My sister just WhatsApped us a video of her three-year-old son, totally engrossed in his fingerpainting, until interrupted by his phone-toting mother asking him, “Darling, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
In the video you can almost see the wheels turning in his little head, as he tries to come to grips with the myriad of possibilities that are available to him.
Then he looks straight into the lens and answers, “A banana.” He giggles a bit at the foolishness of adults who waste their time asking such ridiculous questions, and calmly returns to his artwork.
It’s a cute video, but watching it made me kind of wistful for the days when people asked me similar questions.
Nobody asks me what I want to be when I grow up anymore.
They used to ask me. When I was younger. Much younger. But not anymore. Now that I’m old and boring, staid and stuck in the mud, they’ve stopped asking.
Can’t people see that even though I come across as an overweight, middle-aged man, with a career, a growing family and a mortgage, somewhere deep inside is a kid still aspiring to become a fireman when I grow up?
Is it too late to change career paths?
Can we really change? Can we really achieve whatever we want, at any age? A cynic once claimed that you could take the average 20-year-old and already have enough information about his future prospects in life to fill in the inscription on his gravestone, only leaving space to add the date of his eventual passing. From this skeptical perspective, people can’t change much; the best one can hope for is a cosmetic change in career, leaving the essence pretty much untouched.
But Judaism insists that it’s never too late to start afresh. We’ve begun a whole month of introspection and inspiration, when we’re expected to work on ourselves and adapt to a new reality. Over these four weeks of Elul and through the High Holidays ahead, there is an unparalleled opportunity to change.
It won’t be easy. Real change is real hard. We’ve become hidebound and reactionary; the sands of time have clogged up our joints. The longer we stay stuck in one place, the harder it is to eventually break the shackles, but it can be done.
The trick is to embrace gradual, achievable change. My nephew will never become a banana, but if I really wanted to, I could still apply to the fire academy. I probably won’t, because I don’t want it enough, but I do want to be a better Jew, a more committed husband and father, a more inspiring rabbi, and someone who spends more time learning and praying than I currently do.
There is no question that it will be very hard to achieve all, or any, of the above, but if I really want to, I will. I’ve got a month now to set my goals in place, the High Holidays to solidify them, and then the rest of my life to become the person I want to be.