Sunday, April 10, 2011

Desires and Convictions: When Being Childish is a Good Thing

When I announced to my friends and acquaintances that I was going to be adopting a puppy, I was met with a barrage of negativity and seemingly well-intended (though unsolicited) advice. A fairly large number of people older and wiser than I told me repeatedly that is was a bad idea, that it would tie me down and just about destroy my life. I did let it get to me somewhat, enough to crush some of my initial excitement, but I still went through with it, because I really wanted a goddamn dog.

Roughly one year later, I have a healthy and happy dog named Fortinbras sharing a house with me. He has destroyed numerous possessions, caused a fair share of trouble, and been quite an inconvenience at times. He also curls up with me in bed at night, and makes me laugh and smile every time I come home or take him out, as well as many times in between. He is the only thing in my life that consistently makes me happy, and I love him to death. He satisfies my instinct to nurture as well as my need for companionship. Adopting him was arguably the best decision I ever made.

When we are children we are told we can do anything we set our minds to, and encouraged to follow our dreams no matter what. We want to be things like astronauts, doctors, ballerinas, inventors. When we get older though, realism comes into play. "I'm not physically built to do this," or "I'm not smart enough to do that," or "I'll never make a living that way." But more often than not, it is merely a case of "I don't want to put in the effort."

We develop schemata for ourselves that seem to fall into two main categories. Those who believe they can't, and those who believe they can. The way we think shapes our decisions, actions and behaviors so drastically that it has a significant effect on our futures, and our lives are directed thusly. So much that, if you expect some new food to taste bad, then it probably will, and if you're hoping that girl you meet on your blind date will be awesome, she probably will be. Many people give up the things they want in favor of a "smarter" decision. They favor settling for something less instead of using it as a stepping stone for something better. They develop notions of what they "should" do and what is easier to do and set themselves up wasted potential without even realizing it. Oftentimes they simply let a fear of failure hold them back.

Then there are people who keep dreaming, who never lose sight of what they want, and constantly try to figure out how to get there. A fine example is Randy Pausch, an extraordinary man who managed to fulfill most all of his desires in his short lifetime, including working for Disney and being launched into space. People of this sort hate to be told there is something they can't or shouldn't do, on principal, and will often go out of their way to prove themselves. They may develop a pattern perceived as childish stubbornness, being drawn to goals specifically because of the notion that they're the sorts of things they're expected not to do. These people want things, and they are motivated and invigorated by frustration and dissatisfaction, and their convictions are made stronger by people who disagree. And with enough effort, they can usually get shit done and make themselves happy.

I have realized something about myself recently, which is that I fall into the second category. After going for a long time with no desires in particular, I find myself wanting things because for very strange reasons. Why does joining the army veterinary corp sound so enticing? Because it's precisely the sort of thing that is not expected of me. Why did did I get a dog? In part, because I was told not to. And I don't regret a thing.

What kind of person are you?