Thursday, 8 January 2009

Childhood Dreams

Last year I heard about Randy Pausch, his fate and his Last Lecture. I was intrigued and set the book on my list of things to buy. On Christmas, I got it from two people who are dear to me. I read it during the Christmas holidays and watched the video.

I don't want to write about Randy Pausch other than that I'm very grateful for his lecture; a lot has been written already and he is a testimony of himself anyway. His talk is about achieving ones childhood dreams and it made me thinking about mine.

I could actually remember the following:
  • Press buttons or switches (I was very little then)
  • Learn to dive
  • Become a (Micro)biologist
  • Perform music in front of an audience
  • Being at ease with the English language
  • Understand the lyrics of French chansonniers
These were the dreams - as opposed to resolutions like "never getting fat" or "living consciously". (Still I'm amazed in retrospect that I made these quite early on.) As for the dreams, I am surprised to see how much of them got fulfilled.

I studied engineering and had a chance to press a lot of buttons and turned a lot of switches. Since my early childhood it never ceases to amaze me that a tiny movement of my fingers can have really dramatic effects. Today, I make my living by pressing buttons probably thousands of times a day - on the keyboard of my PC - and I still enjoy that!

I remember that I went to shops to get catalogues of diving equipment. In these days, diving was quite an exceptional sport, so they weren't glossy brochures but rather very technical booklets. I studied them trying to make my choice for a dream equipment.

About ten years ago, I wanted to go on a holiday. Being single, I didn't want to hang out on a beach but do something actively. For some reason, I remembered this old dream of mine and checked out diving schools in the Mediterranean. They existed in abundance. And a course was affordable for me. So off I went - and have had great diving experiences since then.
(I had a panic attack during one of the lessons, though, and a hard time to pass it. I did, but still going diving always makes me a little nervous before I actually descend - then I'm cool. Sometimes fulfilling a childhood dream apparently has to do with facing an adversity which is oneself.)

As a teenager, I found small animals fascinating. One year I bred newts; it was quite an experience. But then I went for the even smaller stuff: I needed a microscope. So I got one of these cheap Japanese ones with plastic lenses - but that was OK for me. My decision was clear: I had to become a Microbiologist!
When I finished school, I still wanted to do that. However, job expectations for Biologists looked grim, so - unconsciously - I went for the other dream: I studied engineering and computer science. Later, I moved to another country and was determined to attend a post graduate course to combine IT with Biology. Unfortunately at that time, no diploma of other countries were accepted, not even a course. So I decided to go for the real thing (as for the job opportunities, I thought I could always work in IT if necessary). I applied at the University to study Biology - and it worked; it was a bit of a battle but I got in - and I loved every single lecture of it (well, not absolutely all of them but in the other cases this was due to the prof, not the subject). I didn't get to work as a Microbiologist, though, as this was not a special field at my university. Again, I went for the even smaller stuff: molecules. It gave me the unforgettable experience to work in Molecular Genetics for nearly a decade.

Playing music before audiences is a dream I never achieved. I did play guitar (and later on Saxophone) and even played among friends a little but never as a performance. Still it motivated me to learn playing these instruments. (And who knows? As they say: it is never too late for a happy childhood...)

I struggled hard to finish school with good grades in English. It was the only subject I was really committed to do that. In all the other subjects, passing with whatever grade was just fine for me. (This only changed when I studied Biology: here I wanted to get good grades in all subjects - at least in the second half of my studies.) I liked to read lyrics of pop songs I listened to and got some feeling for the language - but no practice. Later, when I was working in a scientific environment, English was the language of the day, intensified by having English speaking friends. So English really more and more became my second language and I enjoyed it. (That's one reason I'm writing this blog in English, not only because I prefer to have it readable on an international level, but also because I think that English is more adequate for this - even if it doesn't turn out perfect; and I like trying and learning).

In the course of my academic career, I spent three years in France. In the beginning I could hardly utter a French sentence (having only attended a short French course at school). In France, they let you speak English for a week or two and then it's - en francais. So I had to learn French - which I also enjoyed. By this I could also live my life in France more fully as if I only went through it like a passing tourist.
And it helped me achieving another childhood dream. This really hit me when years later I was sitting in a train listening to one of my favourite Jaques Brel chansons (Ces gens-là) on my iPod. Reading the lyrics while he sang, I got goose pimples when I realised that I could easily understand the song and was at the same time blown away by the intensity of Brel's singing.

This is quite a long post already but it requires a last paragraph: As I have learned (not only from Randy Pausch), it is important to express ones gratitude. So this goes to my parents: we have often disagreed (even seriously) but they brought me up in a way that eventually allowed me to achieve these (and other) things by using the skills of brain and hand they gave me the opportunity to develop. Of course I contributed myself, too, but I also was lucky and I got help. For all this I am eternally grateful.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Being cool

I am not cool. Never was. Of course, in some ways I would like to be. But it never works. I am at ease and convincing when I am the way I am. This is probably true for all people but some still have the ability to cover things up. I find that if I try to do this, I get very soon very exhausted - and on people's nerves.

The same is true for the way I'm writing. I have some landmarks for this. Once, when I read in Metrodad's blog "...In the same manner that many completely humorless people (especially bloggers) think they're hysterically funny..." - I felt trapped. This feeling of being trapped reminded me that I am always tempted to write from my heart and to try to achieve something with it. Being funny for example. Or smart. Actually it's not even about being smart or funny, it's about trying to make others think and believe that I'm smart and funny. This kind of Impression Management is part of my automatic mode. I wish it became controllable...