from the desk of H. Bowie...

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A Guide To Becoming

Autumn colors in the woods
image credit: iStock / Janno Vaan

Dedicated in memoriam to my peerless friend Richard Glatzer.

My wife and I were going through some old papers recently, when we came across my LSAT results from 1973. I was about to digitize them, but my wife said no, she wanted to keep the original copy, and pinned them to our bulletin board, where I happened to notice them this morning.

I can remember with wonderful clarity the evening when I received the scores in the mail. I had recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English – after switching majors from Engineering a year or so into my academic career – and was living with my father and his second wife in Northern California.

I had just concluded a brief stint working for PG&E in their Santa Cruz warehouse. It was a somewhat mistaken repetition of my summer job from the year before – when I actually had more school to return to in the fall – and the job had ended abruptly a month or two earlier. I was out of work, and wondering what to do with the rest of my life – or at least the next chunk of it.

I was sitting at the dinner table with my Dad and Kitty when I opened the envelope whose contents would tell me whether I had any reasonable prospects of becoming a member of the hallowed legal profession. My father had just finished another hard day of selling real estate, and was relaxing with a martini in hand.

“So,” he said expectantly, “how did you do?”

“Well,” I said, looking at the number in front of me with a fair degree of astonishment, “I scored an 800.”

“An 800 – is that good?”

“It’s the top score. It’s the highest score you can get.”

After second or so of appropriate surprise, my Dad thought to venture a further inquiry. “So,” he asked, with a hopeful smile on his face, “does that mean you’re going to be a lawyer?”

After waiting a beat in order to achieve the proper dramatic effect, I responded: “No, Dad, that means I’m too smart to become a lawyer.”

“I could have guessed!” he groaned, and consoled himself with a fresh pour of Tanqueray.

Might I have been happy and successful as a member of the legal profession?

Perhaps. I’ve certainly known lawyers whom I have respected and considered friends, and I’ve worked with some lawyers whom I’ve liked and respected.

But, looking back over the first seven decades of my life, this story reminds me that I’ve always resisted investing the bulk of my development resources in a single track that would forever claim my future identity – both for myself and for others around me.

Instead, I’ve always enjoyed juggling at least a couple of serious pursuits simultaneously – and often pursuits with few if any areas of overlap.

It’s not that I’ve been a dilettante: I’ve come to recognize that my pursuits often run in cycles lasting ten years or so, and, during those periods, I have labored mightily, and produced noteworthy results.

No, it’s more that I’ve always wanted to avoid entering any developmental cul-de-sacs, any box canyons from which there would be no escape, or from which could ensue only predictable outcomes.

But let me clarify, lest I give a false impression:

  • I’m not telling you to “follow your passion,” as if each of us had a single, knowable passion that could shape our lives in a meaningful way: that sort of meaning tends to emerge only in hindsight, and only after the complex, disparate events making up any human’s life have been coerced into some easily consumable (and sometimes salable) story;

  • I’m not suggesting that you can “have it all” – that’s another myth peddled by our consumerist society: we all have to make choices along the way that will forever lead us down one path, causing us to forsake others;

  • I’m not talking about always taking the road less traveled – after all, we don’t all need to end up as famous poets;

  • And, while we’re on the subject of poetic conceits, I don’t mean to intone that you, and you alone, are Master of your fate, Captain of your soul: all our fates are dependent on having a little luck at the right times, and some fortunate encounters with promising opportunities and amiable companions – I know mine has been;

  • I’m not recommending you abandon all traditional comforts for a life of daring and unpredictable adventure on the road: I recently retired comfortably from a corporate gig after working professionally and continuously from age twenty-three to sixty-five, and I appreciated all of the challenges that came with that;

  • I’m not saying that the journey is more important than the destination – instead, what I’m saying is that the journey and the destination are both important, but your destination need not be singular, and the string of successive destinations need not (and perhaps should not) be lined up in a neat and foreordained progression;

  • I’m not claiming that my particular and peculiar path has led me to fame and fortune – but then those were never really among my goals, nor would I suggest that they be among yours.

So, here’s what I am saying…

At its best, human life can be an open-ended adventure of development, exploring one possibility after another, learning something new from each one, becoming something new with each one, with a myriad of new paths leading onward from each achieved destination, and with only you to pick the path that seems most enticing, most intriguing, and most promising.

So, no matter how many or how few your years here on Earth, and no matter how great or how paltry you may judge your accomplishments to date, know that who you are today need not be the final product, and that you still have out in front of you opportunities to become something new, something greater, something not yet realized and perhaps not yet even imagined….

And so, fellow adventurers, I implore you to:

  • Stay curious…

  • Open your minds to fresh possibilities…

  • Watch out for blind alleys…

  • Avoid the pigeonholes.

October 22, 2021