Baby, You Were Born to Be Something

A couple of weeks ago I experienced some problems with procrastination and motivation, especially in the area of writing. It happens fairly often and tends to coincide with a random change in routine (like being out of town for a week). For inspiration, I downloaded the book The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, by Steven Pressfield. It’s a short, easy read on fighting Resistance.

I’m terrible about trying to get everything done in my day before sitting down to write. I like to save the best for last. Of course I never get everything done that I want to, and writing usually pays the price. And to be honest, there are many days when I question putting so much time and effort into writing posts that are sometimes very personal and that very few people actually read. Writing takes a lot out of a person, and sometimes I question why I spend so much time doing it.

I remind myself that Vincent van Gogh never sold a painting his entire life either, except to his brother, Theo. Obviously, he wasn’t doing it for the money.

So I turned to a book to help me out of my slump.

As these things often happen, the last part of the book synchronized with a post I had recently written on being who we are, as opposed to who we are meant to be.

We’re not born with unlimited choices.

We can’t be anything we want to be.

We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.

Um, I’m not so sure about that. Mostly, I just don’t believe in a “specific, personal destiny.” I don’t believe there’s that one, true thing everyone was meant to BE, kind of like I don’t believe in that one, true soul mate. He continues:

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

If we were born to paint, it’s our job to become a painter.

If we were born to raise and nurture children, it’s our job to become a mother.

If we were born to overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice of the world, it’s our job to realize it and get down to business.

Well, maybe I do agree with that.

I have two children. Both kids came into this world with distinct personalities, interests, and talents. Each have their individual strengths and weaknesses. One is very artistic and creative, the other very logical and mechanical minded. I could not have molded them to be otherwise. They were literally born that way.

Ironically, the creative one became a geologist. Her saving grace: she makes sure there’s enough time in her life for artistic, creative endeavors after work to be happy.

Getting my other child to read anything other than maps, cross-sections, or Tin Tin–and that’s if I could coerce him away from his Legos or video games–was like pulling him from the jaws of a grizzly bear. He now builds wind turbines and couldn’t be happier. And he still doesn’t really like to read.

(Remember, I’m a teacher. Having a child who hated to read was tough.)

In twenty years of teaching, some children’s natural talents were like billboards in the classroom. I’ll never forget third grade Madai and her incredible artistic talent. She made beautiful drawings in class (she was constantly drawing), and was also emotionally mature beyond her years. When I read a picture book aloud to the class about Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics in 1960, I looked up to see tears streaming down Madai’s face. She was absolutely born to be an artist. She felt everything so deeply.

I can honestly say that if she does anything other than something artistic, it will be a terrible shame for herself and the world. She was born to create art.

Other children were fantastic athletes, eloquent speakers, and gifted mathematicians. Most students didn’t display their talents as brightly as a select, dominant few. I was often surprised–and relieved–when the music teacher would tell me one of my academically struggling students was musically gifted. I suspect many quiet students had talents they chose to keep hidden after years of testing and being forced to conform in the classroom.

For me, I’ve always loved to write. From the time of my first lock-and-key five-year diary to journals in high school, to English Lit papers in college to this blog, writing is a natural love. I suspect almost everyone feels the need to express themselves in some manner, and for me writing always met that need.

I never had enough confidence or courage to make it a career, or never made enough time after earning a living to do something with it. I don’t feel like I’ve disappointed myself, or haven’t lived up to my potential, however, because the desire to write is not going to suddenly disappear.

It’s just there, like breathing. It always was and always will be. And as long as I respect the urge to write, and keep writing–even if it’s junk–I’m being true to myself and the person I was “meant to be.”

It might not pay the bills, but it will keep me happy.

Perhaps life is nothing more than figuring out what you were born to do (which to me is the same thing as figuring out who you were meant to be), even if you never make a penny doing it. You may put in the hours at a lackluster job to pay for the groceries and that great vacation you’ve been saving for, but hopefully there’s something else, something meaningful, that makes you feel like a whole person.

Make it your job to make it happen. Life is too short not to.

