Self-Direction and Problem-Solving: A Foundation for Dreaming

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Summer vacation is a carefree, buoyant season.

But who of us hasn't felt a smidgen of guilt because our children are, in our view not theirs, enjoying too much unstructured time?  Alternatively, we may find ourselves in a whirl, exhausted from so many activities, wishing we would give ourselves permission to slow down.

Regardless of which camp you tend to, I'd recommend this thought-provoking, if not comforting, piece It's Not About You by NY Times reporter David Brooks.  Here's an excerpt:

This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree. Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured… No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America.


Another takeaway:  I re-remembered that most of us don't find our dreams; our dreams instead find us in the guise of problems to be solved. (Though my experience is consistent with his thesis, I wonder if in my mind, I've actually framed it this way.)  As we solve our problems, and gain competencies, we build the foundation upon which our dreams can be achieved.

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution. Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

Problems summon our dreams, our life.  And, it's in the unstructured time that we learn to self-direct, to learn to problem-solve. 

What's your take?

What problems have you solved that laid the foundation for your dreams?  What opportunities are you providing you children to self-direct? 

If you enjoyed this Brooks' op-ed, you may also enjoy The Summoned Self.

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