An Ideal Future
Are you originally from Abilene? Did you play any sports or instruments in high school? What's your favorite thing to do for fun? If you were stranded on a desert island with only five albums and two movies, what would you want them to be? As a Community Coordinator and a generally outgoing person, I've been known to ask folks lots of questions. Part of that is a strategy based on people enjoying talking about themselves, and part is a genuine intrigue about how other peoples' minds work. It can be endearing to some and annoying to others. For example, while trying to convince Amanda, who was at the time a counselor working with me and who is now my wife, that I was "deep" I asked her, "What was the happiest day of your life?" I later learned that this line of questioning was not achieving it's intended goal, and instead was making her like me less.
With that said, there have been a few instances when asking the right questions really made a difference. A go to example occurred on a long drive from camp to a wedding. Amanda and I were already married, and were carpooling to the event with a counselor friend named Alicen. We knew her a little from college and camp, but wouldn't consider her someone we knew really well. With a three hour ride ahead of us, there was ample time for asking questions. No one knows how many ridiculous and unhelpful questions I posed over the course of the trip, but the one lucky one that hit home actually changed the world.
I don't remember exactly how I phrased it, but here's my best recollection of what I asked: "If you could design the perfect job for yourself, something that integrated your talents and skills with your interests and passions, what would that job look like?"
Alicen was quiet for a while, deep in thought. "Nobody has ever asked me that before..." What followed for the next twenty minutes was a stream of ideas, hopes, and dreams. She had a passion and talent in the field of teaching, which explained why she was nearing the completion of a degree in Education,but there was also a lot more. She cared deeply about nutrition, especially with helping folks living in poverty grow, prepare, and eat healthy meals. Her skill working with low-income and at-risk folks, especially youth, were clearly evident, but she also cared deeply for those living abroad. She saw potential in people who didn't always see it for themselves, and wanted to cultivate that potential in those around her.
It was fascinating and exhilarating to be present when a person first realized what she truly wanted to do with her life. Who she wanted to be and who she already was.
As these stories sometimes do, there were some surprising coincidences that occurred soon after this conversation. Within a week, she'd been approached by someone with the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic for a semester to implement a curriculum on healthy eating. She loved it so much that she stayed on, and was eventually approached by a school. Turns out the dream job she'd envisioned actually existed, and she was able to turn the dream into a reality.
Would Alicen have found ways to unleash her talents and passions in the schools here in Texas? Absolutely. But by imagining an ideal future, she had something for which to strive. She could compare opportunities with the ideal in her head and work towards the goal she'd envisioned.
In community development, we are often working towards this kind of result. One of the first questions I was taught to ask at CCC was, "If you could wave a magic wand and make one change to improve your neighborhood, what would it be?" Neighbors sometimes have fantastic ideas in the back of their heads on how to make their community better, but it needs a spark to become reality. It's not often as clear cut as Alicen's story, but it happens in a million different ways.
Sometimes it looks like a group of neighbors explaining that they want more family events during the summer to give kids an opportunity for positive community interactions. Other times it's a few folks saying they want the alleys to be more clean. Some folks just want to feel safer and more connected to the people living right around them.
I'm happy for Alicen to be doing something she is passionate about in a community she loves. I'm also happy for all the folks who are brimming with knowledge and ideas for how to make their neighborhoods better places to live. More than any of that, though, I'm excited to live in a world where we can dream together about how to meld our talents and passions into a future that's better than our present.
So the question comes to you, oh faithful blog reader. Whether it's your job, your neighborhood, your place of worship, your city, your nation, or your world, what good and beautiful future would you like to throw your talents and passions into creating? And how can you make that dream a reality?