I heard a story several years ago on a podcast about a kindergarten teacher who asked her students to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Most of the kids drew pictures of doctors, people in suits, firefighters, ballet dancers…the usual. But the teacher grew concerned about one boy who had drawn a picture of what looked to be a guy delivering pizzas.
The teacher called the student’s mother, who, after a deep exhale, explained that the boy’s father was in prison. His older brother had died of an overdose, and his uncle was in a gang, but he had one older cousin, James, who wasn’t in a gang, didn’t do drugs, and had never been to jail. He was currently working as a pizza delivery guy to pay for some community school classes, and her son thought he was the most amazing and successful person in the whole world. He wanted to be just like James when he grew up.
Growing up, it was made clear to my brother and me that there was an expectation that we would go to college. Both of my parents made the choice to go to college–a choice that was NOT expected of either of them. In fact, my mother had to hide the fact that she had applied to college from her overbearing father until, with bags packed, she simply announced to him that she needed a ride to campus.
So I grew up knowing that I came from an educated family, and getting a college degree was just what you did. It wasn’t until I got to high school (in the very affluent Chicago suburbs) that it became clear that choices and decisions like these are all relative (literally!) For my friends’ families, not only was it assumed that they would go to college, it was assumed that they would go to A Very Good College. Most likely Ivy League.
Sometimes, we are aware of other choices, but external opinions and comments dictate whether we see them as “Possible” or “Impossible.” Maybe everyone around you blasted artists and musicians as irresponsible, substance-abusing, MORONS. Making your desire to be an actor seems like an impossibility.
Or maybe it was the opposite. It was successful (read: Wealthy) people who had their priorities messed up. But getting a degree in English or going to Music Conservatory? Those were worthy pursuits.
I knew at 15 that I wanted to be a cellist. All of my friends were great musicians, and most of their parents were professional musicians. Good ones–not just your average freelancer, but they were in the Chicago Symphony, or in world-renowned string quartets, and were highly respected pedagogues. That was my world.
And in my world, going into music was just what you did. It was possible. Playing at a high level? Possible. Getting into a top conservatory? The best festivals? All Possible.
Someone asked me once at a post-concert Q&A, why I had chosen to become a professional musician, and my answer was “because it’s the only thing I actually know how to do!” tossed off with a laugh.
In hindsight, I realize that wasn’t true, but being a cellist was the only thing that I knew was possible for me.
My 8th-grade teacher told me I’d make a great US Senator (and back when I was in 8th grade, that was a compliment!) I thought about it for a second, but when I told my dad, he laughed and said “Nah. Politicians are all corrupt. You don’t want to do that!” and that was the end of that idea.
And for most of us, that unspoken and unwritten list is something we’ve been carrying around with us without realizing. “Possible” on the left, “Impossible’ on the right, and we grow up understanding and taking that list in. It determines where we stand in life. How far our dreams are allowed to go.
For some, it’s an international soloist. For others, a Supreme Court Justice, and for others, a pizza delivery guy.
But now, knowing this. Seeing how arbitrary that list really is, we can look at our life and make future decisions with clearer eyes.
Without any external input, what would you do?
Without any expectations, what would you do?
Without that list of Possible vs. Impossible, what would you do?
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