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16 comments

  1. averageinsuburbia

    I’m sure you love working with kids when they are just out there with who they are. I work with middle school kids. In 6th grade they are open and not shy about who they are. By 8th grade, most of them have suppressed a lot of their individuality. It’s sad. In books written for those over 50 and wondering what to do with the next half of their life they are always telling you to remember who you were when you were young. Most likely you are still drawn to those things but over the years you’ve put them aside either because you were too busy or for one reason or another you just plain forgot! Of course some things, like love for Danny Bonaduce, thankfully you don’t carry into adulthood.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Ha! For me it was John Denver (but he still owns a little piece of my adult heart).
      When I taught Pre-K, the children had strong interests and innate strengths. They were happy just being themselves. It is sad that we lose or forget what things we loved doing most when we were younger.

      • averageinsuburbia

        You mean when I see them in 6th grade they are already a watered down version of themselves? I guess when I look back on my own children it seems about 4th grade they started caring about what other people thought. I had forgotten.

      • Mind Margins/Run Nature

        Oh, yeah, especially the girls regarding worrying about what others think of them. Once the hormones kick in some of them don’t want to be seen as “smart” anymore. Boys, too, but to a lesser degree. In the neighborhood where I taught, being too smart was looked down upon by the other kids–and it was their best chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.

  2. joannevalentinesimson

    Very nice! You’re very perceptive to realize that so many personal skills and attributes are inborn! Good thing you were a teacher and didn’t try to mold all your students into some ideal child.
    I’ve also loved writing all my life, and now that I’m retired, I can do much more of it. But I had the good sense when I was younger to get a “day job.”

  3. melissabluefineart

    Amen! I loved what you said about your kids. I also have raised two, and it is absolutely true that they are clearly who they are from birth. What a delight, but yes, when they don’t love what we do it is hard 🙂 My son, possessor of an antic, creative mind, has set himself on the path to be an accountant. sigh.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      But at least he’ll always be solvent, so you won’t have to worry about him supporting himself. Hopefully he’ll still do something with his creative mind in his spare time. I suspect he won’t be able to resist–or, or at the least, he’ll come back to it when he gets older (like a lot of us, myself included).

  4. SeniorRunner

    Thanks to you and the others for your insights on the topic of being who we are/who we are meant to be. This is an issue I’ve beat myself up over from time to time, as some of the other folks seem to be doing. I’ll offer my current take on this koan-like topic which has seized your attention.

    Early on, many of us internalize an idea along the lines of “to whom much is given, of him is much required.” This kind of conditioning leads, I suspect, to a lot of angst, guilt, and self-flagellation.

    Always and everywhere, we can only be who we are, which is simultaneously what we are meant to be at that moment. The topic posits a distinction which is more imaginary than real. Trying to be who you are meant to be is tantamount to jumping over your own knees.

    The confusion arises because of a double process going on in our lives. The one we are most aware of is the product of our efforts to move toward some goal, some result, in time. I want to lose weight, run a marathon, get a PhD, listen more attentively, etc. Collectively, all this stuff is what I usually think of as “my life,” all of which is well and good. We huff and puff, reach our goals or not, and are satisfied or not.

    But there is another process which is largely invisible, largely unconscious, and more important. It’s more like the unfolding of a seed, more like the lilies of the field which do their thing willy-nilly without thinking about it, with no sturm und drang.

    Do we need to make an effort to foster this unfolding? Yes, but not the sort we are used to. It’s more like a stepping back, getting out of the way, just letting it happen. Becoming less rather than more, which is the exact opposite of how we pursue most of our worldly goals.

    You are what you have always been. Stand back, be still.

    Of course, what you do in the world will be influenced by what happens on this other level. Trust it to lead you where it will. You want to write? Then write. You want to serve mankind? Well, be slightly available and see what happens. Opportunities will present themselves.

    They may be less grandiose than you would like, but you will have an influence. Like a flower. It doesn’t try to be fragrant. It just IS, because that’s its nature and it can’t do otherwise.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I think we all beat ourselves up over this issue at specific times in our lives, but we’re on the same page. It actually seems to be getting easier as I get older–or perhaps I have less to prove. I don’t feel the same level of resistance or restlessness that I did when I was younger. Maybe I merely know myself better now, and it’s definitely a matter of “becoming less rather than more” and “stepping back, getting out of the way, just letting it happen.”

      Thanks for your well-appreciated insights. Great comment.

  5. Meditative Reflections

    As a teacher myself, I completely agree that children lose their creativity as a result of being forced to conform in the classroom. Such a shame. Great post, and I LOVE Vincent Van Gogh too.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I have yet to meet a teacher who disagrees with me on this issue. Now if only the politicians and policy makers could stop forcing testing down everyone’s throats and let teachers do what they’re trained to do. Thanks for commenting.

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