Joseph Campbell wrote, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
I look at young children and I wonder what they dream of being- knowing something they don’t know. Who are they are now, is very much who they can always be.
If asked what brings them joy, most adults would return to what brought them happiness in their childhood- playing the sports they loved, making art, playing music, writing, acting, hanging out with friends. Even as adults, we celebrate birthdays, and like we did when we were children, even if we don’t have cakes and candles, we still make birthday wishes. I was reminded of this while visiting my son (now 26) last week, on his birthday.
He was raised in the lap of what was possible, of being urged to find the magic, the possible, in everyday life. When asked, “Who do you think you are?” I wasn’t asking him to define the limitations of his birthright- his complex neurological wiring that would make handwriting or shoe tying a task much harder than reading the whole Harry Potter series. No. I asked him, “Who do you think you are?” wondering who he thought he was, knowing he could ultimately define himself, not me, and not society. When he couldn’t physically play a team sport, and loved baseball, I encouraged him to get a job in “management” which basically meant equipment hauling or keeping stats.
Once he told me he wanted to own the Yankees. I never said “no,” I asked “how?”
Most adults make choices based on social conditioning and expectations that teach us to leave our hearts and what we love behind. We accept socially required responsibilities and pay bills. We choose to define ourselves by limitations and live far below our potential. We choose duty over joy. One day we wake up and wish we could break free from all that. We have lost touch with something. Our social self is out of alignment with our essential self. We manufacture a lifestyle that takes us further and further from the joy of being who we are. Complaining. Anger. Repeat. We end up in the spin cycle.
When my son was a junior in high school, the likelihood that he would step out of his life in New York City and live away from his family, in Cambridge, Mass. was, by all historical and clinical accounts impossible. He seemed to lack all the “executive functioning” needed. But I had a plan. For years I had been plotting. His strengths would need recognition and his liabilities would need support. My son’s desire to live away from home, to have a life somewhere away from his parents, would not come easily, far from it. But, in his quest for independence, he was no different than me. He deserved the chance. With equal parts intuition, determination, creativity, and patience I enlisted in what brought him joy and helped him choose ways to lean into his essential self while cultivating the balance of good judgment so he could meet the responsibilities of his life.
One day we got a call that he had been fired from a volunteer job he loved at a pre-chool. There had been a misunderstanding, but there was no reversing what had occurred. A number of weeks of shame, and deep sadness ensued.
“What is your dream?” I asked.
“To be a teacher.” He answered.
“What do you need to do?”
“I definitely need more school.”
After a series of questions we guided him to find a community college.
Not only did he find a community college, despite his schooling in special education programs, he convinced the dean of students that he would not need tutors.
He is soon to graduate, with mostly A’s and B’s. He is determined to be a teacher. It may take much longer than the typical master’s degree, and school sometimes has its challenges, but he is staying the course, following heart and the joy that it brings.
It is his dream.
How will your dreams become reality? Put a plan in place. Be patient with yourself, give it time. Find your supporters. Acknowledge your weaknesses, celebrate your strengths.
Who do you think you are? When you discover yourself, it’s the privilege of a lifetime.