By Michael Kline
My life is nearly perfect. I do what I want,
when I want, with whom I want. I enjoy good health, positive people,
good food, good wine and a nice home. I work when I want and enjoy more
creature comforts than I ever thought I deserved. In fact, my biggest
worry in life is that I don’t mess it up after coming so far. This is
the story I was telling myself. You must admit, it is a pretty good
story for a college drop-out, born to a drunk in a junkyard.
took our mother when I was 7. As the 11th of 12 children, 4 of us were
adopted by an Aunt and Uncle who, in their better than their own past,
middle-class way, tried their best to fix us. They never let me forget
their disappointing discovering that in spite of their well-educated
efforts, you can “take the boy out of the junkyard, but you can’t take
the junkyard out of the boy”. Big Lie #1 - You’re no good.
have to have a 4 year degree to be worth anything” Big Lie #2 –
Credentials define you, and you are not enough without credentials.
sister is going to become a nurse. (She did). She will take care of us
when we are old. (She didn’t). Girls become teachers, secretaries or
nurses. Since you are a boy, you need to grow up to be a lawyer or
something (I didn’t) because you have to support a family one day”. (I
didn’t do that either). Big Lie #3 – You cannot just do what you want.
could argue that I got my perfect life because I believed these lies. I
set small goals that I could achieve and achieved every one of them. I
dropped out of college, bucked the system, fired the boss and went out
on my own. I believed I was not good enough to subject myself to the
judgment of others; a problem I solved by becoming my own boss. I
believed that I would never make it as a professional, so I decided to
create a little success doing anything that was easy to learn without an
authority figure to judge me. Without a boss or teacher, my partner and
I went into flipping houses, then the food business and then retail,
each creating a little success. Life was perfect and easy, until one day
someone asked me if I had a purpose.
Purpose? I have to make a
living, that’s all I was ever taught. Purpose is a grandiose concept for
spiritual leaders, philosophers and politicians. My purpose is to raise
a family, make a living, pay off the mortgage and die. Looking at it
that way, I was not following the plan at all. As a gay man, I chose not
to raise a family, which admittedly, renders making a living much
easier. We already owned three homes with no mortgages, and at fifty
years old, in good health and bored, having a purpose for the second
half of my life intrigued me. Maybe my life was not really perfect.
turns out my core strengths are my capacity to love, my optimism and my
creativity. The work I do when I am most lost in time, in “the flow” as
they say, is teaching in a way that truly opens eyes and inspires my
students. The concept of a more ideal world that excites me is that
anyone and everyone should have the chance to flourish. The junkyard
that could not be taken out of this boy turned out to be a blessing.
Three lessons from the junkyard: Resourcefulness is more important than
resources. We all have the ability to create something out of nothing.
What we choose to be, do and have is entirely our own responsibility.
Cross off lie #1. You are good.
None of my skills are taught in
college, while a degree in chemical engineering, for which I had a full
scholarship, would not build my credibility in transformational work. My
intuition and wisdom at an early age however, to abandon such a
wasteful pursuit, is a reflection of my natural skills to discern what
is helpful and what is not. Cross off Lie #2. You define you, not
Music was my passion as a teenager; specifically
the French Horn. I was good. Very good, if I do say so myself. And I do.
As I lost myself in my room, practicing hours at a time, I would close
my eyes and be playing first chair in the Cleveland Orchestra at
Severance Hall. On parental advice, I abandoned music to join the Air
Force Junior ROTC in high school, which would almost guarantee me a
scholarship, as would be required to pay for all-important college
education. I have since collected a lifetime of evidence that every
appealing venture I chose was successful and every unappealing thing I
was pushed into was a failure. Cross of Lie #3. You can do and you
deserve to do anything you like.
Today, my life is no longer
perfect. Today I have a purpose and I pursue my passions. I am
extra-blessed because my purpose and passion helps other people pursue
theirs. All my successes, even created on my own terms, were still
defined by the expectations of others. I was successful, as long as all I
had to do was make a living. To live a life engaged, on purpose, with
meaning and joy is perfect – perfectly messy, unpredictable, scary
seemingly irresponsible to some parental models. Perfect indeed.