Yep, that's me in the front there with my paleontology "uniform". Could those shorts have any more pleats?
When I was little, my dream was to be a paleontologist. Seeing Jurassic Park in theaters 3 times will do that to an impressionable mind. While dinosaurs are cool, I think the majority of this obsession had to do with the adventure and romance associated with discovering lost worlds and traveling to faraway islands. Not able to yet conceptualize or verbalize this fact, though, I started reading everything about dinosaurs I could get my hands on. I traced pictures of all the different types of dinosaurs onto my notepad and went over their names countless times so they would be burned into my mind. I remember being so immensely proud of myself when I was able to recite the stages of the Mesozoic Era (yes I had to look that up just now). I collected “fossils” and thought about what it’d be like when I was older and able to find real dinosaurs myself. I would bring them back to life, ride them around, and live out my days on a beautiful tropical island.
Well, the obsession lessened as I got into my teen years, but the fire was still smoldering. It hit its peak, though, when I was 16 and found out that I could put this dream into actual practice by going to KU’s science museum and help clean real fossils. I was so excited. I drove the 45 minutes to Lawrence, KS with my then boyfriend who was going to take a tour of the engineering lab since he was thinking of going to college there the next year. I actually felt bad for him, because I thought he was picking such a boring career. Whereas I had adventure set before me.
I walked through the museum that was filled with all these amazing artifacts from days past--cavemen trying to build a fire, a taxidermy horse that was supposedly from Custard’s last stand, pictures of what Lawrence looked like millions of years ago, and walked down three flights of stairs to a huge open room filled with dust and enormous rocks. The smell and sound were immediately overwhelming, and the dust particles were infiltrating my nostrils (and not in a good way). A nice grad student came over in a white lab coat and handed me a face mask and gestured to me where I would be sitting since I couldn’t hear anything. I sat down at a table with what looked like a huge limestone rock, but I guess was a fossil in front of me. I had an electric chisel and was supposed to cut away the rock from the fossil. I did this for 4 hours, and to be honest, I couldn’t tell what was rock and what was fossil.
I couldn’t wait to get out of there. If the day before I went to the museum was the peak of my obsession, then the day after was my lowest point of interest. My dream had been crushed by the reality of what being a paleontologist actually meant. It wasn’t all the glitz and glamour I envisioned. It was trekking through hot dusty places and looking for things that were barely identifiable as anything but rock and then sitting in a dusty lab trying not to destroy millions of years old dinosaur remains.
While I do admire paleontologists, and the work they do, this is one of the first times I remember thinking to myself that things are generally not as cool as they seem. The smoke and mirrors were gone. I had seen behind the curtain. It was a tough lesson, but one that I would encounter many other times as I grew up. The daydreams and visions I had in my head could not stand up to their real life counterparts. Needless to say, I never did become a paleontologist.
As children, we’re taught to reach for the stars. But as we grow, all those “yes’s” start turning into “no’s”, and all those doors that were opened to us have suddenly closed. It’s no wonder that the magic of our youth and wonderment in the impossible gets stripped away as we age. Bills to pay, retirement plans to think about, and other “adult” responsibilities take up our mind where daydreams once danced.
While one of my favorite past times is understanding how things work, I still think it’s important to maintain that mindset that magic is still possible. There is a place for seeing the world through childlike eyes and letting ourselves feel the wonderment of each moment. We might not always be able to, but we have to fight to keep our daydreams alive even though we know that they may only exist in our heads. When I’m sitting in my boring office job and not wanting to put together another ridiculous spreadsheet, I let my mind wander to a place of inspiration, of romance, of adventure. That is one of the reasons I love looking at blogs. They’re inspiring. They’re colorful and make me want to add color to my everyday life. We may be affected by the world and feel the pressure of the years weigh heavy on us, but keeping that spirit alive means that we haven't lost that indescribable piece of ourselves that makes us who we are. We are still in control and anything is possible.