2002 Pulitzer nominee School & University Life

There’s No Time Like Show Time to Fake What You Know

Loose Leaves, 1st published Sunday 9 September 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock
Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group

Spring is no time for commencement addresses: Who can pay attention in the excitement of graduation from one course, looking toward the next beginning?

September may be a better time. Where you’ll be a year from now may well be set commencing now. Fall is when many runs of events commence, after all.

The primal American myth is that any child can grow up to be president. Or a pro athlete, a star, a leader, something big.

That belief often leads to disappointment. We, all of us, cannot be on top.

Most of us fit the category of “most of us.” Some of us will get to do what we want. A few of us will make it big. Most of us, for example, will be choosing between “making a living” and “enjoying our work.”

Most of us can surmount a broken and mean childhood, like Bill Clinton’s, by realizing it is up to us to leave the past behind us. We don’t have to win the presidency to be successful.

Most of us will be glad, thank you, to hit adulthood with pleasant-enough jobs and family and friends to love.

A general and realistic goal, then, is not to be president or play pro ball but to find work you love. Which most of us don’t find right away. Fortunately, most of us are driven to have the best-paying job possible. This probably is what allows the whole system to move forward.

Most of us will be grateful to find jobs or, better, a line of work (“career” is jargon intended to benefit the economy by entrapping the individual, a related but separate topic) that pay enough and be interesting most of the time.

Most of us will not become CEOs in work paths that basically match our aptitudes and interests but not our passions. Management must not be everyone’s goal. Do you think your boss, a nice-enough person most of the time, likes every duty he or she has to do?

The rest of us? Most of the rest of us — I am among them — discover miraculously work we love. That means an occupation so delicious we’d do it for free.

Because we cannot all be superstars, this work likely will pay less than the work we can endure pleasantly. Like all jobs, it will have times of boredom, frustration and fear.

Picture that singer or that actor or that quarterback practicing practicing practicing. Picture them in the dark of night knowing that if they have a couple of duds in a row they’ll turn into has-beens. They have met on their way up famous failures on their way down.

Most of us don’t need stardom to be content.

That’s fortunate, for avocations often pay nothing to most of us. Most of us, indeed, will do the thing we love on the side: Paint or sculpt on weekends, write poetry or newsy letters, strum in garage bands or toot in community wind bands, act in amateur theater or video productions, design innovative Internet sites few will find. …

Most of us are enormously successful just to pull that off, while working legitimate jobs that pay enough, with friends and family to love along the way.

Getting there, yes, means not just a few but many false starts, wrong turns, ignored good advice and fully idiotic, should-have-seen-it-coming boners.

Most of us recover from most mistakes, though we may have to fuzz up the old goals. Most of us do find that we rely on the ability to fix mistakes all the way to second childhood.

Most of us will be quite grateful to finish high school, then manage to earn further degrees or certificates in just a few years, working part-time and filling out every form we can find to get scholarships, grants and loans.

As an example, you can take a dumb chance and become a teen parent. You can go back and finish school later. You will be able to concentrate better, knowing how badly you need the diploma. It will be harder with lease or mortgage, other loan payments, responsibilities to spouse and children — literal debts and emotional responsibilities.

Not all of us can do that, though. That’s the problem.

Most of us mistake-makers trip over a vague, moving line where we cannot go back and try again. That line is different for each of us.

It’s where you cannot recover the energy of youth. It’s where you cannot recover the money you didn’t need to blow. It’s where you cannot take back that remark. It’s where you missed the chance to apologize even when it’s that other person who should have apologized first. It’s where you missed the chance to say and demonstrate love.

If I knew where that line was, I’d show it here. Save us all some time at commencement. Most of us always will be commencing something.


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