A while back, my sister-in-law's baby sister enrolled in pastry school. This is notable for many reasons, not the least of which is that she is the stay-at-home mother of two small children. As any parent knows, small children have a way of filling every nook and cranny of spare time a parent has, so that the idea of enrolling in pastry school sounds nice but....not always doable.
I recently asked my sister-in-law how her sister's pastry school adventure is going and got the following picture texted to me in response:
I had two immediate thoughts:
1. Holy-moly, this woman is a badass baker!
2. I wonder if she should open a bakery or start a cottage side business selling food at a farmer's market?
Then, as I began doing mental math on what a side business like that could yield, I had (thank goodness) the following thought:
Why do I always have to try to turn everything into a money-making scenario?
As I thought longer (I was in the bath, prime real estate for thinking), I really began to ask myself how I define a skill and how I decide whether or not that skill, hobby or knowledge is valuable.
I'm not proud to say that my immediate response was to define a skill 'worthy' if it could possibly make money. This is especially true if acquiring that skill cost money (as in paying tuition for cooking school).
As I thought about this longer, I began to see that my definition of value had actually fallen victim to the same distorted, narrow and shallow viewpoint that thrives in a consumerist culture.
Basically, I'd reduced an entire experience down to dollars and cents.
I realized that I do this sort of distorted mental math with not just other people's skills but with my own.
I feel like many of my skills are 'wasted' because they're not being used to make money.
I bemoan having a masters degree to simply stay at home with my kids, arguing that one doesn't need a graduate education to clean toilets. I feel that my language skills (my dying Mandarin Chinese skills) have been a sorry investment because I never 'did' anything with them (i.e. joined the state department or other such agency). I figure my writing skills were only worth anything when I worked in Washington with a job that came with an office and a title and a paycheck. I don't see my ability to ride a horse at a full gallop through the North Carolina woods remarkable, nor do I credit my own cooking skills as anything more than average because I don't have a diploma and professional experience to go alongside them.
Readers - as I write this out, I am embarrassed by this one-dimensional, narrow-minded thinking. My education is my education, not relevant simply as a way to earn money but relevant (always) for the way it shaped my thinking, opened up world issues to me in a new context and allowed me to sit with other people who asked questions I didn't know to ask and explored subjects I wasn't aware existed.
That is worth more than the $42,000 I made as a researcher in that office in DC.
My language skills allowed me to take my 10-year-old daughter to China and spend a week in Beijing, tromping all over that city, along the Great Wall and snaking our way through hutongs.
Learning to ride a horse at the age of 35 taught me that I am not limited to the fixed mindset I was taught as a kid.
My cooking skills, though unschooled and a little slapdash, prepare food every night for the people I love most, which is worth more to me than preparing food every night for strangers.
My older sister also attended culinary school twenty-years ago, and though she's never worked in a professional setting, when our nephew's birthday came up this year and he was asked what he wanted for his cake, he replied, "I want Auntie's apple pie."
A close friend is a doctor and private pilot. He makes no money as a pilot (in fact, it costs him plenty of his own), but our daughter is considering becoming a pilot one day because he let her fly his two-seater, tail-dragger 'all by herself.'
My brother plays music that is so infectious kids dance unabashed and strangers approach him with thanks, and he's never made a dime.
My sister-in-law teachers Jazzercise (which is no small investment for certification) because it makes her happy.
It's time to stop defining worth by things like return-on-investment, salary and equal exchange. It's time to stop asking if it makes financial sense to enroll in pastry school on the weekends when you've got two small kids at home and money is tight and free-time is tighter and maybe it's a dumb idea anyway.
Good for my sister-in-law's baby sister....for taking the time for herself, for finding a way when I'm sure it wasn't easy and for following a dream...not of making money and hustling a side business....but of learning something new, something she'd always wanted to learn, something that can't be summed up in dollars and cents.
What would the world look like if we all developed skills and hobbies based on something other than money, and what if we gave away all of the benefits and perks of those skills for free? What if we saw the beauty and benefit not as a way to pad bank accounts but as a way to connect with each other and cultivate our own selves?
Probably everyone else already sees it that way and I'm just the one lone soul who is still doing mental math and side business calculations.
But let me ask:
What skills do you have that make you no money but that bring you or someone else happiness?
Is there something you've wanted to learn that you've ignored because it costs too much, takes too much time or won't yield a good return on investment?
I'd love to end with my own wise words, but I think we've seen I've got some road ahead of me. I'll end then with Henrik Isben's famous quote:
We're snowed in (again). I'm off to have a snowball fight and bask in the sun that is shining like a beacon on the sky.