One of my ex-students just texted me to ask me if it was normal to feel like he had a big purpose in life. He said he felt like he was destined to do something big, and wanted to know if other people felt like that or if he was just a weirdo. He followed that up by telling me that he felt like his class was a bad class, but that I taught them that there was more to life.
What a refreshing feeling! It made me feel like I had achieved my own purpose with just that one class, or even just that one student! There are days when I walk into that building, small as it is, and wonder, “why am I here? Are they even listening?” Now I know that they do, or at least one of them did.
On the other hand, it made me wonder: Do people ever think about what their purpose is anymore?
I know that I always felt that teaching was what I was destined to do, even though I ran from it for years. I knew that somehow I would make a difference in someone’s life. I was inspired by the teacher who made me feel a little bit bigger than just a kid; the teacher who made me feel like I had a purpose. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to help people see their potential.
Small side note, I’m very good at seeing people’s potential, and often make the mistake of falling in love with the potential person I see instead of the person they actually are, hence my lack of dating success.
So, do people even think about what they are destined to do? Or do they just sit back and watch life happen?
I remember my mother pushing me to try new things in the attempts to help me achieve some sort of greatness. In my short lifetime (relatively speaking), I’ve taken dance lessons, swim lessons, baton twirling lessons, piano and saxophone lessons, photography classes, writing classes, acting classes, and horseback riding lessons; all in the attempt to find something in which I could be truly great!
All these lessons helped to mold me into the person I am. They helped me to see that a fulfilled life is one of varying experiences and varied people.
People are key to these varied experiences.
While my mother was pushing me to be great, my father was keeping my feet on the ground, reminding me that all people are important. He was a blue collar worker, without a high school diploma. My father writes in all caps, but dots his “i”s to distinguish them from his “l”s (although the “L”s are always capital). He is still a great person, in his own way, though I’m not sure he’s ever thought about what his “purpose” was.
While my mother was proud of me for going to college, my father was more proud of the fact that I made friends with the waitresses and janitors at the restaurants I frequented and the various jobs I worked: “My daughter knows she’s not too good for anyone, cuz everyone is important in their own way.” He told me that on the phone once, and I’ve never heard him sound so proud…
Everyone has a part to play in this great big world of ours, some larger than others, but do we think about it? Do we search for our path? Does it even matter, as long as we strive for success?
That was my father’s gift to me: Be the best, but don’t forget the “little” people “beneath” you, because they aren’t beneath you in all the ways that count.
So, what do I tell my former student? I don’t think it’s weird that he feels important. My father felt important until the day he retired. He still tells stories about how he could outdo the “youngsters” fresh out of school, because he cared more.
Isn’t that the point? Greatness comes from caring about what you do, not just trying to earn a paycheck. I think that is what scares me when I look around nowadays.
I know what you’re thinking “Here it comes: the ‘things were better when’ speech,” but hang on, I might surprise you.
It’s not that things were so much better when I was younger, but I’ve been reading some dystopian literature that points to exactly this problem. Ayn Rand talks about it in all of her novels, and I recently picked up Fahrenheit 451, which covers a variation of a similar theme. What scares me is that both of these writers seem almost prophetic when you read them and then look around.
People are more concerned about having fun, and doing shoddy work just to get by! Students are convinced that they deserve a grade (I blame No Child Left Behind), and my favorite coffee house has changed the rules so that the bussers don’t actually bus tables anymore because it is unfair for them to do it the way it’s always been done. One waiter told me today that they are working on a teammate system so that everyone works everyone’s table, but they don’t share tips. The result is that one or two people do all the work, but don’t get any extra tips for it. This sounds like something right out of a Rand novel.
Similarly, I was terrified to realize that television is becoming interactive in the way that Bradbury outlined in 451. Maybe we’re not to the point of the televisions talking directly to us while we act out part of the story, but how many shows tell you to Tweet or Text your ideas/questions/votes? All in the attempt to make us feel like we’ve had our 15 minutes of fame without actually doing anything.
We’re forgetting how to think. We’re moving too quickly through life, and we’re not really thinking about the purpose of any of it anymore. Has anyone else noticed that typos are showing up in everyday life with frightening regularity? I noticed a typo on a TV dinner the other day (Yes, I succumbed to eating a TV dinner instead of cleaning my kitchen, so even I, with all my elitist tendencies, am guilty of taking the easy route) that was so blatant, any beginning editor fresh out of school SHOULD have caught.
So, former student of mine, perhaps you are weird for thinking you have a purpose greater than just sitting around watching TV, but is it a bad thing? I don’t think so.
Also, thank you for making me realize that I achieved my purpose, at least once.