It's not often that a chat with two children causes a stir on the internet but then again, it's not often that two children like Jaden and Willow Smith come along. Already destined to be magazine fodder given their Hollywood parents (Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith), the siblings gave a remarkable interview to the New York Times Magazine recently that had everybody buzzing.
While many were quick to mock the tweens, I actually found the piece and their responses rather brilliant. In between the pretentious soundbytes and showboating was a wisdom that's admirable to see in ones so young. It's a heady measure of optimism and realism; at the tender age of 14 (Willow) and 16 (Jaden), the Smith's have managed to figure out a cracking way to look at life.
One particular sentiment stood out to me and got me thinking:
"JADEN: That’s another thing: What’s your job, what’s your career? Nah, I am. I’m going to imprint myself on everything in this world."
While the young man was referring to all the things he wants to try, I found the wording of the notion rather powerful and as a result, am using it to riff on an idea close to my heart.
In our teens, when we have discussions with ourselves and other people and what we want to do when we grow up, the focus is often quite narrow. What career we will pursue is the dominating theme and financial incentive plays a large part in people's choices. I remember when I was in school, the onus was on business and science degrees in order to rake in the moolah and relish in job security. But I knew that money was never going to be enough of an incentive for me when it came to my career - I needed to do something I loved, something that would make me get out my warm bed on a Winter morning because I enjoyed my job.
For my sins, I picked media and it's a relentlessly hard world but one that, overall, I am happy in. But before I even graduated - with some letters and the title of "Journalist" to accompany my name - I knew that I didn't only want my career to work for me; I wanted it to work for the world.
It's an idealism that has not left me, but has actually grown and expanded over the years. Between volunteering as an Ambassador for ReachOut.com and being a proud alum of the Washington Ireland Program, a commitment to service and philanthropy is something which will breath with me for all of my days. I have been blessed to witness and experience the difference that one person can make in this often scary and overwhelming world.
I think that when we plan our lives in the fledgling of our youth, at a time when we should be most open to the endless possibilities our presence can have on society, we think far too small. We consider our impact only in terms of our own happiness and benefit. It does not make us selfish, of course personal happiness is important. But it is as just as important to take a look at the world around you and continuously and frequently ask yourself - what can I be doing to make it better? For me? For the ones I love? For people I've never met and people I will meet in the future?
Or, to paraphrase a wise beyond his years 16-year-old, don't make a career, make an imprint. In whatever way you like, in anyway you can. But do it. Find a cause, stand up for a belief, donate time or money to a charity, question the structures and the institutions around you. Push the boundaries, subvert the expectations.
If we all made a bit more of an effort to leave a well-rounded imprint on the world, something that would last beyond our human days, there is no end to the goodness that could be achieved. If we applied a fraction of the dedication and thought to our imprint that we apply to our career over the course of twenty, thirty years, incredible and amazing things will happen.
Start today. Use what you have. Do what you can. It's so much more than you could possibly imagine.