What would you pursue, design, or accomplish if money were no object?
Today my soon-to-be high school seniors were faced with the question above for a supplemental college essay to be submitted with their Common Applications this fall. Great question, right? I mean think of the possible answers for a question like that… It is fantastic! Not so much for a group of 17 year old boys. They sat quietly for a few moments. Then one spoke up, “So, um, what exactly does it mean, money being no object?” -Okay, fair enough, I can help with that one. Then: “You know, really? All I want to do is sit in front of my laptop.” – No way, I said, wouldn’t you get bored? “I don’t know. I don’t think so,” the reply. Next, “What does money have to do with it?” – Alright, again, I can speak to this. Still, a sense of disconnect permeated the room.
“Right, okay. Consider this: what is the first thing anyone ever says when you suggest doing something a little crazy or maybe spontaneous?” I asked.
“Okay, so if I said, ‘Hey, I just won the lottery, you guys wanna go to Europe, or New Zealand, or anywhere you can think of?” They chuckled. [Seventeen year-olds are so over imaginary games.] “Seriously, we could leave tomorrow, wanna go?” Still quiet. “Well, what would be the first response to that question if I were being serious?”
“Precisely. So this question is asking you… what you would do if you never had to say, ‘I can’t…'”
“Oh, like The Bucket List?” I nodded. They had grasped it… All of a sudden they knew what they would do. One would go to space, one would travel the world collecting information on indigenous medicinal practices, one would design the ultimate ‘smart-design’ house, one would buy an island. Now we were on to something. So, I asked them… why?
I have recently been considering the same question that Colgate University put to their prospective freshman. A ‘bucket list’ for the living sort of. Not really so out of the ordinary for someone who is fascinated by lists, but an interesting exercise. And the irony is that the things I want the most I find myself embarrassed to even write down, let alone say out loud, because of my instinctive response to come up with all the reasons why something will not, or cannot, work. Exactly what I teach my students not to do.
In a state of personal transition that is starting to really drive me crazy, my friends Chris and Adele said, “Write down what you really want, articulate it. Make it real.” Sure, it does sound easy. Then the other day I finally watched Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and, aside from Scarlett Johansson not being able to act, it really resonated. There you are, at the end of the story with one final evidential fact:
“Cristina continued searching… certain only, of what she didn’t want.”
And yesterday, finally acting on the obvious signs of my job dissatisfaction, my office manager asked me to spend some time seriously thinking about my role in the company. “What kind of package do you want?” She asked. What did I want, would I write down what I want. Such a simple premise.
Just like the one I gave the boys.
It has always been easier for me to identify what I do not want. I think most people probably share this habit of mind. It is a pretty lame framework really. And honestly I am only writing about it to avoid the more real question, which is: What Do I Want? Perhaps the issue is that people are afraid to lose opportunities for things they have yet to consider if they articulate aspirations for other things. My BFFs youngest daughter until quite recently would never identify a favorite or even a preference for anything when she was asked, and it had totally to do with her instinctive caginess: Kirra never wanted to take the chance that she might miss out on something because someone thought it was not her preference. Well played for a >6. There is also the possibility that people are afraid of what their “wants” will say about them in the eyes of others. Or that their propositions will somehow indicate a judgment that something else is not acceptable.
And what do I want need?
- I want need a five day work week
- I want need to be able to take time off so I no longer have to say, “I can’t…”
- I want need to be back in the classroom, using my brain in a dynamic situation
- I want need the chance to spend time with my friends in places near and far
- I want need to be able to spend more time with my family
- I want need to see more live music
- I want need to stop being tired
- I want to travel more
- I want to be swept off my feet by something/someone amazing (I am flexible here)
As far as the more tangible things? Salaries? Stuff? I am not so concerned about any of it. For real, as long as I have my cats and my books and my camera I am good to go. That is pretty freeing really. Seeing the list in writing, it doesn’t appear so daunting. But I still can barely read it out loud.
And as for the secondary question I posed to the boys… Why? The first answer that comes to mind is, “Why not?” The more relevant answer though, is because I know what I don’t want, and none of it is on that list. As for a bucket list? Well, that one is longer and far more glamorous. I will let you know how it goes.