We spent today with Eric's family. It was a fairly nice gathering, but I heard more about my in-laws' opinions and feelings and prejudices than I have in a long time. As we drove home I thought, My God, he's just like his family, why did I marry him? and worried vaguely. So I asked him about it: do you think you're different from your family? In what ways? Why do I get so tired after a day with them when I don't after a day with you?
This led to discussions on the nature of giftedness and potential, and how in our younger years we were both expected to Do Great Things, and how those Great Things were always in the nature of "win the Nobel Prize" or otherwise change the world. We were never led to believe that we might someday use our potential to be passionate and voracious debaters, or excellent at customer service, or the person everyone in the office goes to for help; or that that would be an acceptable use of our talents. We were never told that we would most likely be just another speck on a cog in a machine, and children have, I now know, no concept that being an adult in contemporary society is just that. We were always told that we needed to sparkle externally, never that it would be okay to quietly be a good and talented person without being outwardly exceptional.
I've been struggling with this ever since I left grad school, but I never thought about it in quite this way before. Eric says he has, because he had to come to terms with what he's decided to do with his life. He does feel he still has the capacity to change the world; but it's going to be more indirectly now, and he doesn't feel the need to change the world so much as to change his students. He has better goals now, more focused ones. I'm working on developing my own. I wonder what my EEP friends are doing with their lives, and whether they think about these issues as often as I do. I kind of hope not; I hope they've either become outwardly exceptional and are happy, or have come to terms with not changing the world and are happy.
(Also I hope that if someone does change the world, some of them have a hand in it. Far better them than, say, my mother-in-law, whom Eric says he's tempted to write in as his vote in the next election, but knowing what I know he knows about her political opinions, I don't think he's serious.)