Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Taking Stock: Sunday musings…8/4/19

1) Crafty. Lovely Daughter’s term for the charting of a co-worker. Seems to mean equal parts clever and devious.

2) 28. This year marks the 28th consecutive summer vacation for the extended White family on Cape Cod. Same house, same beach, same neighbors. And yet, like so many years before, it was hardly the same trip. If memory serves this is the third Cape Week without my Dad (he passed in the fall almost 4 years ago), and it was one that saw for the first time less than 100% beach attendance by my Mom. Like the last 4 or 5 our children’s generation was sparsely represented as they pursue their early adulthoods. In fairness to them it should be noted that all four in my generation were out of college and married in the earliest years of Cape Week, 3 of us also already parents.

What is this year’s take home from our week? I’m afraid it was a bit too new and different, and it’s a bit too fresh for me to say. It was peaceful and free of rancor, but also awfully frenetic with the addition of my whirling dervish Man Cub; Beth and I had him solo for a few days. Being in the active pursuit of grand parenting without parents present does not lend itself to introspection of any kind, and since we flew home the internal dialogue of a 12 hour drive of years gone by has not yet taken place.

It was different. We were, all of us, different. It’ll take a little bit to sort through it all.

3) Goals. An Op-Ed in this week’s WSJ caught my attention. A daughter entering college asks her Dad at breakfast if he’d accomplished the goals he’d set out when he was a young man her age. It’s the kind of question I could easily see my own daughter asking me in any of a dozen scenarios. As I meander toward my 60th, in stark contrast to the year I spent careening toward my 50th, what little time for quiet thought I enjoyed this past week was devoted to this question.

Of course, like the author of the WSJ piece, in order to reflect on whether I’d actually met my goals I would have to reach back and try to retrieve some sort of memory of what those goals may have been. In doing so what strikes me the most is how few goals I seem to have had as a young man. At least when one thinks about large, grand, life-long goals that are significant enough that you actually express them in some way, shape or form. In retrospect most of mine appear to have been strikingly short-term, with a pretty complete lack of any deeper considerations of the longer term impact of those goals. I wanted to continue to be a football player as long as I could, and I wanted to be a doctor.

As far as I can see that pretty much covers it for goals as I exited adolescence.

What goals I remember setting and what accomplishments I’ve made seem to have arisen from the ground along the paths I’ve walked since my last moment on a football field and the milestone moments in the journey of becoming a practicing physician. We all start out believing that we will do something great. Something that will have a greater meaning with an impact that reaches far beyond our closest environment. At least the groups I was part of early in my life did. We’d just left the 60’s, a time of momentous change effected by seemingly out of nowhere leaders. Looking back I can see that I just assumed something like that would happen to me if I simply kept moving forward.

But it didn’t. Those great big goals and accomplishments that the author’s daughter was asking her Dad about never materialized for me. Each time the chance to choose that kind of path arose it was blazingly clear that doing so had consequences locally. All of the bigger, broader worlds fell away as the smaller, more intimate world around me became my focus. Our family. My modest, local practice. My role  model, Dr. Roy the pediatrician in Southbridge, was a very important man, but the reach of that importance was decidedly local. Each time an opportunity arose to extend beyond my own locale I chose, instead, to follow the lead of man whose life made me choose medicine as a career.

Looking back now I guess my goals were always rather modest. In the end what I wished to achieve was a family like the ones my wife and I grew up in, and a small measure of what Dr. Roy meant to our little mill town in Massachusetts: to be important in my own village. To be someone who had earned the respect of his fellow villagers. As I travel the slow, easy curve at mile marker 59 the journey is smooth because I’ve tried my very best along the way to achieve those two things. In the beginning and during the journey they seemed to be the only goals that I remember saying out loud.

After that I would just keep moving forward.

I’ll see you next week…

One Response to “Taking Stock: Sunday musings…8/4/19”

  1. August 4th, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Paul Eich says:

    Bingo I have spent a few hours on this topic also. I think your closing paragraph is the same conclusion I reached. I noticed one day that all of the things I care about and do were things I day dreamed about more or less all the time when I was a kid.
    I could never read enough about WWII and fighter pilots.
    I devoured all hunting and shooting stories/magazines.
    Tons of comic books about the brave Supers risking all to do good.
    Watching so many TV shows and movies that boiled down to “bad guy with a gun/power can only be stopped by the good guy with the skills and courage and willingness (and usually a gun) to stop the bad guy.”
    How many times did I look at the Charles Atlas ads, as an overlooked and insignificant child in Alabama schools in the 70s, and imagine I could earn significance with physical mastery? Hours in church (everyone in my family attended and it was assumed I/we were believers by all friends n family) trying to make sense of the christian message which is summed up as “you are not the most important thing the world and you owe it to something more important than yourself to be good to others as you make your way in the world trying to get your own needs met.”
    And sports glory – that too! I was not able to do it as long as you did, D. Work hard, make the play, have courage, deliver the goods in the moment of despair, all that stuff that sports make available to us to see when the stakes feel high but are in reality very low.
    Day dreaming all of this for hours on end, year after year. And somehow I left out, until a review of the above, all of the time I spent obsessed with beautiful girls and the mystery of love and desire and risk they represented.

    Goals? I don’t know if I had a single one as a 22 year old. I knew I would go to college and I knew I would get a profession. Those were means to an end that I was conscious of, so there was no need for a conscious goal.

    Tony Robbins calls all of this a “blueprint”, the largely unconscious assimilation of what we believe to be true about pleasure and pain and how to get more of one and less of the other.

    So I have not been “out of shape” since my 20s. I spent 3 years as a police officer and 23 as a combat aviator/US Navy leader. I have hunted many states, many animals, archery, blackpowder, rifle, pistol and shotgun. I don’t have a guess about the nature of the creator but never question that it matters as much as anything else how I treat people (my thanks to “12 Rules for Living” for clarifying the intellectual case that behavior). I have worked as hard as we all have to in order to find a loving partner and to do my part to keep that relationship growing for 20+ years.

    What I have lived was what I dreamed as a youth, at least, my best approximation thereof. I failed my blueprint so many times in poor choices, fear, anxiety and inability to see or change who I was hurting and how to avoid it. The pain of those failures paved the way for improvement over time. I miss the mark every day. Turns out all of those daydreams became fuel for the will to try to solve the puzzle of matching my blueprint, just like “Groundhog Day.”

    As I write, I wonder about the blueprint of those who have more talent – brains, courage, competence – but wind up like Yogi’s gem: “If you don’t know where you are going you’ll end up someplace else.”

    There’s a lot of meat on that “blueprint” bone with regards to politicians, mass murderers (same thing in many cases) and all of the others folks seemingly suffering due to nothing more than their ability to set and sustain a viable course in life.

    Folks generally over emphasize the power of conscious thought and underemphasize the impact of the unconscious, which is in accordance with my general observation that goal setting is good but entirely insufficient for desired outcomes.
    Thanks as always D for a thought provoking “musings”.

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