Last week, I paid a pair of plumbers €140 for a job that took less than an hour and I found myself wondering: Why didn’t I become a plumber?
Perhaps it was because in my early years, I mistakenly believed that I wouldn’t amount to anything, if I didn’t graduate from the right university or if I didn’t secure a job of high repute. Becoming a plumber would have disappointed my family – who invested in my education – and I did not wish for that.
In a way, I was impaired by a certain sense of unearned entitlement, believing that I was destined for a golden future because my family had sent me off to the ‘good’ schools. In What is Man, Mark Twain wrote that “everything has its limit” and that an “iron ore cannot be educated into gold” and I believed that my limits were that of gold, never really asking the question of what I really was.
Sandbox wisdom dictates that we simply live up to our own fullest potential regardless of our metal; but, recent studies in social psychology suggest that having an understanding of who we are and setting authentic goals – goals that are genuine to ourselves – enhances our chances of attainment. Unfortunately, my fancy education never really offered me such goals, but instead, offered me a prix-fixe menu of goals (which did not include plumbing). If anything, I often confuse(d) authentic goals from goals that were simply thrust upon me by the school or social/familial pressures; so while I am generally happy with my life, I still struggle with finding authentic goals.
I don’t think I am alone in this as many of us do not dare to test the true boundaries of our mettle. To quote Twain again, “thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered – either by themselves or by others.” I’m not saying that we could all be “geniuses” with more self-introspection, but perhaps I could have been a rich, happy plumber. If so, maybe my over-priced education was just an ill-advised attempt at doomed alchemy?
If there is any point to my ramblings, which I doubt, it would be to caution the younger generation from repeating my mistake: Don’t over-rely on schools and family expectations to define who you are or what you want to do. Research shows that you are less likely to attain them anyway. Rather, search for the answer within, on your own. If it helps, Mark Twain never finished elementary school.
Mark Kawakami, assistant professor at the Faculty of Law