Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mutta and Me: A Second Chance to Dream Big

In Space Brothers, aka Uchuu Kyoudai, Nanba Mutta
dreams of going to the moon and Mars.
My freshman year of high school, I interviewed a well-published author. No, I won’t tell you who she is. We had to write an essay about a career we wanted or something like that, and I chose writing. I researched what it took to write a novel, find an agent, get published, and various other things related to the profession. An interview was required, so I called an author whose books I’d read, a friend of a friend, and asked if we could meet. A lot of emotional energy went into that call. Phone calls petrified me, especially to strangers, and even more so when asking a favor. I actually cried before I managed to write a little script for myself and make the phone call.

After the interview, she gave me her card and offered to read my story and give advice. I didn’t take her up on the offer, of course; I was too shy.

At fourteen years old, I had one novel-length story written, an accomplished author’s contact information on my bulletin board, and family friends with connections in the publishing industry. I’d researched the industry well, and I wanted to become a writer. 

From an outside perspective, it seems like the situation was all lined up for me. All I needed to do was continue to practice, and I’d have a chance. Yet by the end of high school, I’d decided my writing was just a hobby. I decided I wasn’t cut out to write professionally, fiction or nonfiction, and that I wouldn’t be able to earn a living on it anyway. Better to choose a career easier to get into, like teaching. I dismissed professional writing as a childish dream, a phase I went through, and unpractical for me.

Everything was lined up for my dream, but I lacked the diligence and the courage to pursue it. 

Over a year ago, I met someone a lot like me. He doesn’t live in this time, the third dimension, or even reality. He’s older than me, and his interests are different. But I empathize with him in a way almost as big as his dream. His name is Nanba Mutta.

As a child, Mutta decided he wanted to be an astronaut. He and his little brother were captivated by space, and they spent their time researching and dreaming about it for years. His practical, oldest-child self kept him from being as passionate as his little brother, but he still had the dream, and his mind was well-suited for a future astronaut.

Mutta and his brother, Hibito, spent a lot of time at the tourist end of Japan’s space center program, JAXA, touring and listening to lectures until they could give the guide’s speeches themselves. Their passion was noticed and encouraged by the people who worked there, people with connections to the career they dreamed of. Separately, got to know an astronomer named Sharon so well, they called her “aunt.” They visited her and used her observatory. She taught them English, which would be needed if they went to NASA, and various things about space.

The Namba brothers had the support and connections they needed. They had the dream. They even have the developing skills that would push them toward their goal. Everything was lined up for them. Hibito took these opportunities and reached his dream. The older brother didn’t.

Like me, Mutta is a practical oldest sibling. He knew how hard it was to become an astronaut. As he passed through teenagehood, he decided that his dream was unrealistic. He was done getting his hopes up. Better to focus on school and getting a normal job. It hurt, but he stopped actively building his space knowledge and skills. He gave up before he really began.

Everything was lined up for his dream, but Mutta, like me, lacked the courage and confidence to pursue it. 

We’ve given up on our dream jobs, so what do we do? Mutta grew up and went to work at an auto company. His skills were useful there, but his boss wasn’t great and he wasn’t really happy. From the looks of it, he had to force himself to be there, and he clearly wasn’t cut out for office life. Good office workers don’t headbutt their boss, no matter what their boss says about their brother. 

Me? I’m not as far along in life as Mutta is, but I’ve settled for less than my dream. I received just as much praise from others for my bent toward teaching as for my writing. I enjoy helping people reach that “lightbulb” moment, and the problem solving as I find the best way make things click. So I decided to become a math teacher. I tutored my cousins. I registered as a math education major at school. I played up my love for math as an important part of my identity.

But I was pushing myself to fit a role that I didn’t feel good in. I liked math, but that’s because I like critical thinking, which I can use elsewhere, and I didn’t enjoy my homework like I once did. And the idea of being in charge of a classroom of minors from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. five days a week stressed me out. Actually, interacting with anyone outside of family that much stressed me out. I thought I’d outgrow this stress, but it became clear that while I was doing better, teaching in a classroom would not be peaceful for me. 

