Dreams and Regret
Today, I was watching my younger son play soccer and I overheard two parents talking about college majors. One mom said her brother-in-law went to an acclaimed arts school and graduated with a major in Photography. His dream job was to become a photo journalist at National Geographic, but for the last 20 years he’s been working as a paramedic. “He never enjoyed taking photos of people,” she said. “And besides, you don’t exactly find international photojournalism jobs in the want ads.”
Twenty years! There’s a big difference between being a paramedic and a guy who takes pictures.
And his sister was right. You don’t find that kind of job in the want ads. In fact, usually the kind of job we aspire to isn’t found in the want-ads at all. And I don’t think I’ve had a newspaper subscription in the last 20 years, so do the want-ads even exist anymore?
This guy is probably a good paramedic, and he probably says he loves his job. Everyday is different, after all, and saving lives can be very rewarding, I’m sure, but if his dream is hanging out in the African jungle only to find himself forever navigating the urban jungle, I can only imagine the kind of regret and disappointment he feels.
How Kryptonite Works
Even if you’re not a fan of Superman, you’ve probably heard of kryptonite. You know it’s the one thing that strips Superman of all his super powers. I don’t know if I’m remembering old episodes from the 1950s or if this is just how I imagine it in my mind, but in the presence of Kryptonite, I see Superman falling to his knees, unable to move, barely able to speak, certainly bereft of his superhuman strength and his ability to see through walls and that sort of thing.
Sometimes people will talk about kryptonite like it’s a real thing and not something made up in comic books. We all have our own version of kryptonite, the thing that keeps us grounded and unable to move forward. I think the biggest one is predictability.
Choosing safety and security over adventure.
Choosing what’s predictable and profitable over what’s preferable.
Choosing what’s right here, right now over what could be.
Predictability is safe. It’s nice to know where that next paycheck is coming from.
Before the Kryptonite
Do you remember what it was like to be in college? Maybe you were like me, a little naive and a little nervous about the future. Back then, did you wish for a predictable life or an adventurous one?
No one told me I’d probably have to be the one to create the kind of life I really wanted. My dream job was unlikely either to be handed to me on a silver platter or waiting for me to discover in the want ads. So I built a resume based on all the things I had already done rather than the things that were preparing me for all the things I wanted to do…someday.
When I’m in the zone, far away from my kryptonite, I feel a lot like Superman. I can see through walls—or at least I feel like I have a leg up on overcoming the challenges in front of me. I have the bandwidth to outrun the figurative speeding bullets charging toward me, and the strength to tackle just about anything.
Note: There will always be roadblocks on the road to success. Please don’t allow the comfort of predictability be the thing that keeps you from trying something new.
When we do things the same way, at the same time, every single day, our brain begins to work without us even thinking. We don’t have to adjust or adapt. We just have to be. Just like fictional kryptonite keeps Superman from being able to use his superhuman strength, so we too, are paralyzed. I have never felt weaker than when I am doing repetitive work I don’t really care about.
Back when I was in college and I had all those big dreams, I had no idea that I was responsible for creating the life I wanted. I thought everybody just got an entry level job after graduation and then twenty years later-voila—they were promoted to VP level positions.
Sometimes that’s how it works. But not always.
If some UN-predictable things hadn’t happened, like getting rejected from medical school—TWICE—or getting pregnant with my first daughter, maybe I’d still be climbing the corporate ladder. But because something unexpected happened, I shifted my thinking and leaned in. I discovered new interests, pursued new adventures, and started volunteering and leading things that put me on a new path and toward a new definition of success.
Since kryptonite causes pain and paralysis, overcoming it is anything but easy. In every instance I’ve ever had of overcoming my personal kryptonite, (the dreaded predictability), I can honestly say that our family has benefited. I’ve met people who literally changed the trajectory of my life. I’ve been inspired by stories of life change. I’ve created and built things I never could have even imagined if I had remained stuck doing the same thing day in and day out.
What’s that saying?
Don’t let predictability get you. Yes, it’s safe. Yes, it’s easy. But I can think of at least ten ways the paramedic could have begun his journey toward photo journalism. And while I want to be one of those positive people who says “It’s never too late,” the reality is for every year you put off a dream the road back to you becomes littered with hazards. Predictability becomes the easy, default moda operandi. Families, obligations, commitments, and stuff make going off-road difficult, if not impossible. When you’re young, you have less to lose and so it’s easy to take risks. Plus, your relative inexperience with predictability keeps you from becoming too comfortable.
Questions to Ponder:
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
What do you love about what you do?
How can you make this year better than last year?
What’s next for you? And what’s keeping you from making one honest-to-goodness change right now?