Show me a heart unfettered by foolish dreams, and I’ll show you a happy man.
Ah, Tennyson, you heralder of impending doom; you’ve struck again.
I do enjoy Tennyson’s works; he is one of the most celebrated writers of all time, and deservedly so. He knew how to wield his pen like a sword. Unfortunately, this particular sword was dripping with poison.
A lot of the nerds out there will remember that this line was used in a discussion between Mr. McAllister and Mr. Keating in The Dead Poets Society. Mr. McAllister (played by Leon Pownall) is commenting on the teaching tactics of Mr. Keating (played by the unparalleled Robin Williams, who is so desperately missed). Mr. Keating believes in teaching students to broaden their minds and think for themselves, not parrot the opinions of others. Mr. McAllister quotes this famous Tennyson line as a way of saying that free thinking can only lead to disappointment.
But who could forget Mr. Keating’s drop-the-mic response?
“But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”
I can see Tennyson’s point: the fewer chances taken lead to fewer disappointments. That old saying “Ignorance is bliss” was coined for a reason. The less involved you are in worldly matters, the fewer reasons you have to be upset and stressed. You can enjoy your own life and pretend that your world is perfect as is. The cliche definitely rings true.
But so does “Knowledge is power.”
The more aware you are of the world around you, the more prepared you are to change it for the better and leave your mark on it. Why pretend your world is perfect when the power to help make it come close to perfect actually does lie with you?
Many people are content with where they are in their lives and are happy with going to work, coming home, and working on their hobbies. They are providing for themselves and their families, their needs are met, and for them, that means a fulfilled life.
I think that’s amazing. That’s a wonderful way to live.
But that is not how I want to live.
I’m a goal-setter. Once I’ve achieved one goal, I set my sights on another. To me, life is so much more interesting and fulfilling that way. A lot of people might read that and say that my life must be so empty, always chasing new things, never being content, and filling my life with things that fade away.
But do they really fade?
The legacies we leave behind will impact this world in some way. People may not remember from whom the legacy stemmed, but it was still given to us whether directly from that person; from someone else who knew him or her; or from someone else who was part of the ripple effect.
And there is nothing wrong with wanting to be remembered.
I want to be a mover and a shaker in science and come up with something so revolutionary that it rattles the very core of how we approach research and development. I want to propel women forward in STEM so that both the wage and gender gaps close completely. I want to reform education so that no student ever feels bereft of anything knowledge has to offer but instead learns how to be creative and independent in every challenge.
I want to leave behind something that makes people come alive with inspiration to learn as much as they can and to use that knowledge to move society in a positive direction.
For some people their legacy is through their children.
For me, I want it to be through science and education.
I don’t see how one is better or worse than the other. They’re just different.
Maybe my dreams are too foolish or ambitious. Maybe they’re too self-serving. Wanting to know that your life wasn’t spent in vain doesn’t have to be achieved through recognition. But in my mind, the bigger the wave, the more intense the ride.
Now don’t go thinking I’m heading down a destructive path here. I’m not thinking of Hurricane Katrina-type effects. I’m thinking of those nice swells that make professional surfers hyperventilate from excitement. And one of the great things about big waves is that when they crash, they change the landscape.
For my students, their final project is to design their own projects.
Yeah, the idea made them panic at first, too. They were so used to people telling them what to do all the time that they hadn’t been encouraged to get in touch with their creative sides. Once I talked through ideas with them, their eyes would light up. They became excited about their projects, knowing that they were attempting something no beginning programmer had tried before, let alone thought up on his or her own. They were leaving their own personal stamps on the class; they were contributing to it and making it a better experience. And when I told them that the more crazy and “out there” the idea, the better the grade, they leaped at that project. Finally, they were trusted enough to take matters into their own hands and work on what was important to them.
We all have the ability to take our creativity and independence and wield it into a force to be reckoned with. Who cares about the naysayers? Some of the greatest accomplishments created by the human race were snubbed as the products of fools.
I wouldn’t mind being known as a fool if it meant that the work I leave behind will have made others’ experiences more passionate. Because to me there is nothing greater than putting your hard-earned knowledge to good use and seeing it come to fruition not only in your life but also in others’ lives.
In my humble opinion, your legacy doesn’t determine your importance.
But it does make the importance of your life something that lasts.
Peace, Prosperity, and Organic Photovoltaics,
Chic Geek and Chemistry Freak