As parents we often ask what our children can do. We base our decisions about what they should do, on what they can currently do. If a child can understand math really well, we decide that they should take some advanced math courses early on. Ah, memories of college trigonometry and calculus in the 10th grade are screaming back. If a child can play basketball well, we push them into the sport, encourage them to train harder, practice more, etc. There are endless examples of this behavior and it follows us into adulthood. We continue to do what we CAN, because it’s easy. We don’t take the kid getting C-‘s in freshman algebra and put them into college math courses. We don’t take the star golfer and put him on the defensive line in football. We don’t baptize our kids in fire. Maybe that’s a good thing in these extreme examples, but maybe we’re holding them back in less extreme cases.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a talent for the visual arts. Painting, sketching, sculpture, and several other forms always came easy to me. I suppose you could say it was in my genes, as my mother was a painter as well. She was actually really talented too, but at some point gave it up. I used to think that she had lost her spark, lost that little inspiration inside that drives you to create. While I do still think that to a degree, I’ve had to alter my perception. Story time…
My entire life, I’ve been an “artist.” In elementary school I was constantly drawing, coloring, painting, doing anything I could to create something visual. I actually came up with some pretty original things too (I’m lucky enough to have saved some of them). Moving into high school my skill continued to grow, and I dove further and further into the world of art. When it came time for college, I didn’t give it a second thought. I became an art major. I’m not kidding when I say that I literally never gave it ANY thought. Like a reflex, I just chose art. It was what I knew I could do, and that made me assume it was what I should do. Nevermind the fact that at the time I was a math whiz, burning through advanced math classes and standardized tests faster than they could throw them at me. Forget the fact that I had also found writing came to me as easily as a sneeze. Oh, and don’t worry about my then newfound love of playing music (the last 4 generations of my family are all musicians). I didn’t think of any of these things, and neither did anyone else.
Fast forward a few years into my college career and it all hit me like a tidal wave. I realized that while I mildly enjoyed art, was fairly talented, and had dedicated almost 2 decades of my life to it, I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. Tuition, art supplies, and years of my life went swirling down the collegiate drain. Music took over my life, with writing being my fallback. FYI, if you ever read anything I’ve written, be it poetry, fiction, or this blog, it’s because the idea I had couldn’t be put to a melody. Music is first, writing is its long forgotten cousin. 🙂
One more casualty of this war of “can vs should” is college itself. I had great grades, high ACT scores, and 3 state universities within 3 hours of my home town. Why wouldn’t I go to college? The question that I should have asked, or better yet, an experienced adult in my life should have asked, was SHOULD I go to college? The answer, looking back, was no. After leaving the art program, spending a short time in the english department, and then an even shorter time contemplating becoming a music major, I dropped out. Not to sound too cliché, but I decided to just focus on my band. What I realized after all of that time in college was that I HATE school. You don’t expect someone who breezes through school, and can get good grades without even trying, to hate school but I do. I enjoyed my intro philosophy class, and my ethics class, but I later realized that I just enjoyed having intelligent discussions with people. That was just as easily accomplished at friends’ houses, and was much cheaper.
So now I’m older, mildly wiser, and have learned to ask myself the question, “Should I do this?” As americans we have the phrase “Yes We Can” tattooed on our brains after last year’s election. I love you Obama, but you’re looking at the wrong damn side of the coin. Sure we can. We can do a lot of things. We can tap anyone’s phone in america without any real cause. We can enslave an entire race of people. We can initiate and engage in wars all around the world, and even win them. Should we? If you can truthfully answer, “Yes we/I should,” then do it I guess, but nobody is asking that question.
We are blessed to live in a country where we CAN do just about anything that we want. You can make babies like it’s going out of style. You can beat those babies until their almost dead on the floor. You can buy a gun in many midwestern states without ever showing an ID, or even getting a receipt, and it’s totally legal. You can buy, and consume as much alcohol and tobacco as you could possibly want. You can keep in touch with every single person you’ve ever even glanced at through sites like Facebook. You can distract yourself from the real world with technology nearly ever waking second of the day. It’s the American “CAN-do” spirit, but should you?
I haven’t picked up a paint brush, pencil, or lump of clay in years and I’m happier for it. I’m so close to completing my degree, and could without breaking a sweat, but I SHOULDN’T! I can have kids, and should be a parent. Therefore, I am. I make music because it makes me happy. I workout at the gym, because it makes me happy. I have a garden because it makes me happy. I have two dogs because it makes me happy. I show a sometimes embarrassing level of affection and attraction to my wife, because she makes me happy. These are all things that I’ve critically examined and have concluded should be done, and not simply because they can be done. Anyone can do what I do in my life. Anyone can sing better than me, or workout harder, etc, etc. But most people will never ask themselves if they should have done it. Most people on their deathbeds, or even on their “27 year old beds” won’t ask themselves if they should have lived the life they did. Most people just worry if they CAN live the life that they’re already living. The next time you’re about to make a decision, big or small, on something that you can do, ask yourself if you should do it. Start looking at every aspect of your life through those glasses, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming like me. Someone who is so affectionately referred to as, a psychopath.