One day I woke up in the morning after a night in my bed and I found myself smack in the middle of a forest. As I reluctantly dragged myself from the bedding, I dimly thought to myself that on earlier occasions, I had felt a little lost and the feeling soon got numbed out by the busyness of that day and was forgotten: but never before had I been so sure that I was completely lost. I got ready for work and as I walked the short distance to the office, I once again saw the distant hills on the horizon and wondered what would happen if I just walk on past the office and aimed for those hills. What lay beyond them? Would I find that which I seemed to have lost? Would the hills be the compass that would guide me to where I was supposed to be? And as those thoughts went through my head, I was already in the office and ready to start yet another day that would seemingly not be different from the one before, or the one that would come after that. One day could be interchanged with the other and I wouldn’t tell the difference. Whereas this monotony had worked before to get me through the day, this time I was acutely aware; like a boil that suddenly breaks out after months of paining just under the skin.
My mind told me that when I was younger, I knew what the right path was.
As a young boy, I could not wait for the next day because I was excited by the turn of events in the next chapter of the novel I was reading. That morning, the only book that I would read talked about how to get rich and be successful.
As a young boy, I would look forward to the next morning because the class test results would be released and I knew I had done well. That morning, learning something new was such a drag and each attempt would have ended up half done.
As a young boy, I would look forward to the holidays because I would meet and catch up with relatives I had not seen in a long time. That morning, holidays were a drag because they would force me to spend time with relatives I no longer enjoyed being with for all the fights and acrimony.
As a young boy, I looked forward to the weekly market day because my Mother would inevitably bring home some exotic fruits that we would scramble for with my siblings. That morning, I could walk into any shop and buy anything I wanted and it would just end up being more clutter in my house.
As a young boy, I had a sense of direction into the future; I had Primary school to finish and then Secondary school and then University; all these stages of my life were ahead of me and they required my commitment. That morning, I could not see myself living like this anymore…there simply was no point.
As a young boy, I liked Sunday School and read the family Bible every evening before sleeping; the stories in the old Testament inspired me with the knowledge that good always triumphed over evil and the New Testament enabled me to take stock of my thoughts, words and actions and the value that they had in the life that I lived. That morning, anyone and everything was expendable; simply put, the end would have justified any means.
Somewhere between being the young boy and becoming a grown up man, I seemed to have diverted from my path and wandered into the bush. When did that happen? The place that I found myself in was lonely and terrifying. All the obligations and the responsibilities that came with being an adult seemed overwhelming, and there didn’t seem to be anyone to guide me from going wrong. All the people who used to tell me what to do now assumed that from the looks of things, I already knew what I was doing; in any case, I was an adult, right? And even when I did alright, I did not have anyone to encourage me and give me a pat on the back; and for those that did, I could not even be sure that they weren’t hiding a knife in the palm of their hand. The friends that I used to know and who we used to swap young life stories with were no better than me; they too were up to the neck engrossed in charting out their paths in the adult wilderness to pay much attention to anything else.
And on that morning, it felt like I had wandered further; from the bush, and now I was deep in the forest. It felt like the classic ‘got to the top of the ladder and realize that it is leaning on the wrong wall’ scenario. So I told myself that I would need to retrace my steps from where I was and back to the path that used to make sense to me. For as it seemed at that time, my job, my social life, my health, my habits did not seem to align with any of the values that I held dear. That is what made every day seem intolerable. I could not remember the last time that I was excited about anything; all the things that used to give joy were now too many and too common. The people that used to bring joy were either too far away or aloof. I could not recognize the sound that I made when I attempted to laugh and smiling had become such a strange ritual that it felt like it would crack my face. Even the trees looked plastic.
So one day I asked my older brother, “What did I want to be when I was growing up?” He laughed out loud and said, “A bus driver”. That statement made me feel bad because I could not possibly start thinking that retracing my steps to becoming a bus driver was what I needed. I would have hoped for him to say a doctor, or a pilot or some other career that would pose a new and magnificent challenge and that would have indicated that I was ambitious from the start. But, a bus driver?
Despite not having been pleased with that answer, I noted it and always remember it.
This morning when I think about it, I realize that when we are young, we look at life with eyes that enable us to make decisions that are in line with the things that matter most to us. The reason is because we are yet to be tainted by the cynicsm to the different facets of life that develops as people grow older. When I look at my desire to become a bus driver in the 1970s, and when I look at the idea from the eyes of the boy that I used to be, something changes in my current perception. I realize that having known a bus driver, I admired the responsibility that the bus driver had; being in charge of the lives of complete strangers and making sure that you take them safely to their destinies. In my mind, a driver was a disciplined worker who woke up early in the morning and kept good time, a knowledgeable person who got to interact with different characters in his day to day and hence was able to have a firsthand look at the form that life takes for different individuals. A driver’s life was filled with the adventures of visiting new places as well as the thrills of the journey. And being that the bus was the biggest vehicle of them all, the job was also good for the ego. Given my limited knowledge in careers the only person who would have been very responsible, wise in the ways of the world and in the ways of human beings and who would have fun, adventure and prestige in their place of work was a bus driver.
That day when my brother said “A bus driver”, I thought about the perception that we have about what a career should mean these days; prestige, fame and fortune. And with the sneer and disdain with which we look at the ‘noble’ careers, what would then happen to the teachers and the nurses and the policemen and the truck drivers that inspired the children of the 70s? You can see that many of them are very demoralized.
When you look at the person that you wanted to be when you were young, can you find the high and noble inspirations that you had for yourself? If you need a path through which to retrace your steps, this is as good a point as any to take you back to the essential you.
Also, whatever your child might tell you they want to be when they grow up, can you extract the values that are going to keep your boy or girl in the right path for the rest of their lives? Can you go ahead and encourage them rather than scold them for choosing a career that does not conform to what you think is best for them? It just might be that even before they are born, children know exactly what they want in life and how to get there best…of course with a little guidance from us.