When I grow up

February 28, 2013


Full Circle. A blog by Thad Ray.

As a child I was asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” and I honestly can’t think of a day in my life when I woke up and said, “I want to be average.” Though there are things I’m average at, striving for mediocrity has never been part of my M.O.

When I was young, I dreamed about being a marine biologist or an archaeologist. An astronaut, or a race car driver. A motocross racer, a rock star. The list goes on.

The world used to seem like a huge place, full of adventure and potential, with excitement waiting just around the corner. To quote Tom Petty, “The future was wide open.”

As I grew older the familiar pressures crept in. “This is how you’re supposed to live your life.” “This is what you’re supposed to do.” “Go to school.” “Get a job.” Work, eat, sleep. Repeat.

One of the things that I have never been good at, or even average at, is conformity. Early in life I had a defiant attitude. Like James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” it didn’t matter what I was rebelling against, if I was supposed to do it, chances are I wasn’t going to.

I lived a pretty reckless life for a while, then about 10 years ago things got real for me. My daughter was born. Since I was adopted, she was the only blood relative who I knew, and her presence in my life was amazing and overwhelming.

Suddenly things took on a whole new importance. Things that hadn’t mattered much now became first priority. I tried to be responsible where before I had avoided responsibility. I had a new life depending on me, and there was no way I was letting her down.

When you become a parent, especially a single parent, your standards of living change. Suddenly it’s not okay to live on Ramen noodles and hot dogs for a week because you blew all your money partying. It’s not okay to quit your job because you don’t like it, or because your boss is a jerk. When your child is relying on you, you tend to take second place in your own life.

My daughter is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. In trying to be a good parent, I’m forced to constantly re-examine my own life, and adjust the things I do accordingly. I try to teach her things by lesson as well as example, so that she can live her life to the fullest. I try not to repeat the mistakes of my parents, and I encourage her to use her intelligence to analyze things and to make decisions accordingly. My goal as a parent is to give my child the tools to be happy in life.

Over the past few years I’d become increasingly unhappy at my job. I felt like there was so much to life that I was missing out on, and that I was caught in a vicious cycle of stagnation. But I couldn’t just quit my job and go off chasing dreams, I had a child to take care of and bills to pay.

With that thought in mind, I went back to school. I had my job because I needed money, but it was nothing that I wanted to be doing, and school seemed like the best choice.

I had initially planned on continuing with my previous major, computer science. Computers have always fascinated me, and I think it’s a relevant and meaningful career choice, especially considering the huge part they play in our lives.

While I was going to school I met some people who were doing the same as me; Furthering their education with the intention of getting a better job. But I also met people who were going to school for another reason; They were chasing their dreams. The more I thought about it, the wider the gap between those two groups seemed to be.

As I mentioned, I really like computers, but as I started taking these classes and spending more and more time in front of a computer, coding and debugging programs, making flow charts and plotting graphics, I realized that though it was still interesting to me, I didn’t want to do it as a career.

I thought that perhaps instead of trying to find a career, I should try to earn a living doing things that I was passionate about, and after some thought, arrived at the three things that occupy most of my free time; Writing, playing music, and playing poker.

I’ve been into music for as long as I can remember and I’ve been playing guitar for over half of my life. I’m no virtuoso, but I’m pretty decent, and I’ve played in some really good bands.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time and money learning to play poker, and once again, while I’m no virtuoso, I’ve got a pretty solid game. I’ve cashed in some tournaments, and I’m generally a profitable cash game player.

Writing is something I’ve always been good at. Although I sometimes struggle with things that I’m writing about, I never struggle when it comes to the act of writing. It’s how I express myself most effectively. I am absolutely in love with the written word, and the unlimited potential it has.

Anyway, my thought process concerning my unhappiness with my job, was that while I may not be able to make a living off just one of my passions, I’d probably do okay if I had more time to devote to all three of them. So that’s what I decided to do.

I started talking to people about some potential writing work and received several positive responses. I’m playing in a band that should be playing out by summer, and with my tax refund, I have a some money to live off for awhile, and a start to my poker bankroll. I figured If I didn’t seize the opportunity then, I probably never would, so I put in my two week notice and quit my job.

For all the people who cringe at the thought of quitting a job in this economy, I didn’t make this little walk on the wire without a net. I have some construction work lined up in the spring with a flexible enough schedule to allow me to chase some dreams, and I’m going back to school full time in the fall.

Some people will read this and think it’s crazy. Hell, half the time I think it’s crazy. But crazy isn’t a synonym for bad. What’s bad is continually spending time doing things that make you unhappy. Continually spending time in a place you don’t want to be, just to get by. To continually spend time around people that drag you down, mentally and emotionally, and to waste years of your life in pursuit of someone else’s definition of success. These are things that are bad.

This quote by John Lennon has stuck with me and always comes to mind when I think about success and happiness.

“When I was 5-years-old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

I believe that there is more to life than a white picket fence, an S.U.V., and 2.3 kids. This is not the American Dream, and more importantly it’s not my dream. We live in a culture that places immense value on the possession of things, and more often than not, we allow those things to define who we are, and dictate our path in life.

I want my daughter to lead an extraordinary life. I want her to grow up knowing that she can truly be whatever she wants to be. I want her to strive for happiness, and I want that to dictate her actions, not a desire for things, or the belief that there is only one way to be successful. I want her to be far more afraid of not trying, than trying and failing, and I want her to be able to define and attain success on her own terms.

I want to break free of the belief that doing things that make you unhappy, in order to attain happiness, makes any kind of sense. Life is not all smiles and sunshine. It’s full of good times as well as bad. But it’s also far too short to spend very much of it doing things that make you unhappy.

I’m not encouraging you to quit your job and go traipsing off in search of crazy dreams. I’m encouraging you to examine your life and your level of happiness. Are you really happy? If not, what are you waiting for?

I know it’s not easy to question everything you’ve been taught, and rely more on a belief in yourself than in those teachings. For the record though, there was no promise that life would be easy. In fact, life doesn’t really offer any promises up at all. All that life offers is potential.

I don’t have all the answers, but I think the first step in finding the right answers, is to ask the right questions. The world is an amazing place, but most of us never take the time nor the initiative to see what it has to offer.

John Lennon had it right about people not understanding life. It’s easy to get caught up in the tide of popular opinion, and it’s hard to break free from that mode of thinking. I think however, that that’s absolutely necessary to be happy.

Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, but I have one more than I did previously, and I’m one step further along in the journey. And if someone were to ask me now what I want to be when I grow up, my answer would simply be “Happy.”

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