In early June, our family traveled to Washington DC for the Toshiba Exploravision Awards Weekend. Emma and her two friends – Lola and Lela – accepted first place in the K-3 category for their science project on baby sea turtles.
The fact that they won first place is still somewhat stunning – not because they didn’t deserve it, but because winning was never really on their radar screen. Their project -the S.T.A.R. Sea Turtle Assistant Rod – was borne out of Lola’s summer vacation to the Outer Banks, where she learned that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive the journey from nest to ocean. It’s the ultimate underdog story, and we Philadelphians are suckers for a good underdog story. Just watch Silver Linings Playbook.
The all-expense paid trip to DC was a whirlwind event:
The girls met their congressmen
They had TV and radio interviews with Bill Nye the Science Guy,
and presented their project to the Toshiba executives at the National Press Club.
But there is one moment from the weekend that stands out in my mind. The girls were being interviewed at the National Press Club in front of an audience of over 200 people. The interviewer asked each girl a few questions, and then wrapped it up by asking Lola:
“What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you want to do something with animals or sea turtles?”
After a brief pause, Lola answered: “I don’t really know yet.”
The crowd laughed, because Lola is adorable and charming – and of course, why would she know? Such a perfect, honest answer. But when the girls came back to their seats, they put their heads together and whispered to each other. I heard Lola say:
“If they ask that again, what do I say? A vet? No, wait….a marine biologist!”
Then she repeated “marine biologist” a few times so she would remember how to pronounce it. This made me so sad for reasons I couldn’t name at the time. But the sound of Lola’s voice repeating “marine biologist” haunted me. It popped into my head just last week, at a Fourth of July BBQ, when someone asked me the dreaded question:
“What do you do?”
Suddenly I am Lola, up on stage under hot lights with a mic in my face; an audience of brilliant science nerds eagerly awaiting my insightful answer. I go from being in the moment, happily sipping my wine spritzer and enjoying the salty summer air to a state of total panic. My mind is now running the show. It sits in a director’s chair and shouts into a megaphone:
“Plug your blog! Give the yoga spiel! Play the mom card! Say you’re a marine biologist….anything!! JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION!!”
What I wanted to say was: “I do a lot of things. But right now I am here talking to you.” But instead I mumbled some lame answer about yoga and then booked it to the bar for a big girl glass of wine, sans spritzer.
When presented with these future-oriented questions, our mind yells “Action!” – or more specifically – “Re-action!” That is it’s job – the mind reacts. My mind reacts to pretty much everything like a monkey on speed. It is never satisfied with what is happening in the present moment. If I am writing this blog, I should be doing the laundry. If I am doing the laundry I should be writing the blog. It 100% wants me to be somewhere else, doing something else, talking to someone else, becoming someone else.
I am not promoting a life of inaction or navel gazing. But I am trying to take a step back and notice the difference between action and reaction. Lola took action to save the sea turtles because she was inspired to help the hatchlings survive. Thinking she now needs to be a marine biologist just because she loves sea turtles is a reaction to being trapped by an adult’s question and trying to give the “right” answer.
Action = I am doing this because it feels inspired or right for me.
Reaction = I am doing this because it feels like you maybe want me to do this, so it must be the right thing because you are probably smarter/older/wiser/better dressed than me. So…am I doing it right? Is this the right answer? Bueller? Wait…why am I doing this again?
In his book The Great Work of Your Life (a great read about dharma based on the Bhagavad Gita) Stephen Cope writes:
Longing for our idealized images of life separates us from our true selves and from our true callings.
What if we stopped asking our children “what do you want to be,” and replaced it with: “What do you love to do? What is your favorite activity? When do you lose track of time? When do you feel most alive?”
Maybe Lola will be a marine biologist someday. Or a teacher or CEO or fashion designer…or some new hybrid profession she invents all on her own. Who knows?
But the only thing Lola needs to be at eight years old is Lola.
The only thing Lola needs to be when she grows up is Lola.
And the only thing I need to be at thirty-eight is me. Not the future-idealized-finally-got-my-shit-together-me – I’m talking about the me that is sitting here right now, writing this blog. The braless, dirty-haired, no-career stay at home mom who is typing these words to you. And all you need to be is the you that is sitting there reading them.
In his closing speech at the Toshiba Exploravision Banquet, Bill Nye talked about finding our “place in space.” Perhaps the first step in discovering our dharma is claiming the space we are already in. Meeting ourselves as we are right now with compassion, acceptance and curiosity.
Maybe at this very moment, we are all exactly where we need to be.