Did We End Up Doing What We Were Best At Doing?

I ask that question because I’m not sure many of us did. It might be a touch tricky to figure out, as many of us have become good at activities we took on for practical reasons, not activities that we might have been passionate about. As children, we all had dreams of who we wanted to be when we grew up. Then, when we grew up, if was a different world and many of us dropped those childhood dreams and began pursuing something more practical…
often something that wasn’t related to our initial dreams. Is becoming a good carpenter a sell-out when one initially wanted to be a jet pilot as a kid?

It’s interesting to me, because our history tells us that, as a species, we’re amazingly versatile, able to to take on seemingly impossible dreams and turn them into reality. Yet individually we often opt for taking advantage of the momentary opportunities that American life is famous for. Often those opportunities turn into a vocation that we follow for life. Don’t believe me? Ask a few of your friends. I wouldn’t be writing about this if I had’t heard this story time after time.

Assuming that you already know your personal answer to the question, I assure you that I’m one of those who wanted to do a thing, even into my early thirties, only to accidentally discover I was better at something else. And even then, it took quite awhile to sink in, and take advantage of. I was so set on being a jazz pianist, then a composer of jingles, that I kept missing the element that was putting me above most of my competition in
Atlanta… that of being a competent arranger! Not only did it turn out to be the one really distinctive feature I possessed as a musician, it also turned out to accidentally be the best money-making avenue for me… not to mention that a good arrangement can usually save a mediocre song. And god knows I did my share of mediocre jingles over the years!

I’d guess that many of us fell into work that was somewhat close to what we did best. Most of the young folk I know today, those under 35, still don’t know what they’re best at. they’ve taken available jobs and tried to work their way up that particular ladder, with little to no understanding of where their true abilities might lie. Only one young man, Betty’s grandson Calvin,
22, knows and has known what he does well and what he loves… counseling high school kids in a church! And surprise…! he does it very well!

Many of the men of my Dad’s generation seemed to have decided to “like” and even occasionally enjoy what they were doing at the moment, though it was usually manual labor of one sort or another. Back then there was this built-in pride thing that came with bringing home the bacon every week, regardless of what the work was. Probably a good deal of that idea came from the fact that many of them had survived one world war, if not two, plus
a stock market crash, making the idea of “doing what you love, what you’re best at” seem like pie in the sky, an impossible dream in their world of harsh realities.

Is it possible to be great at something you don’t care that much about? Sure! I know several young people who have specific talents, who aren’t pursuing those talents at all. Kind of funny, too, because their world is so crowded and competitive these days, I would have thought that any special talent would give one a leg up on the competition… at least to the point of having more
opportunities to work in that vein. But hell, what do I know?! I’m from a different world, an older world, a world that seemed to have maybe half the people in it that we have now, a world that moved at least a third slower than today’s world, a world that seemed almost set up to help us get started, rather than block us, confuse us and try to herd us into a tech gig. I’m so grateful to be from that older world, to have grown up and had the opportunity to chase my dreams in that older, slower world. Every day that I live in this world, I miss that older one more.

Steve Hulse