Major Strawberry Picker

In my wife’s favorite film, On Golden Pond,  an elderly couple comes to their summer home on the lake.  Norman is a perpetual grouch and Ethel is a perpetual ray of sunshine.  He doesn’t know what to do with himself so he’s talking about getting a job.  He’s not serious about it, he’s just being a grump.  So Ethel sends him off to the woods to gather strawberries for a pie.

Here’s a clip

Ethel:  Take these buckets and pick us another quart of strawberries.
And I’ll fix us up a scrumptious strawberry shortcake for lunch. Go on.
Norman: You want me to pick strawberries?
Ethel:  Yep. Do I have to put an ad in the paper?
Norman:  I’m not sure I know how.
Ethel:  It’s really very simple. You bend over and pick ’em.
Norman:  Bend over? Where are they?
Ethel:  On the ground, where they belong.
Norman:  Last time we picked blueberries they were on a bush. Didn’t have to bend over at all.
Ethel:  These are strawberries, and they grow on the ground.
Norman:  Here comes what’s-his-name. He’ll have the paper. I don’t want to miss any career opportunities off lookin’ for strawberries.
Ethel:  I’ll pay you. It may be the beginning of something big.
You may become a major strawberry picker.

Jenn and I have seen it together many times, and this scene has come to represent something for us.   There is something about the absurdity of  looking for a job opportunity in something that will come of nothing.  So, when I get all intense and grandiose about something that I can’t make a job out of my wife will say, “You might become a major strawberry picker!”  Or sometimes I’ll recognize the situation and say it to myself.  We laugh about it, and I generally take the cue to chill out.

You see, this is what I do!  I find something that I’m good at, and I throw myself into it, perhaps ignoring other important things in my life!  I start making plans and having fantasies in the hopes of becoming a major singer, major cook, major tuba player, major writer; a major strawberry picker.  I go overboard!

I’m learning through this phrase to accept my limitations;  to have no illusions about my abilities.  It is true that I’m pretty good at a number of things, and i work very hard to get better.  But the truth is, if I were good enough to go pro on anything but music education and software development, I feel that I would know by now.  Someone would have noticed and encouraged me to make a move.

When you’re young, you dream about having a career in something that you love, and don’t get me wrong, I love my career, but it’s disappointing when you learn that something you love will be an avocation instead of a vocation.  My voice teacher in college tried to let me down easy on singing.

He took me to lunch on campus one day.  Where Cafe Plaid used to be, there was once a lovely shop with greeting cards in the front and a little cafe in the back.  It served great burgers and the best beef stew in town.  I felt privileged to get this kind of attention from a professor whom I loved.

As we ate, he asked “David, do you know the difference between a vocation and an avocation?”

I said that I wasn’t sure.

He said, “A vocation is when someone does something professionally for a living.  An avocation is something that you do just because you love it.  It’s not a career.  You know, most singers will never have singing as a vocation, but many sing because they love it.”

Although, I didn’t realize it at the time, he was telling me that in his estimation, I would not realize my dreams of becoming a professional singer.  It’s not the only time he tried to tell me, but I refused to accept it.  I am a good singer, it is true.  I have worked very hard to be able to do what I can do, but it will never reach the level required to be a full-time opera singer.  If I were going to be a pro, then people would have said so.  People would be urging me on.  It may sound cruel of him, but if I would have trusted him on it, it would have saved me years of misery.

So, many things I do will always be strawberry picking.  And if I don’t recognize it, I am setting myself up for disappointment and frustration.  It doesn’t mean that I quit.  It means that I do it because I love it.  It’s a tough lesson to learn and it runs counter to the American notion that you should never give up on your dreams, but I haven’t really given up any dreams. I’ve merely adjusted them for the sake of my happiness.  I’ve adjusted them to be in line with reality.  I feel lucky to have so many wonderful berries to pick in my life.  And at the end to all of this picking there may even be a delicious strawberry pie.

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