You can tell a lot by looking at senior quotes. I’ve got yearbooks from all four of my years in high school, and I noticed that there’s one that comes up over and over and over again.
Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
I find this proverb to be a little trite, to be honest. It’s been tremendously over-used, for starters, and I don’t really understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having goals, or even big goals, is a bad thing. In fact, I think having big goals is a wonderful, very useful thing. The problem comes from what our big goals are.
Have a talk some time with your nearest college student. You’ll start to notice a problem. All of us want to be astronauts. Not literally, but all of us want to be in jobs that are as selective, as challenging, as far out in the outer reaches of space as astronauts. We want to be in the top of a field that doesn’t exist. We want to graduate with a degree in Creative Thought Studies and make six figures at a progressive online start-up. We want to shoot immediately to the top of the pay scale, retire at 40, and go backpacking through Europe every summer. It’s ridiculous.
I’m guilty of this. This past year, I started looking into an accelerated Master’s program within my college’s History Department. My plan was to finish my Bachelor’s and Master’s in four years, get my Ph.D., and be working as a college professor by the time I was 30. I’ve got good grades, I’m a hard studier, I love history — I can do it. Except I can’t.
I started really thinking about it, and when I was painfully honest with myself, I realized that I just couldn’t. I was already so stressed as an undergraduate that I was losing sleep and feeling constantly anxious. It finally dawned on me that if I was struggling to control my stress as a college student, it would be completely out of control if I ended up pushing myself to be a college professor. I was heartbroken. My dream died when I told myself that.
And that’s okay. It’s okay to let a dream go. That’s part of growing up. That’s part of realizing what we are and aren’t capable of doing. We need to be honest with ourselves and with one another about what is actually feasible. Not only that, but we also need to re-evaluate what is truly helpful and necessary to society.
My grandmother is in a nursing home. When you visit a nursing home, you’ll probably see a dozen or so men and women in scrubs running around and taking care of our elderly friends, neighbors, and relatives. These people are Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs. They befriend, feed, change, bathe, and generally care for people like my grandmother. They work long hours and they do a hard and often un-glamorous job. But it is also one of the most helpful jobs out there in society. I owe the young women who help my grandmother get in and out of bed every day a debt that I’ll never be able to repay.
There are lots of jobs like that, in many different fields, for many different levels of education. You can make yourself a peanut butter sandwich in the comfort of your own home because someone made sure there was enough on the shelf last night while you were asleep. You can get your house checked for termites because someone picked up the phone at the bug-zapper place and told another someone to drive over to your house. You can read this blog because someone taught you about sight words and where commas go when you were in the second grade.
These jobs aren’t found on the moon, or in the stars. They’re here on boring old earth. They’re normal. We’ve concocted this false dichotomy, though, where normal is bad and different is good. Normal can be good, too. In fact, normal is necessary for a society to function. These normal jobs might not make you the most interesting person at a dinner party, but they will give you financial security, time with your loved ones, and a sense of doing something good for society. And you never know, people who begin life with ordinary jobs sometimes end up doing extraordinary things.
So maybe, instead of shooting for the moon, shoot for what you can do. Shoot for what you can give to better society. Shoot for the mundane; even if you miss, you’ll land among people you can help.