So I decided to explore business. Again, I have some skills that apply. I liked the idea of working with websites, information systems, online marketing, or helping businesses problem solve. But again, I was pushing myself to fit a “practical” mold, one that I didn’t feel called to. I was trying to push aside a dream I decided was ridiculous: being paid to write, research, make connections, and be alone for much of the work week.

I decided I would write as a hobby and serve God through simple interactions with people. I decided that my weaknesses in multitasking and my discomfort with “normal, boring” jobs were things that could be overcome. I decided good stewardship of the money God gave me meant choosing a career path that I perceived to have a better guarantee of return. I didn’t practice writing or problem solving with any level of diligence, though I did finish another novel. I didn’t even read very much for fun; I indulged myself with mind-numbing internet use instead. 

I talked about being a good steward of God’s money, but I pushed aside stewarding the other gifts He gave me. I said it would be lazy to focus on an unrealistic dream instead of challenging my weaknesses in practical fields... and ignored how lazy I was about fostering my ability to write, research, or problem solve. Look back at the last one and a half paragraphs and note how many times “I” was the subject, even when I was talking about God. I decided to choose a path that minimized my dreams because I didn’t have faith to wait for an answer from Him about where I should go. I made excuses to protect myself. I stopped trying to succeed beyond the status quo, because I was afraid of failure. I let my self confidence go... just like Mutta.

I didn’t expect to let myself dream impractically again. Neither did Mutta. But God, or the mangaka as the case may be, has a way of giving opportunities where none are expected.

Mutta studies hard for his second chance at his dream.
After headbutting his boss, Mutta was fired from the auto company and blacklisted. No one would hire him. He no longer fit in the career path he’d forced himself into. He was free to pursue something else. His family, especially his little brother, gave him the push he needed to do so. JAXA was accepting applications from potential astronauts, so his family sent in his application, giving him a second chance. Mutta found himself pursuing his dream, whether or not he had the confidence in himself. The higher-ups saw the same qualities in him that his brother knew would make him a fine astronaut. He’s now at NASA, making his dream a reality.

What about me? As I wrote in my last post, seeds have been planted, especially by one of my professors. I admire teachers and businesspeople, but that’s not who I am. I don’t believe that’s what God made me to be, although I’m willing to listen if He says I heard wrong (no, I don’t mean audibly, as wondrous as that would be). I’ve switched my major to undeclared, and my future beyond the bachelor’s degree is even hazier than that. But I’m beginning to think that my dream of using my thinking and writing, of not working in an office with people five days a week, can be a reality. I want to dedicate my gifts to God and follow Him into an uncharted future. I want to begin that future now.

Like Mutta, I have connections again. When I thought I’d be a business major, I was assigned a second academic advisor, one who, like my history professor, encouraged me to use the passion and talent God has given me. My advisor, whom I only met with once, didn’t discourage me from business, but he clearly doubted that field would fully use who I was, or satisfy me. He suggested I work on my own projects alongside school, and he connected me with a published author who works on campus. He showed me how many people would love to help me pursue writing if I wished.

I’m now about twenty years old. I have three novel length stories done, as rough as they may be, and two more book ideas, one of them non-fiction. I have connections at my school, people who love to help students nurture their talent and achieve their dreams. The contact information for a published author sits in my computer. 

Ep 2 of Space Brothers, after Mutta passes the written test
stage of application to JAXA
I’ve applied for “normal” summer jobs, and even had an interview, but no matter how hard I tried to convince myself I was a good applicant, both I and the employers knew otherwise. I’ve only been hired for odd jobs and for tutoring. I’m free to foster my dream, just as Mutta was when his “normal” job fell through.

So why haven’t I started? Why do I dawdle? Why don’t I jump gratefully to use the time and gifts God has given me? Why do I spend more time indulging in momentary pleasures than striving to glorify Him? Why won’t I act diligently with what I have?

I don’t know. But I’m determined to change, with His help. Everything is in place. I don’t want to wait until I’m Mutta’s age to pursue my dreams. I don’t want to push aside the opportunities my Hibitos and Sharons have presented me. This is my second chance to dream big. I have no excuse not to take it.

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