How could I dream of
Such a selfless and true love
Could I wash my hands of
Just looking out for me?
- Fleet Foxes
My Dad’s parents fought hard to provide a stable home and a good education for my Dad, but they also had very strong ideas about what he should do with his life. They pushed him to take on the family business, and he left behind work that was, at the time, dearer to him.
My Mom’s parents fought hard to give her the resources to travel, and to get a good education, but they too pushed her to make the choices and live the kind of life they felt was right.
In response to this my parents, and to some extent their entire generation, fought hard to send a different message to their kids: that we can do anything we set our mind to.
I’ve met many people my age who grew up under a similar refrain. And it seems to have worked, in many ways. We set our sights high, and we set them based on our individual desires. If we love to cook, we understand that we can be the world’s greatest chef. Where our grandparents would’ve said “Don’t be a musician, be a banker”, our parents said “Yes, you can be a great musician”.
And not all parents succeed at this. I know a woman who tells her unemployed son constantly what he can’t do: that he can’t hold down a job, that he can’t get off drugs. Those kinds of expectations from your parents can be devastating.
So while I’m grateful for the gift of You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To, I am starting to understand the challenge it sets up for me: the expectations I set, freely and of my own desires, can be crushing.
It haunts me to know that everything I haven’t done, I haven’t done because I didn’t Set My Mind to it. Instead of laying responsibility on my parents, or my world, everything is my fault. Not running a successful research lab? I guess I didn’t set my mind to it. Not out having sexy times with sexy people on a Friday night? I guess I didn’t set my mind to it. Pie crust came out chewy? I think we know who the culprit is.
And so the project I find myself facing—the wall I hope to drop my kids on the other side of—is learning to read and accept my capabilities and deep inclinations. To know what kind of work I am best at, and to allow myself to do it. And to listen to what my body and mind need (not crave) in each moment, and seek it.
And to accept that whatever I set my mind to, and whatever I achieve, I am OK. Good will come of me, and that is enough.
God help my children with whatever neuroses this worldview breeds.