Lately I have been thinking a lot about the classic ‘Coming of Age’ story. Specifically the part where the character has realized that their childhood dream or view of the world is… wrong.
They’ve just been dumped by the girl of their dreams. They’ve failed one too many tests and they’re being sent to military school. Their best friend is going to a different university and they aren’t actually going to open a private eye detective agency together.
For me it’s realizing that everything isn’t going to magically fall in my lap.
In these stories this is where the dream of childhood has been shattered by the reality of adulthood. It’s the lowest point; the character is wallowing in a waist deep pile of grief, or distracting themselves with video games or alcohol or drugs… in all of them the character is living in a fantasy that allows them to prolong that childlike view of the world.
My favourite example of this is in the film 500 Days of Summer, a love story about breaking up, when Tom (the main character) finally realizes that the girl of his dreams is gone. She is going to marry someone else. His childhood understandings of love have been shattered into a billion pieces.
Tom is heartbroken. He quits his job, wallows for a bit, drinks a lot… but then as in all Coming of Age stories Tom realize that he can’t wallow forever.
In all these stories this is when the character looks around and realizes their life is a stagnant mess and, though it’s difficult, they pick themselves up and solve their problem or go find another girl or reexamine their desires and figure out what they really want.
They learn that the only person who is going to fix this situation is them.
For Tom this takes place in a fantastic montage. He shaves and showers then he starts sketching and soon he rediscovers his love for architecture. He draws a tons, starts applying to places, gets rejected, applies again and then the song dies out and he’s headed to an interview at a cool looking place and he’s in a suit and you feel so good for the guy. Then he meets a beautiful girl in the waiting room and it’s the best ending of a movie ever.
All I need to do is think about that movie and I’m inspired. Tom did it, I can do it too! For Tom it took the destruction of all his childhood dreams about love and relationships to show him that he wasn’t doing what he loved. For me, I can watch a movie and learn from Tom!
Now let’s turn the spyglass to my own life.
I’m fuzzy on my childhood, but I think what I wanted was to hang out with my buddies, having fun until forever. In high school I figured we’d all become dentists, marry hot babes and then travel the world and spend money and do things that adults do. When I started college I was going to become a dentist – things were going my way!
Then one summer I worked in a dental clinic. It didn’t take long to realize I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. Do you realize how long the rest of your life is?? It’s literally all you’ve got left. If possible I want to spend that time doing stuff I love!
The time came to write the entry exams for dental school and instead of studying I was thinking that I needed to figure out what I wanted in life.
So I sat down and examined my desires. While examining I received a business degree. Then I examined a bit more while travelling around Europe.
After returning I made my first real ‘adulthood’ goal. In a movie this would be my initial ‘montage’ moment. While living in Kelowna and being surrounded by amazing Christians I decided that I wanted to, and was going to, truly follow God. I would do whatever and go wherever he commanded. This was a serious decision that I still stand by. A real ‘adult’ thing that has changed my life.
But even this had juvenile undertones. Lacking direction, I hoped that God would call me towards something exciting – tell me what to do and where to go. A little crazy right?
Incredibly, it turned out to be enough for God. Shortly after, He honoured my decision and sent me Mercy Ships. If you don’t know the story read it here, but know that God definitely led me to that crazy ship – I have no doubts about that.
While in Africa a lot of my time was spent trying to figure out why I was there. What did God want me to do? From the first day to the last I wondered this question.
I think partly why I often asked this was because I didn’t decide of my own volition to be there.
A quick example. If you decide to take Korean classes, you know why you’re there – to learn Korean because you probably want to go there. If God tells you in a dream to go to Korean class you will be sitting in those classes trying to figure out why the heck you’re there. Is it to go to the country, is it to chat with Korean people in town, is it to cheer up some random person you’ll meet years down the road whom you can speak to because of those classes? Who knows!
This is kind of how I felt on Mercy Ships. Looking back I think a lot of the reason I was there was to meet and inspire people, and I’m sure I helped the organization and learned (subconsciously) a lot of lessons – but I’m still not entirely sure.
Which brings me back to Tom. One thing I learned from him and Mercy Ships is that growing up means taking responsibility. It was awesome that God lead me to Mercy Ships, but I think the chances of that falling in my lap again are slim. Maybe it’ll happen and I’m not saying I don’t trust that He could do it, I’m just not going to put all my hopes and dreams towards that.
I feel like maybe it’s time to take a little responsibility. Coming of Age stories teach us that sometimes you have to be the first one to take a step forward. Because in doing so you learn the only thing stopping you is yourself.
I feel like God is saying I could be a great writer. I’m working away on a novel and each day as I slowly get through it I tell myself that if I can just finish it then God will be happy and the next mission will come. The book is super fun to write and all, but a lot of it is just plain horrible. A part of me thinks that when it’s finally done God will send an editor who will make it shiny and awesome, or I’ll read it and be like ‘Wow, why did I think this was poopy garbage – It’s actually incredible!’.
That probably won’t happen. Pray it will though please.
If I really want to become a great writer I know what I have to do. I have to write more. Read more. Study more. I don’t need a sign from God to know all that – he gave me the love of writing and reading already, he’s done his part. He’s also told a couple random people to tell me that i’ll be a writer one day too which has helped my confidence.
But just because I love writing and I feel like I will one day be a writer doesn’t mean it’s going to magically happen. I need to get rid of the childhood idea that things are always going to be easy and fun forever. It’s time to get down to work and stop waiting for the next thing from God. Maybe it’s already here and I don’t see it, or maybe he’s wanting me to go out and start looking for it.
I feel a little like Bilbo in The Hobbit.
When I went to to Mercy Ships I related a ton to Bilbo. Gandalf had knocked on my door and said very clearly, ‘Here is an adventure for you, all you need to do is walk out your door and follow it, I’ll be with you when you need me’. Then I’d run out the door and sure enough, an adventure had swept me along.
Now I feel a little different. Gandalf is back at my door but instead of a band of dwarves and a quest he’s giving me a new pair of travelling shoes and a vague dream to move towards writing. Then he winks, disappears and I’m left trying to figure out if what I want is what I really want. My childhood view of the world has dumped me and I’ve drifted around for awhile but even now I can feel an upbeat montage starting.
The time has come to stand up and go hard for the dream. Hopefully God will honour this as well… But realistically the only thing stopping me right now is me.
Luckily that’s one of the few things I have control over.
What do you think? I’d love comments on this topic. When was your coming of age moment, or are you still waiting for it? Any advice? Or possibly do you know of any writing jobs out there in need of a energetic young guy??
I’d love to hear from you all.