Destiny’s Child

 

One facet of human nature that fascinates me is the idea of destiny.  Now when I say destiny here I don’t mean like some blockbuster movie in which I am destined to save the princess, fulfill the prophecy and become the most benevolent leader of mankind.  I am talking about something more fundamental than that.  What some people might refer to as “a calling”.  And maybe not even in the sense of a career only, but rather one’s passions, one’s nature.  It is not too surprising that I am reflecting on that, because as I watch my son, I wonder what he’s going to be like.  What will his interests be?  How will he want to live his life and how different will that be from me or his mother?

The nurturing influence of parents cannot be overlooked, but we’ve all known people who were vastly different from their parents in some very fundamental ways.  Two parents might be very messy and their child is neat.  Two parents might be teachers, and their child wants to run his own business.  Of course trying to determine why somebody ends up the way they do is a fool’s errand in a lot of ways, because nurture is not just a function of parents, but of teachers, friends, relatives, society, etc.  It could be that one day a kid sees a fancy car that he just loves and says to himself, alright how do I get a job that allows me to drive around with that.  Perhaps not the most noble of callings, but he we like shiny things that enhance our status and so these kinds of things certainly happen.

For most of my life I thought I had a calling to be a meteorologist.  I’ve loved storms since I was a small child.  I would get up in the middle of the night to watch the lightning.  In grade 6 we learned about different clouds and how they could tell us about the weather that was coming our way.  I was fascinated by this and remember feeling hooked by it.  I wanted to learn more about clouds and forecasting.  In grade 8 our science class was a full year and broken up into 3 parts:

From http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov

astronomy, meteorology, and geology.  I loved all 3 of those and at the time they had us thinking about careers, but I was already hooked on meteorology and I decided then that I was going to be a meteorologist.  During my undergraduate I decided that being a forecaster wasn’t for me and wanted to teach it so I went to grad school and I loved it and don’t regret a second of it.  At the end of my undergraduate I took a linguistics course and I loved it.  At that time I questioned my career decision a little, but it was my last year of undergrad and it seemed too late to do anything else, and what did it matter, I still loved the weather.  I do think that I would be just as happy if I had chosen linguistics as a career had I been introduced to it earlier in life.  Now my interests lie in cognitive science and neuroscience.  I could definitely see myself being a researcher, or even a clinical psychologist because I am deeply interested in understanding others and our nature, and feel I have some aptitude in understanding the motivations of others.

Despite these ponderings on alternative careers, I still don’t have any regrets.  I enjoy my job, and perhaps being a professor is the reason I have had time to pursue these other passions.  But it has led me to some questions about this idea that I was somehow “destined” to be in the atmospheric sciences.   Would I still have become what I became had I not lived in a climate that did not have thunderstorms?  What if our curriculum in grade 6 did not include learning about clouds?  What if the grade 8 science curriculum didn’t have meteorology which helped me appreciate the subject at a greater depth and attract me to it even more?  What if I had a mother who was afraid of storms and that made me afraid of storms?  Yet my choice to go into meteorology seems beyond these things.  We had lots of subjects in school and with some good teachers.  Why didn’t any of those subjects arouse a passion in me?  My parents were not scientists, teachers, historians, writers, etc. and it seems that they didn’t influence me in any particular academic field so I could have chosen anything.  In terms of time, we spent more time learning about many other subjects than meteorology.  There are rocks everywhere and I had been to the Rockies, so why didn’t I go into geology?  I loved watching nature shows so why didn’t I become a biologist?  Why did I feel I had a “calling” when I meet so many students who aren’t even sure what they want to do?  Is this a rare feeling? Or do other people feel it and just ignore it?

From http://www.zoriah.net

I don’t know that I have an answer to any of these questions, but what I do know is that I was very fortunate.  I’ve seen many students with a passion for meteorology but very weak quantitative skills, having weaknesses in math and physics that forced them to take a different career path even if their interest remains.  I do not have that problem. I am fortunate by circumstances having parents who worked hard for me to give me a chance to pursue my passions.  I wonder how many people feel this “calling” towards science, the arts, humanities, history, education, etc., but simply must take a job as soon as possible to support a family.  Maybe they can’t afford to go to school and don’t want to take out student loans.  Some people might argue that their “calling” is perhaps not that strong to drive them, but there are practical realities that must be adhered to and when basic needs must be met they simply must be taken care of first.  Somewhere there are people who could have been brilliant athletes with enough training and leisure time, but instead had to work in a factory to support their family.  How many geniuses have simply died of starvation?  How many talented artists have died of curable diseases simply because they couldn’t afford a doctor or the vaccine that would have save their life, or a doctor or vaccine simply wasn’t available?

In the end I don’t think I subscribe to this idea of destiny, because whatever natural passions we have, they must be cultivated, and even those passions may fade slightly as new ones take their place.   In the end I can only be thankful for the natural gifts I seem to possess and the family, friends, and society that has allowed me to develop them.

