Confession: Sometimes I imagine a life for myself as a Broadway singer. Not the star of the musical, because even my imagined self doesn’t have that good of a voice, but making my living singing and dancing.
In fact, right now as I’m supposed to be preparing dinner, I’m listening to my spotify playlist of SMASH and Broadway show tunes and checking my favorite performers’ twitter feeds.
I’m having an early-adult-life-crisis.
It’s not that I don’t love my life, or that I actually want to pack up my family and move to New York. It’s more that sometimes I feel like there are things that I enjoy, things that I am somewhat good at, that I don’t get to do much anymore. High schoolers have it pretty good, at least in my thinking. They get to participate in numerous sports, sing and dance and perform in musicals and choirs, play whatever instruments they choose, join debate teams and language clubs and chess tournaments and everyone bends over backwards to get them to those rehearsals and performances and games and meetings.
Not so much once you become an adult. Playtime is over and you better be damn sure that the vocation you’ve chosen will fulfill you all the livelong days.
We Americans are encouraged to specialize – to become experts and professionals in one narrow field, so that we can beat out the competition, land the prized job, become respected, and pay the bills. Even within these narrow fields, we are encouraged to focus even narrower, to the point where only three people in the world will have enough knowledge and expertise to recognize how damn good you really are at your job.
In grad school, it wasn’t enough to declare that I was in the M.A. in English program, in the Literature and Writing track. The next question would be, “what are you going to specialize in?” Dude, I dunno. I thought I was doing pretty good to figure out by the ripe old age of 25 that no, I did not want to be a theologian, or teach elementary school, or teach high school, or be a professional musician, or five other things that I either tried out or had been educated for.
And then I learned what specializing really means…it means that you choose a small field within the field, and write articles about those works or authors for an obscure academic journal that 25 people read, all in the attempt to get publication credits on your CV so that when you’re one applicant out of 250 vying for that one tenure track position, you stand a chance at getting the job.
Well, that’s a bit of a cynical take, and I do actually enjoy writing nerdy academic articles. But the point is, it’s all very pragmatic. Why specialize? Why are we encouraging kids to choose one degree, one emphasis, one job as their target, from increasingly younger and younger ages?
To compete, to land the job, to be successful.
None of those things are fulfilling, necessarily. Any one thing is not fulfilling, necessarily.
I am not fulfilled by motherhood, alone. I am not fulfilled by my chosen profession of teaching, alone. I am not fulfilled by having a good marriage, alone.
And this is not the truth we are told by Disney movies and romantic comedies and our high school and college guidance counselors and a culture that has turned babies into a commodity.
What fulfills me is the moments in my day when I am connecting with the immaterial within the material. When I have eyes to see and ears to hear, and my soul is fed by something spiritual in the midst of the very physical world I live in, of potty training and muddy footprints in the dining room and crumbs everywhere.
Fulfillment is soul nourishment, and sometimes it means receiving and sometimes it means giving.
When my husband and I share a joke that is only funny to us because of our 12 year history of a sometimes difficult and sometimes happy marriage. When I have a craving to paint something and I sit down with my kids and the watercolors and experiment and make something that looks beautiful to me. When my body tells me to run and I listen to it and am rewarded with more energy for the rest of the afternoon. When I see my students’ eyes light up just a little as we discuss an article we read about Mother Teresa serving the poor. When I just can’t stand how cute my boy is and I curl him up in a ball in my lap and eat his face until he’s laughing “stop, Mama!”. When I’m inspired by my Broadway longing to sing a song at church and it feels good to contribute to worship. When I take an extra deep breath and don’t snap at my daughter at bedtime and am grateful for connection instead of conflict in the moments before sleep. When I sit down and write and write and something finally comes out of me that’s been stuck inside for too long.
I’m not going to specialize. I’m going to persist in pursuing a life as a Renaissance woman. I may not ever make it on Broadway, but I’ll be singing show tunes in my shower for the rest of my life.