What do you remember doing as a child? When you were little and you had a long summer day full of nothing, what did you choose to spend your time doing? How did you pass the time? What'd you do with yourself when there wasn't a parent or teacher to tell you what you should be doing?
Thinking about this question may seem trite. Or overly simple. Or just not worth the time.
But I think we all should.
The reason is not necessarily because it will unlock some unseen career path that you never thought about before. (Though who knows — maybe it could?)
But I think we should think about this question because I think there are really valuable clues to each person by thinking about this and trying to remember with as much detail as possible.
A look at my children when they have unstructured time is enough to show me that a kid at play doesn't do things because they feel like they should. They are not bound by obligation or an overblown sense of duty. They do something because it's fun. Because it feels like play and because they enjoy it.
These are things that I envy. As I've written about before, knowing what I want is many times harder than it seems. "Well, what do you WANT to do?" "Uh, I wish I knew." Things are more obscure. I have competing desires. I don't fully know what I want. I think maybe I don't want something but then I think "Well, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm overthinking it. Or not thinking about it the right way. " You know you're overthinking when you question your overthinking.
But I long to do things that I really enjoy doing. I want to do things that bring me life. That I feel like I could do without ever thinking about 'should' much less have someone else say that to me.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I want everything to be easy. Far from it. I like a challenge. But I want to pour myself into the challenges that bring me life. That fit me uniquely. That make me feel like they were so hard that it demanded all my head and heart but that brought me so much energy that I hardly notice.
The problem is I don't always know what that is. Faced with a finite amount of time but what feels like unlimited possibilities, opportunities, and potential ways to spend that time, I get overwhelmed knowing what to say yes or no to. I want to make the best choices I can and invest myself in ways that will help me take steps toward doing more and more what I love. It's a huge reason why this blog exists.
But one day as I sat down to pray, a question popped into my head. "What did you enjoy doing when you were a kid?"
And as I wrote down my list, I found it really fun to remember those things. Many things showed up with very clear connections to my present day self.
pretty much what I used to wear! Hmm, I really might have to get a pair for myself.
+ I loved to learn new things. I prided myself on teaching myself how to ride a bike, twirl a baton, and roller skate and I had a natural confidence that I could learn anything I needed to know. For Strengthsfinder fans, I have "Learner" as one of my top 10 strengths and this is how it showed up in me as a kid. I still really like to pick up new skills and be in new situations.
+ I loved roller skating and used to go to the rink with my friends. My mom would drop me off and pick me up hours later back when such a thing was normal. I'd host sleepovers at my house. I'd be out biking around the neighborhood with my friends until it was time to go home for dinner. And I still love and value my friends today.
+ I loved reading and would check out stacks and stacks of books from the library so high that I could hardly carry them out to the car. But It had to be my own choice. I really pissed off my parents one summer when they insisted that I read Watership Down because it was a classic but I just couldn't motivate myself to get through it. Talking rabbits just wasn't my thing. But I loved words and stories. Still do today.
+ I remembered something I had forgotten which was that I used to create a little "magazine" with drawings and little articles, staple it together, and give it to my friends and sister. When I remembered that, I realized that was the precursor to my blog.
+ I loved my sticker collection and I thought that maybe I should start up a collection of some sort again. I hate clutter but the idea of a purposeful collection sounded kind of fun.
The list continued. I tried to be as specific and as exhaustive as possible. Most things made total sense.
I was a connoisseur of mud.
One of the things really confused me though. I remembered how much I loved making mud pies. Specifically, I have some of my most vivid childhood play images of me not just making mud pies but making my own special version of "mud cookies." I remember priding myself on choosing good dirt. Of course I had to pick out all the rocks to create a nice and smooth dirt base, mixing the dirt with water to the right consistency (not too much or too little water lest the mud batter become too runny or too clumpy), and then "baking" my neat rows of cookies on a plank of scrap wood in the sun until they hardened to look almost like the real thing.
For something I remembered so clearly and strongly, it confused me because I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to learn about myself from that. I hate real baking. I am competent at baking maybe 2-3 things that I repeat and I don't have much interest in learning too much more.
You don't hear too much about professional mud pie making so I didn't think there was any future for me in taking it up again. Hard to picture it as a hobby either but maybe I'm being too short-sighted?
It didn't make sense. But I couldn't just leave it because I remember loving it so much and my memories so strong that I felt like there had to be some significance. I really wanted to know what 8-year old Tracey was trying to tell me with her love of making the most beautiful rows of rock-free mud cookies that you've ever seen.
It was the joy of creating something just for the sake of creating. It was not practical. The cookies could obviously not be eaten which even I knew as a child. They didn't last. A new day meant the need for a new batch. They weren't especially beautiful except to me. But my mom wasn't going to hang them on the fridge with pride. But I loved making them. The process of collecting the dirt, taking out the rocks, stirring, and baking. At the end of the process, I would always search for the nicest ones of the batch and admire them thinking "Ah, this one is nice and round. It is one of the best ones" as I placed it on my paper plate.
Elizabeth Gilbert says, "A creative life is an amplified life. It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner - continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you — is a fine art, in and of itself."
And I realize this is what 8-year old mud cooking-making Tracey has been trying to tell me - be creative & just make stuff! Write even though you aren't sure if anyone is really reading. Create a blog post even if it seems frivolous to other people. Just make something. Be creative. Love and enjoy the process. Don't just be a consumer. Be a creator. And that's what I'm gonna keep on doing over here in this little corner of the internet even if people make fun of me for it. Or think it's dumb. Or don't read. I'm going to do it because it's my 44-year old version of making mud pies.
So, what did you used to do as a kid? And what is your 8-year old self trying to say to you?