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.

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