Risk-Taking or Living Someone Else’s Life

March 30, 2007

I need a break from writing this paper for one of my graduate school classes so I am taking this pause to reflect on why I am diverting so much energy to this degree-seeking thing.  Processing the process.  A couple of posts back I related my GRE adventure and my first unsuccessful attempt to get serious about graduate school.  I also promised myself and you dear reader a revisiting of that decision (influenced by my hero Henry Miller) and my current choice of pursuing a Master’s degree in Library Science from Florida State University.  What motivated me to get back into the graduate school dance and jump through the hoops of recommendations, GRE, acceptance essays and the like? 

Because it was both safer and easier to follow this well-trodden course than pursue my dreams.

There it is out and as sick as it makes me to re-read those words I feel a bit of release in admitting this truth.  With this degree in hand there are jobs to apply for that make money.  With dreams being followed there is the bliss and fear of that great void–a.k.a. the unknown. 

This dichotomy of dream vision vs. fear vision struck home today as I was doing some research for the paper I should currently be writing. (One must have priorities)  Paul Zindel, a writer of young adult literature, talks about his leaving his job of ten years as a high school chemistry teacher to write his first novel:

Dashed were my dreams of a fine pension and impressive health plan.”

Hit over the head with that one I was.  Is that not the course I am currently pursuing?  Working for the City, getting my safe degree and playing within a narrow set of rules so that I can frolick in my safe, stultifying little world.  Where is the risk?  Where goes that passion for seeking out all that oozes life and moving determinately in that direction?  Do I dream of a fine pension and impressive health plan? Do you?

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3 Responses to “Risk-Taking or Living Someone Else’s Life”


  1. Matt, I’ve read several posts here along these lines, so at one time it was a consistent juncture in the passage of your thoughts and I’m sure it is visited still.

    It is common and wonderful for us to bear these dreams, these purposes and ideas of what would be best for us in life, the most that we might do, and maybe the most that any of us has done. Yet, we call them dreams because so often they seem to be figments with no relation to reality, wisps without weight, illusions to be little-regarded upon awaking to the good sense of true living. Or maybe because we wish to wake up to them but never do.

    So, then, why? Why is it this way, wherein we yearn for something that is out of reach? Well, it seems to me that most people aspire to something that has been done by others or is not unlike what others have done. When such purposes are not met, people have not tapped the capacity that was truly theirs or had not accurately conceived of the purpose that would rightly compel them, or, even if both aspects were sure, they were slowed and stopped by circumstance and time.

    First, it is a matter of learning about oneself and the world that is irrevocably the context for all our living. As we fail to do this I would look to the institution meant to help us govern ourselves, that of education. A report card reveals some level of competence in an assortment of subjects, but is “Who I am?” among them? Ask a student what school is for and they may respond like a nervous robot, “To get a good job,” as if they were being tested and giving the answer they believe we want to hear and which they’ve been instilled with decides their well-being. Is the climax of our maturity a paycheck and the concord that we aim for a plush retirement? Legions of young certain of this goal do not reach it or achieve it without success. Leading oneself to any end, a job even, is closer to education’s cause, something that must be an understanding of place and person to direct oneself in the world, if we are educated in order to grow. So that is something we’ll have to help.

    But the whole of society only supports the same sentiments that were injected into its educating institutions. After a person has a shirt on their back, a roof over their head, and goods in the pantry, what else do they need for contentment but a job? Is to be occupied to own the gears of happiness? We’ll say surely not but what are the venues that earn money, that opportunity for the development of self-interest, within a society? It is undoubtedly the worker and not the person who journeys to learn or struggles independently to make their dreams happen, despite which position we admire and value most. A fine pension and health plan? What about adventure security and a life plan? Society does not know how to maintain its ideal practically, just as the individual often does not know how to reach what is aspired for. Perhaps resolving the latter point will help to change the former.

    But, I only wanted to consider the environment that has shaped us and persists its limitation. You have some idea of a dream and have taken steps towards it, even walked among it for a bit, perhaps. That’s farther then many get. But how to balance when society demands something else of you if you are to claim its support. Well sometimes we can live off our dreams. An artist may live by their sold art, a doctor by their services, and a writer by substantial readership. Until that time you have to get by, as you know. Anchor yourself for the time being, until you can raise that anchor up and sail.

  2. Matthew Says:

    Michael, a grand response. I think I might condense the energy I have received from reading your words and release them into a new blog post.


  3. […] My dear friend Michael has brought to my attention words that I had written some time back and with the revisit I can feel the bubbles of […]


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