My son, Zach, turned 18 last week. We went to dinner at one of those Brazilian Steakhouses where servers continuously weave throughout the tables with huge hunks of meat on large metal skewers offering them to guests. My son, a dedicated carnivore, whose favorite vegetable (sadly) is French fries, was in meat heaven. In between lamb and a perfectly cooked filet mignon, we got into a discussion about what he was thinking about pursuing as a college major (as he will be leaving for college in August).
“I’m just not sure what I want to do or be,” he complained.
I wanted to provide him with a solid, wise and calming answer, but always ever-honest, I replied, “yeah, me either.”
He gave me that look—the one he gives me often – that said, “Really God? This is my mother?’, which compelled me to try to explain my answer.
“Some people are passionate about just one thing from birth to death. That passion fuels all that they do; and drives their major life decisions. America tends to celebrate these people, airing sentimental profiles during coverage of the Olympics, or during Bloomberg business profiles and the like — but understand that those people have struggles too. What if they don’t reach their life’s passion? What if they do at an early age and then feel lost? While focused, they are far from flawless.”
I continued, “then there are people like us, whom don’t have a singular life-long passion. But that’s okay. Do what you like –now; what you are good at now; what interests you, now. You don’t have to know where it’s going to take you. Most likely, you won’t have a job in your major 10 years after you graduate from college anyway.”
I then told my son what no one had ever told me: “most of us continually change and grow; we are discovering daily who we are, so it’s understandable that oftentimes we are confused about what we want to do professionally. Declaring a college major is – at best – an educated guess (and one made when we are so, so young). It’s oftentimes just something that sounds good, impresses people when you say it; or something your parents directly or indirectly influenced you to pursue. So just go in the direction that feels the best to you—now; and be okay with being a work in progress. I’m your mother and that’s exactly what I’m doing. That’s exactly what I am… a work in progress.”
He seemed satisfied with my answer, or maybe distracted by the offering of more meat – either way the topic switched to something else.
A week later, on my birthday, I listened to Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, discuss her book and her continual life’s process of BECOMING (far more eloquently than I had with my son). She shared all of the long hours, the sacrifices and efforts she made to become an Ivy-League educated lawyer to realize later that she hated it. For many years, she said she wanted to be a pediatrician, then she became a lawyer, a commissioner of planning and development at city hall, an executive director for a non-profit, an outreach person for a college, the first lady, and now an author. Each transition, was preceded by agony and confusion, just like with me and my son.
Somehow most of us came to believe that the successful ones in life are those who have things all figured out; when the truth is that life is about figuring things out. There is no growth without transition. No longer should any of us feel inadequate about not having the answers to those standard questions that people pose wondering what’s next for you. Instead there should be complete peace in answering, “I’m figuring that out.”
After all, you are becoming.
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more