Thursday, September 19, 2013

Follow, Flop, Flourish | The Flâneur's Turtle

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

TaylorAmerica’s Got Talent was my guilty pleasure this summer and I was excited for Wednesday’s finale when my two favorite acts, Kenichi Ebina (dancer/performance artist) and Taylor Williamson (comedian), finished first and second respectively. I was rooting hardest for Taylor, because I thought he was hilarious and I’m more than a bit biased in favor of comedians.

During the finale, as the Top 6 was whittled down to the final two, each of the losing finalists shared the typical parting words of all reality TV contestants: “This has been an amazing journey,” and “This isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning,” and “This proves dreams do come true. Follow your dreams.”

Follow your dreams! Follow your dreams! FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!

These soon-to-be-anonymous-again people have inspired me! I am immediately stepping away from teaching to simultaneously pursue basketball, stand-up comedy, and music. I’m doing a one-man show called “Dribble Funny Notes.” It’s going to be one-half Harlem Globetrotters, one-half Second City, and one-half of one-half of a dueling piano bar.

I can’t wait until I’m famous and trending on Twitter. I’m totally going to retweet the retweet of a tweet that pickles me tink.

This can’t fail. My dreams, mortgage, and fragile self-esteem depend on it.

Hmm. Is all of that risk worth it to get my face on the side of a bus next to Judge Mathis?

Okay, forget dreams. I’ll just continue to spend my nights eating peanut butter out of the jar with my fingers and then go to work in the morning smelling like I just did the walk of shame from Mr. Peanut’s house.

Mr. Peanut's ex, the Green M&M, told me he's nuts in the bedroom.

Mr. Peanut’s ex, the Green M&M, told me he’s nuts in the bedroom.

This “chase your dreams” stuff sounds great when it comes from people who succeeded. But I want to hear from the contestants who quit their jobs to audition, didn’t make it far on the show, and are now performing their acts on a street corner for loose change and the uneaten half of an Egg McMuffin.

Chasing a dream doesn’t guarantee success. If it did, I would already have Zooey Deschanel’s phone number, Matthew McConaughey’s six pack, and Spider-Man’s superpowers.

Zooey, raise your hand if you'd like to date a slightly overweight, moderately unattractive English professor.

Zooey, raise your hand if you’d like to date a slightly overweight, moderately unattractive English professor.

With no guarantee for success, it leads to the question of juggling reality with dreams. In college, I wanted nothing more than to be a writer – a successful, famous, rich writer who works during the day and throws raucous, sexy, Anchorman-style parties at night. All of my college English professors knew that’s what I wanted. Therefore, I’ll never forget the warning one of my favorite professors gave me when I decided to attend graduate school to pursue teaching: “Full-time teachers don’t make full-time writers.”

The message was both simple and obvious. Plug in any two professions and the message remains the same. We only have 100% to give, and when that 100% is rationed out to several jobs, goals, and dreams – and to the ample other responsibilities we have in our daily lives – something is bound to suffer.

If I give 50% to teaching and 50% to writing, will that be enough to sustain either? If I give 90% to teaching and 10% to writing, will anything ever get written? If I give 23% to teaching, 72% to writing, and 5% to studying statistics, will I be able to write more engaging mathematical examples?

Reality TV contestants tell me the solution is to pick one single dream and dump 100% effort into it. But, again, their perspectives are skewed, because they were on TV long enough to offer that opinion. The dude dancing for the McMuffin might tell you to stay in school and keep your job.

lets-make-a-deal-doorsIt’s the classic Let’s Make a Deal conundrum: take the modest prize in Monty Hall’s (or Wayne Brady’s) hand, or risk it all for what’s behind the door.

It’s great when there’s big cash or a fabulous vacation behind the door, but it’s not so fun when there’s a Zonk.

Thankfully, I love teaching. And I get to write stuff! I’ve made out with a little bit of the best of both worlds.

But, as Robert Morris University starts a new academic year, what advice would I give if a student asked me about pursuing their dream? What if the dream conflicts with their education? What if the dream seems unrealistic?

I really don’t know what to say.

The dreamer in me wants to say, “Go get’em!”

The realist in me wants to say, “Dreams don’t pay bills.”

And the kid in me still likes the frosted side.


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