess what? There’s NO college for him. There’s NO pressure for college. There’s NO jobs beyond labor jobs in Italy. Interesting huh? The country has no money, no strong economy, no big trade supplies. This was shocking to learn, and for about an hour I wished we were Italian and that the only expectation on my son was to head out to prune the olive grove.

Life is long, and our paths are non-linear, and we change and grow and suddenly know and act from that knowing. This idea calms me down, and helps me trust my son has his own process, his own life path, his own perfect unfolding, in perfect timing. Here’s a great quote by Anais Nin:

“We do not grow absolutely chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations”

Here’s a painting that starts as a self portrait and ends up wildly different than I originally planned. That’s my life in a nutshell too. There’s not one element of my life today that I imagined for myself when I was 18, 25, or 29. Only at age 30, did did I begin making a choices that show up in my life today at 52.

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“One of the most widespread superstitions is that every human has their own special, definite qualities: That a person is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic, apathetic, etc. People are not like that… we are like rivers… every river narrows here, is more rapid there, here slower, there broader, now clear, now cold, now dull, now warm. It is the same with people. Every one of us carries the germs of every human quality, and sometimes one manifests itself, sometimes another, and the person often becomes unlike themselves, while still remaining the same person.”

~Leo Tolstoy

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In the end, I’m not sure who I was painting. It started out as a self portrait. But, I had to make changes, I had to respond to something inside of me while I was painting, that would help make the next dab of paint make sense. It was all in the moment. In the end, I can look back and scan for meaning. But, like life, I was just doing what was in front of me at the time.

“Do I contradict myself? I contain multitudes.”  ~Walt Whitman