I should be waking up in a cold sweat every night with reoccurring dreams of being a childhood failure.
When I was a kid, I played on my home town’s little league baseball team. I chose the outfield because it meant I could make little dirt volcanos with my cleats and pray that the other team didn’t have the motor skills to hit a ball further than second base. The other team always picked up on this and made sure to hit every ball my way. It meant I had to quickly throw it back to the infield with a technique that resembled a man with spaghetti arms trying to swat a fly.
My dad signed me up for this every spring for about four years after my nine seasons of soccer proved to be a waste of time (the only thing I learned was how to use an orange peel as a mouth guard). During one particular game, we were up by one run during the bottom of the ninth and the opposing team was at bat. They had two outs and the bases were loaded. The batter hit a fly ball that came directly towards me, but I didn’t notice because my dirt volcano was melting a nearby village of ants. By the time I realized I could catch the fly ball and win the game for our team, I had missed the fly ball and lost the game for our team.
My father was horrified, as this is apparently the stuff that ruins kids’ lives. He still brings up the time he lost a high school wrestling match because he made the simple mistake of throwing up all over everything. He feared that I would lose all my friends and never be able to let down this terrible mistake. My team slumped back to the dugout with their dreams shattered. My coaches hung their heads in shame. I took my glove off and skipped off the field to my father, stopping at one point to try and catch a butterfly.
“Can we get ice cream now?” I asked with a pleading grin.
It was then that my father realized I had no intention of playing for the Red Sox when I grew up. Once I entered high school, I began to gravitate towards the things I loved, like making short films, acting on stage, playing music, and writing; all of which you can do with spaghetti arms. Not that I don’t appreciate my father’s efforts to get me involved in team sports (I’ve never had as much muscle as I did when I was in elementary school).
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to help work a table at a local career fair for young engineers. The attendees ranged from sixth to twelfth grade. Most of the younger ones were with their parents who realized that, if their children majored in Minecraft, they probably wouldn’t be able to support them upon retirement.
“What kind of engineer do you want to be?” I asked a sixth grade boy.
“He wants to study biological engineering with a focus in thermodynamics and polymer science.” Explained his father.
“Oh wow! Is that so?” I asked the boy.
“I can make my fart sound like an angry bird.” He stated.
After a little while we began to get visits from the older crowd. These kids were about to graduate and enter college. They had time to discover who they were in high school and who they were going to be for the rest of their lives. One of them looked like an engineer to the point where I would have hired him without an interview.
“What types of products do you make in the biomedical industry?” He asked.
My colleague and I gave him a decent description.
“Where are you plants located?” He inquired.
We told him.
“Can you describe the extrusion process of your medical tubing?”
At his point we sent him to a more capable person without a communications degree, but he stuck around the booth for at least twenty minutes asking all about the work that we do as a business. And this wasn’t a list of questions that one of his parents shoved in his pocket for the day. This was his curiosity.
“What a nerd.” I said to my colleague.
But I meant it in the best way possible. When I’m older and three hundred pounds for lack of participating in team sports, I hope this kid has a hand in making the hospital equipment used to keep me alive. I hope he designs it with the same enthusiasm he had at our career fair booth.
And if his engineered equipment fails and I die of extreme obesity, I hope he takes it to heart and spends sleepless nights designing a better product instead of skipping over to his boss without a care in the world and asking, “Can we get ice cream now?”