When I was 15 a well-intentioned woman in a business suit told me, "Someday you'll grow up and have to get a real job and wear a suit."
"Mark my words," I told her, "I will never have a job where I need to wear a suit."
She was unconvinced. I was not.
I forgot entirely about this conversation for a decade. And then, as a naturalist working at a field station (my very first job out of college), I stopped mid-stride on the trail, remembering. I was walking through the woods, so happy, so grateful, listening to a pileated woodpecker weaving through the branches overhead. The sun was streaming through the trees. I was at work! In the woods! This was my life.
And standing there in my t-shirt, blue jeans, and hiking boots, I remembered her words. "Someday you'll grow up and have to get a real job and wear a suit."
Or, maybe not.
I thought of her comment again yesterday, as I sat in knee-high muck boots beside a campfire on a Wednesday morning. (I was here on Monday, too, possibly wearing the same clothes.)
I am a homeschooling parent, a writer, a photographer, a teacher, and a small business owner of 15 years. And still – no suit.
I think of her comment and how my own kids would feel as they move steadily toward adulthood to get the message that "someday you'll need to suck it up and live that life you don't want to because that's what growing up means."
But does it?
What if instead we gave our kids the message that whatever it is they love can be a central part of their world – yes, even in adulthood? What if we encouraged them to find their passions and discover their joy now, instead of arriving in adulthood lost and wondering what makes their soul sing?
I think that message would fall on hungry, welcoming hearts.
All that I wanted at 15 (or 9, or 40) was to be a photographer. And now I take pictures everyday. That was my singular dream from 4th grade onward, and now it is a part of my daily joy.
Am I the exception or the rule?
And if I am the exception, why?
I hope my kids land on the same side that I have – knowing and living their joy.
And so yesterday, instead of talking about suits or futures or jobs they won't love, my kids and I headed back to the woods.
Like everyday this week.
Because October and childhood only lasts so long.
The first thing my kids do when we get into the woods is take off their shoes. They stalk quietly barefoot through the leaves, they listen, they are still.
They are building forts right now, one dug into the cool forest floor and the other woven of invasive honeysuckle we have cleared. I pull garlic mustard and listen to woodpeckers in the branches above us while they work.
On this day we built a campfire, then began carving spoons from a freshly felled hickory. It was delightful and if we had brought lunch I doubt we would have headed home before dinnertime. Sure, back home there were other lessons and tasks to attend to, but for the morning anyway, nothing was more important than this.
Barefoot, dirty, and smelling of woodsmoke, they learn. They discover and explore things that they love. They learn to value silence, stillness, and nature. They ground themselves in the quiet wonder of the woods.
And me right along with them.
Will my kids grow up someday, put on shoes, buy suits, and go to work?
But only if it is the thing that speaks to their hearts with the clearest song. Because if I have done my work properly, they will both grow up knowing the value of hard work, yes, but also the value of people and feelings and forests and joy, and of following their own path – not the one they are told to take.
I may have earned more dollars in a business suit, but at what cost to my heart?
Because life, I believe, is about so much more than just paychecks.