Born To Wander

By Linda Nagata
(cross-posted from Hahví.net)

“Not All Those Who Wander are Lost” — JRR Tolkien

On the other hand, some of us are — lost, that is. Oh, I don’t mean that we don’t know where we are in the world, it’s just that we don’t know where we are in the grand scheme of things. But then, maybe there’s a very good reason for that.

Not long ago, in a random conversation, a friend mentioned the name of a race car driver—I have no recollection of why we were discussing race car drivers—but he felt this particular driver was a natural. “He was born to drive race cars.”

You hear this expression all the time. “He was born to be a blogger.” “She was born to climb mountains.” Or sing arias, or be a politician, or be an engineer… The expression indicates the perfect convergence of inborn skills and inclination, with a challenging task or a creative endeavor. When you’re “born to do something” the least encouragement will launch you on a lifelong mission to gather the necessary skills, to make the contacts, and to meet the mentors who will help you along the way to becoming a master of your craft. It’s synchronicity in action, and a glorious thing to witness.

But when my friend mentioned this man who was born to drive race cars, I found myself replying, “It’s lucky for him he wasn’t born in, say, 1602.” Which led me to wonder: What if the race car driver had been born in 1602? Then he never would have found his ideal life’s task. What would he have done instead? What do all those people do who just happen to not be born at the right time (or the right place or in the right circumstances) to discover and find fulfillment in their ideal life’s task?

At a guess I’d say a lot of them wander through life trying their hand at different things without ever truly meshing with any of them. Do you know any people like that? Are you someone like that? Hesitantly, I raise my own hand.

All through college I thought I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, then I wanted to be a writer, then I spent nine years as a programmer. Now I’m a writer again, but I’m also a publisher, and this combination makes me feel like I’m as close as I’ve ever come to the thing I was “born to do.” And still…I can’t escape a nagging suspicion that there is or was or will be something else for which I would be ideally suited—or maybe some of us are just never satisfied?

As for those of you who know why you’re here, realize that we envy you. And please don’t take it the wrong way when we wander around in middle age saying things like “Someday I’ll grow up and figure out what I really want to be.” We’re not trying to be annoying; it’s just that we really don’t know.

Linda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book The Dread Hammer, is a fast-paced mythic fantasy of love, war, murder, marriage, and fate.

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Born To Wander — 6 Comments

  1. Ah .. perhaps thinking outside the box is required here … perhaps he raced carriages, or whatever they had back then.

    Many things that exist in our time continuum, have their equivalent in the past if you think about it.

    I reckon those who are ‘born’ to do something, somehow end up in the right time and place. Otherwise how would we be able to name them as such?

  2. All of this makes me think of a close friend of mine who has used a wheelchair since he was about 2 or 3. He is a reader, a disability activist, a superb meeting-runner, and a careful and thoughtful man.

    He says that if he didn’t have a disability, he’d probably be like his brother, who never got a college education, who drinks too much, who has a couple of kids he never really supports, etc., etc.

    So what was _he_ born for?

  3. Some might think people born for a thing that happened to them by accident. Like, say, Lord Chesterfield and his letters to his son, which he never intended to publish–they were entirely labors of love, though there was a Rousseauian imperative to pass on the wisdom he’d accrued (children being blank slates). His true love was politics, to which he dedicated his considerable wit and drive. However, politics is a fickle mistress, unlike his son’s mother. He was unsuccessful as a politician, in that he never gained fame or power. So . . . what was he born to do?

    Margot Fonteyn, in her autobiography, said she had to be pushed to train in dance. Her audiences would have sworn she was born to be a ballerina, but she had misgivings for years.

  4. On my other blog, the comments were along the line of “I was born to be a starship captain, but that’s not going to work out.” So we make it up as we go, right? We make of it what we can. And there’s a lot to be said for trying our hands at many different things.

  5. My thought is that, if you were born to be a starship captain, you would gravitate inevitably to the closest analogue available. Born in 1649, and you wind up on a sailing ship; in 1849 and you crew the TITANIC; in 1949 and you work for NASA. Which then allows us to turn it around. Here you are, a not very exciting tap dancer, or programmer in Linux, or repairer of riding lawnmowers. What would you -really- be doing with that skill, in an ideal universe?

  6. Seems less likely that a person is born to join a particular profession (doctor, star-ship captain, dancer), than to perform a particular kind of action. Verb rather than noun.

    I’m pretty sure I was born to feed everyone around me – does that mean I was born to be a restauranteur? Or perhaps a high school “lunch lady”? Or maybe a grandmother? I certainly haven’t found a fitting career for this action. Perhaps none exists in 2012 that properly captures all aspects of my brand of cooking and nurturing. The best I can do is “round up” to the closest match.

    The occupation can change depending on the circumstances (time, location, socioeconomic status), I’d wager, so long as the action remains true.