Not long ago I asked you the questions you would ask in an interesting scenario: suppose you had a pill you could give either of your parents. Let’s also suppose you had another pill that would make them forget everything that happened in the past six hours.
Long story short, you could ask them any question and you would get the truth, but they would not remember they asked it.
I wish I had come up with this idea on my own, but I didn’t. It came from Chuck Klosterman’s underrated HYPERtheticals: 50 Questions for Insane Conversations.
The answers we each gave each other were oddly similar, and it made me think about how sometimes we unnecessarily bind ourselves under the watching eye of our parents.
It must’ve been hard to have these great ideas for yourself of acting, modeling, dancing, or using a camera to make videos, only to have that shot down by your parents. I could feel that too with my own parents, only not as starkly. I knew that they loved me, but something in the way they acted when I switched from playing sports to doing choir and theater told me that they were only able to love me fully from a certain perspective.
There are some parents out there, families of friends of mine, who continue to unravel their children in much the same way as reading a novel. Each chapter brings about new discoveries and adventures and they anticipate a certain happiness from each one, even if it is bitterly won, and they bring to their sons or daughters the knowledge that, with each turn, they are on board for the sequel.
My parents were not those parents.
I know beyond language itself that they love me unconditionally, and that is on its own a type of support. But if I could ask anything and get away with it, I would still ask them, “What is your definition of success?”
And that is a question you asked too.
The way I could answer you in this moment of anxiety is: so what? Who cares what they think? You are in charge of your own life, and the best thing you can do for yourself so you don’t lose your mind is to keep pursuing your dream.
But I cannot offer that phrase if I myself have a hard time following it. My parents’ legacy looms over my head. They still inhabit the traditional realm of life. They went to school, got a job, had two kids, sooner or later brought home a dog, and my father worked the same job for decades. He is set to retire soon, and that stability of working and going to the same church undoubtedly gave me a trust in myself I would not have had if we bounced from place to place or job to job.
Our parents are thinking using that mindset: that the world still offers those positions, that staying safe and staying in your lane and keeping your head down can give you a good living.
But I don’t think that world exists anymore. Look around us. We are in a moment right now where your skills with a camera and my skills with writing suddenly seem much more important. That is because we can reach so many more people, and now more than ever people want to be reached.
Did we have this a month ago? No.
Parents operate with the tools of yesterday and today, because by and large they are older and are simply functioning with the goals of stability and safety. For many, they cannot afford to think about the future.
But our tool is the one of tomorrow.
The reason is because we are young, and we don’t need much. That has always been the dilemma of making a name for ourselves and creating our own identity.
Our parents love us, but it is only that time-traveled love from the 1980s, that past moment where they became adults.
I will borrow Seth Godin’s words for solutions, because I think they speak better to what we need right now. Perhaps the dilemma is not, “Why didn’t you let me achieve my dreams when I was younger?” Maybe the question or the conflict is not between us and our parents, but rather between our idea of who we want to be, and who we actually are.
People have these passions or dreams of what they want to do, and Godin says that is a trap. “What do I want to be when I grow up?” gives us a let’s-wait-and-see mentality, when really we have everything we need right now.
The two questions that should be asked, according to Godin are: what challenges do I want to overcome?
And: what emotional experiences do I want to take hold of?
The good stuff, the products we make or the dance routines we learn or the ideas we sift through, all that arrives on its own as a by-product of the essential thing, which is experience.
Many American parents are product-oriented, and sometimes that’s great.
But for my parents, they’ll have to wait.