To be a young person and, especially, to be a student is to be continually asked by others about what you hope and plan to do in the future.
Many years ago, I read this excerpt in Henri Nouwen’s book Aging: the Fulfillment of Life that has remained with me:
Not too long ago a thirty-two-year-old, good-looking, intelligent man, full of desire to live a creative life, was asked: “Jim, what are your plans for the future?” And when he answered: “I want to work with he elderly and I am reading and studying to make myself ready for the task,” they looked at him with amazement and puzzlement. Someone said, “But Jim, don’t you have anything else to do?” Another suggested, “Why don’t you work with the young? You’ll really be great with them.” Another excused him more or less, saying: “Well, I guess you have a problem which prevents you from pursuing your own career.” Reflecting on these responses, Jim said: “Some people make me feel like I have become interested in a lost cause, but I wonder if my interest and concern do not touch off in others a fear they are not ready to confront, the fear of becoming an old stranger themselves.”
I always think of that description of Jim as a young person “full of desire to live a creative life.” Quite apart from whether or not he realized the aspirations for which he claimed to be readying himself, his orientation was already distinctive and attractive to me.
How many young people let their desires for a creative life become corroded by the opinions and insecurities of others? And how to resist this?
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to do what I am presently doing.”
“What about your future?”
“Happiness in the future is for those who know how to be happy today.”
There are few greater signs of contradiction against the conventions of our society than saying that what you want to be doing most is what you are presently doing.