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Student's Journal

Childhood dreams come back to save us.


Many of us take a job early in life that seems to offer everything we could want in a job: it puts bread on the table, clothes on our back, a car in the garage, and an interesting group of people to work with.

But an increasing number of us find, as we move toward mid-life, that we grow restless, like a caged tiger pacing back and forth within its cage. And eventually, we realize that our work is the problem. We weigh it in the balance, and find it wanting. It feeds our body, but not our soul.

Long forgotten questions resurface in our mind, such as "Why am I here on earth? What was I put here to do? What is it I want to accomplish with my life, before I die?" We want to feel passionate about our work, so we search for clues. And, strangely enough, we often find the best clues back in our childhood.

Something about that period – our childhood – that made us see things more clearly than we knew, for we were innocents, and our business was to play. It is in our childhood play that the clues most often are found.

It was also our business as a child to daydream. And the phrase we often hear, today – "Find the job of your dreams" – harkens back to our childhood dreams, when dreaming was what we did best.


The Story of Anne

  All of this is perfectly summarized in the true story of Anne. She is a woman who tried to make her living, for many years, as, first, a musician, and then, as owner of her own small business. But neither satisfied her. After twenty years of this, someone told her she needed to go after her passion – and said it in a way that she could hear. She went to a career counselor, who had her write seven achievements of which she was proud, and then search for the skills they all used. "The common theme," she discovered, "was that I live for data. I like to gather it, analyze it, look at it, reproduce it, organize it and dream about it."

For insight as to "What kind of data?" the counselor examined with her each of her seven achievements. But let her tell her own story, "The one which jumped out at the career counselor was the fact that I had taught myself genetics in my childhood. He encouraged me to talk about what I'd done in genetics, particularly in sixth grade. After listening, he pointed out that most sixth graders do not invent races of people and then think about how all the racial characteristics would be inherited, or spend hours drawing out the predicted results of every kind of cross imaginable between my race and all the others."

So that was it. Her favorite skills were with data, and her favorite data was genetics. "I finally came to understand that I was a geneticist, whether or not I made my living that way." And this passion had manifested itself in her childhood, as early as sixth grade.

She knew she had to do something about that childhood dream, even though the idea was daunting for two reasons. One was that she was 39. The other was that she is legally blind.


Anne found the strength by pressing into service the delighted child that she once was.

  "The thought of working in the lab to transfer 50 50-microliter aliquots of liquid from one flask to another was maddening to me at age 39. But the six year old Anne who filled her grandmother's drawer with tiny bottles and longed desperately for a way to transfer liquid accurately between them, found the experience absolutely delightful."

Anne also pressed into service from childhood the skills she'd learned from being blind.

  "I knew, because I'd had to do it in my daily life how to infer physical location from numerical data. I could, from the very beginning, look at a set of mapping data and 'see' the map. The process of inference so essential to genetics had been a part of my life for years – because of my vision impairment, not in spite of it."

And so, from the memories of her childhood, Anne found all the clues she needed, to identify her passion, her skills, her special interests, and her mission in life.

When we are at that place in life ourselves, where restlessness grows apace, it is to our childhood we must go, in memory, and search to find again what once was very plain to us, and now has grown obscure: our passion in life. Or, as Anne puts it, "I wish I could make people understand that everything which delighted them as a child still truly matters."


A bi-weekly column appearing in the Career Search Section of the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle & Examiner. This column appeared February 21, 1999.

Copyright © 2002 Richard Nelson Bolles, author
What Color Is Your Parachute?

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