I had lunch the other day with a lifeguard at the local . She’s the same age as my twins, who flew the nest several years ago and are both pursuing college degrees in other cities.
Having raised them myself, I miss them terribly at times. I was gratified that Taylor, whom I’ve gotten to know quite well during my pool workouts every week, would agree to spend some time chatting with a relative stranger. Our date was a real highlight in my week. I knew she was taking summer school classes as she moves toward completion of her own degree.
But in getting to know her better, I learned that she’s one of the millions of young adults who is currently adrift in the waters of higher education. She’s not quite sure what she wants to do.
I realized how lucky I was to have two children who each chose a field of study and stuck with it. For my son, it seemed almost preordained. He was artistic from day one, and I was lucky enough to be able to give him art lessons from the time he started kindergarten. He toyed with becoming an actor for a while, but got back on track when it was time to commit. He’ll graduate next spring with a degree in fashion design.
My daughter loves people and social events. She considered hospitality or event planning until I pointed out the major drawbacks of working weekends and holidays. She always adored children, though, and so took the ball of elementary education and ran with it. I know she'll make a great teacher.
Looking back, they appeared to effortlessly glide into programs that fit their talents and passion. I didn’t have to deal with crises like changing majors (or even schools!), and everything seemed to move forward seamlessly for both of them. Believe me, I’m fully aware of what a blessing this is to all three of us.
So I worried about what advice I could give this remarkable, hard-working young lady. It’s not like I had a lot of experience! It occurred to me that she needed a sense of focus. We dissected this concept while digesting a delectable lobster lunch, after which I explored the word to see if I could get even more insight.
Focus is defined (in noun form) as “the centre of interest or activity” (Oxford English Dictionary). That’s just what Taylor was struggling with. She was interested in a whole range of pursuits, from science to theater! She knew the pros and cons of these potential paths. This word is also very involved with the sense of sight, being “the quality of having or producing clear visual definition.” Focused objects “meet at a single point.”
When energy is focused, it becomes “concentrated into a sharp beam.” Yep, sounds like just what the doctor ordered for any confused young person on the cusp of choosing a life path. It’s also one of the 1,000 most frequently used words! Why is it so hard to do?
The derivation is eponymous, the Latin focus, meaning — of all things — a domestic hearth or fire. Wow, what an image! Experts theorize that this word morphed into is contemporary meaning after the discovery that a lens is able to focus the sun’s energy into a condensed point powerful enough to ignite paper. Much comes into play when trying to focus on a career choice — in the ideal situation it should happen in the security of the home setting, with supporting friends and family involved, hearth-side, if you will.
A young person could use his “fire in the belly” as a basis for the decision. Wouldn't it be great to put all that hot energy into your future field of endeavor? Yes, it’s a good word for this exercise, and yet I’m afraid that too many young people are forced to move forward without this particular sense of focus to guide them along the way.
I was able to follow a career in the health professions that arose from my love of science, but as the years went by I saw the field overtaken by more people who simply wanted a guaranteed paycheck and good benefits. Who could blame them?
My son's roommate is a painter, and his best friend is a photography major. They are more than aware of the uphill road to decent employment that awaits them after graduation next year. They were brave enough to pursue their dreams in spite of the relentless contraction of support for the arts in this country. As seniors, they'll be focusing on finding the best possible internship (without remuneration, most likely), scratching and clawing their way to a potential job offer.
I cannot even allow my mind to envision failure for them. They're just too valuable, too good at what they do. Why have we put them in this terrible predicament?
I'm afraid I wasn't much help to Taylor, except to listen with compassion while she voiced her concerns. Perhaps she, my son's friends, and others would benefit from this thought voiced by the Dalia Lama: I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.
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