I got to visit with my daughter, Ramsey, at Georgia Tech this past weekend. She is involved in a program called Grand Challenges, a living/learning community in which students group up and choose a world problem to solve. The goal is to expand servant leadership skills required to take technology to a humanitarian purpose.
Ramsey’s group is working on a device that monitors senior driving and gives them feedback so that they can measure how their driving is changing and take action to prevent those changes. This can allow them to drive safely longer and maintain access to basic needs such as food, medicine and doctor care. The program held a banquet on Sunday and it was fun to be there to honor all the students who are working hard on developing some really great ideas.
I am proud of my daughter all of the time. I think most of us parents are. She works very hard and has said since high school that simply doing the work is the key to her success. Her father and I joke that we aren’t sure where she got her brains, but her work ethic is something that I can say we have both modeled for her in different ways.
I was never a good student, mostly because I had a hard time concentrating on the textbooks. I was generally good in the labs and at hands on learning, but it was the memorization, the regurgitation on tests, that got me every time. If you go back a little further, my parents were both decent students though neither completed college, and I would wager that my dad was a little more like me when it came to book-learning. He has always been good at learning things hands-on and has had side projects from beekeeping to blacksmithing because of that industrious nature. Mom was definitely better at the book stuff and has always been a good communicator. My sister was a good enough student and has had corporate success throughout her career, but I have chosen a crazy, self-employed path for myself.
Ramsey’s father was a better student than I and decidedly better at studying, but neither of us were as successful as her in school. His parents before him were excellent students. His father completed his doctorate in education at the University of Georgia and his mother got her teaching degree at Georgia Southern. They were both educators, so the desire to learn was ingrained in their family, but none of their children got doctorates and, while one became an educator, the other two are free-spirited artistic types who have had far from traditional careers.
What is it that determines the paths we choose? I could go into the whole nature vs. nurture debate, but my conclusion would be that it is always about a little bit of both, and a whole lot about timing and major and minor choices that lead us down paths that we have little way of predicting.
Ramsey took me to her dorm room after the event and we met some of her friends in the hallway. As we were exchanging introductions one of the boys asked me if I have a composting bin because he knows how important that stuff is to her. I thought it was funny that it was his first question, but I answered yes, admitting that I was a little lazier about it while Ramsey was off at school. He then asked if I have a beehive, clearly sure that I would say no because what mother in their right mind does that, right?
It was funny to watch his face as I told him that yes, I am a beekeeper, too. He couldn’t believe it, and I asked him how he thought she got into it. It was a funny exchange and reminded me to think back to the generational chain from which she has emerged. Ramsey is a beekeeper, her mother before her is a beekeeper, my father before me was a beekeeper and his father before him was a beekeeper. But, none of those connections made it absolute that we would become beekeepers, did it?
It would stand to reason that over the years the changes in lifestyle and interests and living arrangements and culture would have knocked what is really a hobby out of the mix. Lots of other things didn’t carry forward, like career and other life choices. Dad moved from his rural roots to the suburbs and took a corporate job, I moved to a smaller town but not back to a truly rural lifestyle, Ramsey is now doing urban beekeeping at Georgia Tech.
In his autobiographical book “All Over But the Shoutin’” Rick Bragg says, “I could not even ask myself how in the fuzzy hell I got here, because I knew precisely how it happened, year by year.” The book tells the story of Rick’s life with a war-tortured, alcoholic father and a mother determined to protect her three sons from the ill-effects poverty had on her life. I love the truth of that statement, the way that little drips of experience over a long period of time are the things that get us to where we had no idea we were going, the way water slowly shapes an unyielding stone, drip by drip.
We really have no way of knowing where we are headed in life, and yet we have every bit of responsibility in the choices that get us there. No matter what our parents try to direct, no matter what looks most likely based on our past, it is our own small choices that ultimately determine where we apples land.