When I was a child growing up, my Grandfather used to tell me, at least once a day, that I could do anything I wanted to in my life. There was no door that was closed to me, no road I couldn’t travel. Looking back on it, I can see that he was right, except that he didn’t finish the sentence. He should have said, “You can do anything you want to in your life, as long as you’re willing to make the proper sacrifice for it.”
Sitting here, today, I can see that sacrifice is the hidden key. I could have been a rich man, had I been willing to sacrifice the relationships and living I have done in order to make that my overwhelming goal. I could have been a national politician, if I had been willing to sacrifice the friendships and fun along the way. I have done a lot of living in my forty short years, and plan on doing quite a lot more. In case you are standing at the crossroads of your life and wondering which way to go, let me tell you now, friends and loved ones are better. No one ever died thinking, “Gee, I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
When you are a kid and are continually told that you can do anything you want, you grow up thinking that the best way to live your life is to do everything you want. I can remember one of my sixth grade teachers drawing a diagram of a person’s life on the chalkboard, trying to teach us that each path we choose shuts off countless other paths from our consideration. I think what she was trying to get at was that all paths lead to either heaven or hell or something like that, (Catholic school, go figure) but what I carried away from it was that grown-ups were pretty mopey and tended to wash out and give up on themselves. “You’ll lose all your choices, and then you’ll die.”
I see things a little differently now.
Ms. Kirtchner probably was teaching a lesson drawn on her own bitterness and disappointments, and although I can understand the truth of her teaching in my own experiences, my conclusions are the opposite of the gloom and doom she was getting at. Having every goal in the world is very nearly the same as having no goal at all. You are just as unfocussed, just as wandering, just as unrooted. As I have gotten older, I have walked past more doors than I will ever know. But I didn’t lose them, I discarded them. I realized those doors weren’t important to me, they didn’t hold the things I wanted to put into my life, or help to make me the person I wanted to be. I have purposefully walked to the doors that have meant something to me, ignored the rest, and been happier for it. Yes, my path has grown more narrow, but it has also grown stronger, more fulfilling, and much more meaningful.
If you are a young person reading this you may not understand everything I am talking about here. That’s okay. Remember it for later. At the time I obviously misunderstood what my Grandfather meant when he was telling me I could do anything I wanted, though I grew up with his words in my ears and can apply them now. But I think maybe sacrifice wasn’t the real end of that sentence. I think what he really meant was “You can do anything you want to in your life, so pick something.”
“And don’t go to Catholic school.”