I Blame Tony Hawk

skateboardOkay, so maybe Tony Hawk was only mildly complicit.

When my kids were little and all avenues were open, I often told them that they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up. I was passionately entrenched in the do-what-you-love camp and touted that message from their earliest days.

Hawk hit his 900 aerial skateboard spin when Michael was just a little guy but the feat and his life’s journey were a shining example of an alternate path. Apparently Hawk was one of those bright hyperactive kids who wasn’t going to sit still in a classroom and recite multiplication tables.

Neither was Michael.

But it was pretty clear to me that Michael wasn’t going to be a Tony Hawk clone. He also wasn’t going to follow in the footsteps of Doug Flutie or Pedro Martinez or a bunch of other uberathletes.  I didn’t tell him he couldn’t, but really, he couldn’t have.

Instead, I gave a caveat to the anything-you-want mantra. If you want something badly enough, you can make it happen; if it doesn’t happen then you didn’t really want it badly enough.

Thus when Alex was showing real promise on the soccer field, I nudged her to add a little extra effort. I’d offer to sit in net and let her take shots or urge her to put in personal practice time after team time. She would –sometimes. More often, she’d look for the next sport or activity to pack into her already jam-packed schedule. Alex was passionate about everything.  No single subject or sport could hold her attention for long.

Michael was a different story. When he took up an endeavor, he became fully immersed. Getting him to transition away was a monumental task.

He wasn’t much of a reader but when he got into Harry Potter, he really got into it. I wasn’t surprised when I had to wrest the book from my third-grader’s hands at 2:00 AM on a school night/morning. How could he be expected to wait to find out what happened next? And there was no question that weight limit or not, all 600 hard-covered pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were coming on our rafting trip even if the nine-year old boy had to carry his own duffle.

Really though, it was science that held him fully captive. He took things apart. Sometimes he put them back together. He made creations in his mind, built stuff with his hands. He set rockets off into the clouds. He entertained and entranced the neighborhood kids and taught them lessons he probably shouldn’t have. He explored –everything.

Clearly Michael and his curious mind were heading to MIT someday.

Not so clearly, after all. A couple of bad science teachers in a row collided with teenage hormones to set Michael on a decided detour. The curious kid with the sharp intellect soon came to hate school. I knew how horribly askew  from academic excellence he’d veered when he told me at the close of one summer vacation that the impending start of school was the time of year in which he stop learning.

He may have slammed the door on schoolbook science, but his passion remained intact. And while he never found his place in a classroom lab again, he did find a home at school: in the music department.

Michael began to breathe music. He took lessons on one instrument, taught himself another and said yes to whichever next instrument the band director asked him to learn. He had bandmates and all his playdates became jam sessions. Music was ALWAYS emanating from our house. The good news for the neighbors was that it was generally really good music. These kids were a bunch of talented musicians. And they weren’t just kids. I answered the door one afternoon to a saxophone player with decades of gigs under his belt telling me he was here to jam with the kids.

Eventually Michael merged music with science. He stepped from center stage to behind stage –or at least behind a board. He recorded, mixed, mastered. He landed a two-month internship at one of Boston’s top recording studios and stayed four years –and counting. He bought equipment. And when he couldn’t find—or afford—that equipment, he built it himself. The kid who hadn’t cracked a textbook for the bulk of his senior year in high school was pleasure reading physics texts, design schematics and books on integrated circuitry and operational amplifiers. He was all in.

Still is.

I’ve heard a lot lately of young adults who followed a more traditional route to their careers. Some of them like their jobs, but more of them do not. In fact, many of them hate their jobs –the long hours, the monotony, the infinity of it all.

Michael works crazy long hours but views that infinity with fervor. The idea that he could spend the rest of his life doing this thing that he loves means more to him than the titles and trappings that some of his peers covet.

Michael’s always been pretty comfortable in his own skin, always known who he is, what he’s wanted to do –even if how he might make that happen wasn’t crystal clear. Maybe it’s still not. But he’s already hit a few 900s of his own.

And he’s doing what he loves.

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No Plan B

Julia head shot2   One of the perks of a private prep school is that the on-staff academic counselors do a pretty good job of plotting clear paths to college for their students. As antithetical as it may be to most incoming freshmen, the counselors start early on asking their young charges to think long-term.

  So Julia’s advisor may have missed a key point in their recent meeting. Julia was thinking long-term; just because that long-term vista didn’t neatly align with the square peg dictates of the woman’s role doesn’t mean Julia doesn’t have a plan. On the contrary, she does.

    My guess is that those incoming meetings generally last a good 20 to 30 minutes. Jules was outta there in five.

    So what career do you hope to pursue someday? What are you plans?

    I’m going to be a supermodel.

    Fly-on-the-wall –can’t you just picture the juxtaposition? The slightly cynical stare of a parochial pedagogue, sans even a trace of makeup, being full-frontally faced with the wide-eyed certainty of youth.

   From behind her desk, perhaps there was a knowing nod, a hidden eye roll, a stifled chuckle.

Well, what about your Plan B? In case that supermodel thing doesn’t work out for you?

    I don’t need a Plan B.

    And the thing is –Julia doesn’t.

    In the wake of Steve Job’s passing, there’s been a small flood of his life’s philosophy via writings and speeches he gave. When he rejoined the company he founded, he set in motion the Think Different campaign with a letter to the public reminding the masses, among other things, that “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

    Perhaps also then it is the people with no Plan B who possess the perseverance to bring their first choice lives to fruition.

    Jump out into the great unknown without a safety net and you damn well better make sure your first choice plan works.

    Michael doesn’t have a Plan B, either.

    Which would be fine but for the probability that he may not have a Plan A.

    That’s not to say he doesn’t have a vision or even a goal. I just haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence that he has an actual plan on how to reach it.

    I could be wrong here. Communication is sparse.

    In a trickle of words last year, he informed me that just because he wasn’t going about things in a way with which I might be familiar didn’t mean that he wouldn’t get to where he wanted to be.

    I can’t argue with that. Partly because, truth is, I don’t really know the path he should take.

    I only know the level of frustration I feel when I watch him close doors which I think are better left open.

    And he looks at me as if I haven’t a clue; as if I don’t want him to pursue a dream.

    But I do.

    And that’s why I’d like him to have a plan.

    Not a Plan B, but a single, missile-focused Plan A.

    The kind he can pursue, without a parachute, to the sacrifice of most everything else. Because it’s his passion, his dream, his calling.

    I’m all for not having a Plan B.

    I’d just feel a whole lot better if there were at least a Plan A.