An old friend came to visit this weekend. He was in town for his college reunion. Our town has a lot of college altogether. But my husband went to school with this guy, so their friendship predated the college experience.
The friend has little daughters. We have a little daughter too, so the first night we talked a bit the Tao of daughters.
They are different from us. They have interests and disinterests. He spoke of facilitating activities that piqued his daughters’ interest, even if it was inconvenient. He was relieved the older one’s interest in soccer had dropped off just prior to the manic commitment—5 am wakeup calls for all day tournaments in the hot sun—required of families kicked in.
I shared that our daughter was basically happy all the time—
“You’ll have to put a stop to that!”
I laughed. “She is happy, but she doesn’t seem to have anything to really feel ambition about. There is a joy is discovering something that really challenges your abilities. First grade is pretty boring—memorizing things by rote. It’s not inspiring.”
But I remembered she did have something she had aspired to. She loves the monkey bars. She can climb up and reach them, and she practiced until she grew callouses. Then she practiced so much that the callouses fell off, and grew back.
She has been dedicated to her abilities on the monkey bars.
I think she needs to find a mental challenge that would give her the same determination and challenge as those monkey bars.
Wait for it. You know where I’m going with this.
“also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does”
That vista, that scope, the tool that when you pick it up you know to your bones that THIS IS THE WHAT. The what that you can do, maybe the what you were born to do.
I believe there is often more than one what. And how fabulous! Let’s go find all the whats that we can, whether it be rocket science, bongo drums or monkey bars.
Go read about Richard Feynman if you don’t’ believe me. There are a lot of things to delight us in this world.
But I wasn’t done with this friend. We’d stayed up late catching up, but I still had things I needed to know. I accosted him at the breakfast table.
“So. You went to college, undergrad and grad school in the best schools in America. That’s why you’re here, for the reunion. I want to know—what did college do for you? Can you tell me the benefit?”
Because I didn’t go to college like that. I took night classes, and I took forever. I still wonder. What did I miss out on? Did I miss out?
Of course, this is anecdotal. One guy, one experience. My psychology PhD friends would scoff. Still. Statistics leave me cold. What is really the value of these college campuses?
Our friend described a high collaborative experience, where diverse and ambitious students were guided by genial professors to stretch their abilities further than they knew they could.
“Granted, this environment was hard to join. I was with a self-selected set of high achievers.”
“But don’t you think a job could provide that kind of challenge? Working together on projects?”
He was skeptical. Because a boss wouldn’t give you the time to try and explore.
Also, in my experience a job cannot craft the perfect challenge for skills like a professor can.
Like I’m trying to do for my daughter. I am older, I have more experience, and I love her. I want her to have those stretching experiences of exhilaration. Do professors at the right sort of schools make that happen too?
The price tag on colleges of those sorts are a quarter million now. But I don’t know, maybe that’s the front of the store price tag and there is always a bargain at the back.
But that experience is very valuable. Having a right-sized challenge is priceless. Maybe it IS worth it. Maybe it’s worth mortgaging your future to achieve it.
Then of course, I have to wonder. Why is it restricted to the young? Is “flow” a young person’s game? Grad school, the NBA, the Olympics, this is not for people above the age of 40.
I can hope that things are changing. That opportunities for excellence and exhilaration are more self-directed than they used to be.
I refuse to succumb to a life of quiet desperation. It’s easy to have a quasi-omnicient role in my daughter’s life.
It might be more possible than I have been realizing to provide myself with the sorts of experiences I want to have.