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Destiny’s Child

  1. A lot of the things you’ve written here really echo with me, particularly this sentence: “I’ve seen many students with a passion for meteorology but very weak quantitative skills, having weaknesses in math and physics that forced them to take a different career path even if their interest remains.”

    That was me when I was 19 years old. I was extremely interested in studying science, but I didn’t have a very strong background in math, and that’s how I wound up with a degree in literature. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that the only thing holding me back in math was myself, and that I had the power to master anything if I put my mind to it. It takes me a lot longer to master mathematical concepts than other people, but if I persist I eventually do get them and that’s all that matters in the end.

    But to address your larger point. I’ve had very similar conversations with people in the past, but they defined it as “a purpose” rather than a callin; however, both ideas are linked to some sort of destiny or fate. I think that these ideas–destiny, fate, having a purpose or a calling–they’re all overly romanticized ideas. They bring us psychological comfort. A lot of people think that if they don’t have some purpose or calling in life that the universe is just a random, sterile place and their life has no meaning and there’s no point to anything anymore. But if God or fate/destiny has given them a purpose or calling, suddenly there’s order to the universe. The idea of a higher power controlling things makes people feel safe, however illusory it may be.

    In reality, why are people drawn to the things that they are? I agree that it’s difficult to pin down, but people have been wondering this for a long time, all the way back to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” idea. There’s probably a genetic component: some people just have the neural hard wiring to be good at math. Some people probably have more developed artistic areas. I know that for me, I can’t draw anything beyond a stick figure, and that it’s not for lack of trying or practice–I just don’t have the “artists brain” as it were.

    There’s also probably an environmental component. I often think about how different my life would be if I’d lived in a different neighborhood where the schools weren’t as well funded, or if my friends growing up hadn’t been so intellectual. Or if I’d had parents who didn’t care if I succeeded in school or not. Or if I didn’t have parents at all and my life was all about survival instead of learning.

    I don’t know for sure what the real cause is when it comes to why people are interested in what they’re interested in or passionate about. I think we can say what partially influences us, but ultimately I think that it’s a lot more random than most people think it is.

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    1. I think perhaps some of the dissonance in our passions and the skills they need, especially when it comes to applied mathematics is that math is a different beast when it comes to teaching. It could be that from an education standpoint our society does not do a good job of cultivating mathematical schools. What you describe is not uncommon for a lot of people, and classrooms usually move much to quickly for those students who are taking a longer time to do the problems leaving them to feel frustrated when they don’t get the answers as fast as some of their peers. It gives students the attitude that they can’t do the problems and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy at an early age. Teachers often don’t understand mathematics well enough themselves or have a passion for it to really inspire students either. So there are definitely ways that we can nurture better. While had you put your mind to it, you could have definitely done it, it’s not always in the realm of our level of maturity to look at knowledge that way when we are going through school.

      Thank you as always for your comments!

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      1. Christina Owens

        Great piece as always. For whatever reason I have come to find that many teachers refer to their career choice as a calling. Having only ever been employed as a teacher in one place I can’t say if this is ubiquitous or a more concentrated perspective in terms of place. Living in the south now I am immersed in a culture much more outwardly religious then I’ve ever experienced before. I imagine that this has some influence in people referring to their career as a calling, but I think school teachers tend to percieve themselves as answering a calling (presumably a calling form god) at a much higher rate then other fields. This is purely anecdotal of course, though it would be interesting to study deeper. What bothers me most about this idea is that it takes away the element of choice. I’m proud to be a teacher and I love what I do, and I get to own that decision. I could have done lots of things but this is what I chose to do. The idea of blindly answering a calling seems cowardice to me, but people who say they were called to teach seem to take great pride in following this call.

        That all being said, I would differentiate between a calling and a passion. Passions certainly do exist and emerge much sooner and/or much more intensely in some people. I think people who have strong passions are quite lucky (or perhaps it’s just a matter of privledge), but then again there may be some people who are passionate about being eclectic and enjoying the experience of many different things without the need or desire to ever specialize.

        If you want some practice as a clinical psychologist I’ll be happy to come lie on your couch and tell you all my problems! I tend to find you rather enlightening 🙂

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        1. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful response! I guess when I use the word “calling” I am not really specifying their being somebody doing the “calling” but rather just sort of an unexplained drive to pursue some particular field. The fact that I had such a strong interest and wanted to pursue the career of meteorology at such an early age is unusual in my experience (not talking about meteorology specifically). But I wonder if all people sort of experience this but turn away from it, or get discouraged by school. Not sure. I guess passion might be a better word, but then we tend to use passion for a lot of things. I am passionate about music, but never felt the desire to become a musician. I guess these things are hard to delineate sometimes, but meteorology at times felt like more than just a passion, but rather something I was meant for, which is more of a spiritual experience, which of course are quite possible in the absence of the divine. 🙂

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