These days, I think a lot about what things I want to teach my daughter. While I think it’s very important to lead by example, I also know that if you don’t verbalize the important things, it’s easy for others to misunderstand exactly what example you’re trying to set.
And I’m starting to think of all the things that I’m not sure how to teach her.
For example, this is America, where they say you can be whatever you want to be. Now, discounting the obvious pitfalls of that (for example, not everybody can be President; if that were true, we’d have to have multiple Presidents at once), I have to disagree with the implications of that premise.
As nice as it would be to believe, we are not the captains of our own fates. There are real-world variables at play that affect the outcomes of our decisions.
As I mentioned in my mock draft preamble, I lost a job that I very much enjoyed — and that I was good at — in a corporate reorganization a year and a half ago. The company was nice enough to give me another position, and I really do believe that they tried to do right by me. I hold no ill will against the company for that decision. I understand that business happens, and they were very clear that the elimination of the position that I had held had nothing to do with poor results or anything personal. It was a numbers thing.
And that’s exactly my point. Numbers things happens. Random things happen. Bad things happen. We cannot control those issues.
Accidents, diseases, crime, catastrophes — all are completely outside of our control, and they can steal from us everything that we work so hard to build and to protect.
If the stories we want to believe were true, I would not have lost my former position, because I had worked hard to get there, I had taken all the right steps, I wasstilltaking all the right steps, I was giving the company what they wanted. I was, essentially, a rising star. (That may sound like I’m bragging too much until I point out that I was a rising star in the world of managing teams of adjusters handling personal auto accidents with clear liability and no more than one injured party in a seven-state region for a division with policies purchased through agencies instead of directly or online. Not exactly something like a rising star in the world of global politics or anything like that.) But things changed.
Now, nobody is saying dreams come easy. Everyone would agree you have to work hard for them. But even that throws a monkey wrench into things — you have no way of knowing if today is the day someone traveling next to you on the highway is going to have a heart attack, careen into you, and send you across the median into a semi.
What everyone is trying to say is that you can only respond to the circumstances you are dealt. You should not expect that your plans will work out. You should not expect that the world will accomodate you.
And that sounds like such a downer sort of thing to try to explain to a little girl when deep down you believe she has the potential to be truly remarkable and even world-changing.
I think it’s improv that has helped me understand this concept more, and with luck it will help me understand how to explain it.
When you’re doing improv, you have to commit to a character and a story and a goal, but you’re not writing it alone, and if you’re doing it right you’re not in control. You can mime drawing a gun on someone, but if they immediately say, “Hey! Thanks, my wallet!” while reaching for the invisible object in your hand, then it’s their wallet. You can set up anything you want, but others can change it and reshape the reality a different way.
In improv, the other performers are the fates that shape your world, and you are the fate that shapes theirs. You can’t make a scene go where you intend for it to go unless the fates cooperate with you, which is entirely up to them. What’s more, the fates may think they’re cooperating with you, but they have minds of their own.
And for someone like me, who likes rules and order — remember, I’m in insurance — improv is scary because you have very little control. The only thing you can guarantee that you can affect is yourself.
And at some point, I realized that that’s also true of life.
The goal is to try to avoid being disappointed when your scene partner, or when fate, suddenly shifts things on you. Instead, you have to duck and dodge and attack where you can — not to win, because winning is a false goal that will only lead to disappointment, but instead to enjoy the ride.
Be flexible. The more flexible you are, the easier it all becomes.