end of the forest

I had a great conversation today with my 18 year old son Thomas. Next week we take him to Chicago where he will embark on his college experience at DePaul University. He is both excited and nervous, anticipating the unknown and wondering how he will perform and fit in as a Blue Demon. He still is struggling to understand why a Catholic university adopted a Blue Demon as its mascot.

(Sidebar – many years ago, with a big “D” prominent on their apparel, the men of DePaul became known as the D-Men which later turned to Demons. Blue is a school color, thus the Blue Demons of DePaul.)

I am an unapologetic optimist and it permeates my conversations with others about life, goals, and future plans. Some people think I’m naïve and unrealistic but I have better things to do than to convince them otherwise. Anyway, I began to offer Thomas my perspective on his upcoming college experience. I told him he could achieve great things and have a most amazing college experience, but it could only happen with the full cooperation of one very special person. He asked, “Dad, where can I find this person?” I replied, drumroll……… “Go to the nearest mirror and you will see him.”

18 year olds usually don’t know what they don’t know. Our world is vast and it is overwhelming to know what to do, how to do it, when to do it and who to do it with, especially for a young person.  I offered the advice many people give their children leaving home for college – try new things, get involved on campus, stay on top of your homework, and seek out people who share your interests. While this is good advice, I wanted to take him to a higher level and truly get in his heart.

I said, “Thomas, there are thousands of ways you can live your life and you will be able to get along in life. Your job in college is to figure out what gets you excited because “IT” is what will sustain you through difficulty, adversity, and challenges. I can’t tell you what “IT” is because “IT” is unique to each individual. It reminds me of the scene in “City Slickers” when Jack Palance told Billy Chrystal the secret to happiness is figuring out what “IT” is in life – you and YOU ONLY can figure out what “IT” is. I’m not sure how much this conversation registered in his head – he might have thought his dad is going off the deep end.  We will revisit the conversation in the future.

While this conversation was in the context of my son going off to college, the topic is just as relevant to each of us. We know people who are on fire with life and every day seems like an opportunity for fun, growth, love, and excitement – Is there something wrong with them? Are they taking illegal drugs? We know others who either struggle or just seem to trudge through life – grasping for temporary reprieves – getting another child through college, making the final car payment (until the next car payment comes along), suffering through the busy season at work, making it to the weekend, etc.

So back to those people who are on fire. Why are they like this? They are like this because they have created or identified dreams they are excited about. There is no ‘magic’ dream to have – the magic is yours to define! It might be socializing with friends, enjoying nature, teaching children, caring for the elderly or disabled, truly enjoying fine possessions in life (e.g. luxury cars, high quality entertainment systems), living a healthy lifestyle, being a highly spiritual person, working in the entertainment industry, woodworking, inspiring others. Once you define what YOUR “IT” is, you should experience an immediate sense of energy and joyful anticipation for the future as you begin to realize your “IT”.

I cannot guarantee your “IT” will be easy – actually it will probably not be. It doesn’t matter though – your “IT” is worth fighting for and you can have “IT” as long as you don’t quit.  If you don’t know what your “IT” is I have an assignment for you and I urge you to complete it in the next 7 days. Here’s the assignment…. Give yourself an extended period of time, preferably hours.  Go to a quiet, relaxing place where you can reflect, concentrate and dream about what makes you passionate. A walk in the woods, sitting on the deck at sunrise or sunset, a long run, sitting in church or on a park bench are a few suggestions for a conducive environment to figuring out your “IT”.

Success is figuring out what your “IT” is in life.