This is an essay by Brandon Monk.
Inspired by True Grit by Charles Portis, Hatchet: 20th Anniversary Edition by Gary Paulsen, and The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich.
When I was around eleven years old my cousins and I started the “Earth Club.” Our goal was to spread the word that recycling was good,easy, and it would save the world. This was in the early 90s so our ideas were pretty well accepted even though Al Gore had not come around to trumpet the idea with such vigor. We kept this up for an afternoon. When the time came for our parents to take us home we vowed to carry on the idea with informal planning sessions.
We had ambitions to put a homemade pamphlet of our own design in every mail box in our small city (Population 13,000 and change). Progress being what it was, I wanted to use my personal funds to speed things along and make color copies of our handouts. Hand drafting each pamphlet was our bottleneck, I thought at the time. Being eleven, I had to ask for permission to spend that money. My request was denied which saved me at least $20. What would have been the result if permission had been granted? Chances are nothing would have changed about my life, but there can be a fine line between frivolous projects and “the next big thing.” Reading and re-reading three books got me thinking along these lines. Let’s look at them as three case studies in youthful potential.
Case Study #1: True Grit (Fiction)
A young girl faced with her father’s murder decides on a plan to hire someone to avenge her father’s death. Through a great deal of luck and a lost limb she is able to accomplish this goal. Her strengths were persistence, self-awareness, and a reluctance to resign herself to her station in life, that of a teenage girl, even though she was confronted with that suggestion by a number of characters including her own mother. She recognized when she was being taken advantage of and even wore a chip on her shoulder about this being a potential in her dealings with adults.
Case Study #2: Hatchet (Fiction)
Paulsen, Hatchet’s author, set out with the simple motivation of writing a good story and eventually motivated a generation, myself included, to a reading life. In Hatchet, Brian Robeson is faced with divorcing parents, initially. As the book progresses this problem is engulfed by a survival tale when the pilot of his plane has a heart attack, and Brian is forced to survive alone for many days.
Brian survives as a result of a combination of luck, brilliance, and patience. He made mistakes along the way which could have killed him. Instead he lived and found a new confidence in the face of hardship because he could lose everything and use his learned skills to start over more easily than before.
Case Study #3: Accidental Billionaires (Non-Fiction)
Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook at age 19 while a sophomore at college. Six years later, in 2010 he was honored by Time magazine as “Person of the Year.” At age 12 he had created what he called “ZuckNet” for his family to use to network their computers. He had to hire a professional to wire the network. Keep in mind this was on a system using Windows 3.1 and before home networking was as easy as a router purchase. What if Zuckerberg’s parents had decided that “ZuckNet” was a horrible idea and discouraged it? Would it have mattered?
I think the message is two fold. One for the younger crowd and one for the older crowd.
Young readers: Don’t be particularly dissuaded by old people when you have enthusiasm and energy. Realize that their pessimism may exist because they never accomplished what they wanted with their time. Whether your ambition is reading, writing, or stuffing hand drawn recycling literature in mailboxes, follow it as far as you can.
Old readers: Children know more of the world than you give them credit for. The language of a child is often hope and idealism, but when faced with a problem they may show an ability to connect that hope and idealism with reality. Give children a chance to be better than you were or are.
I’m not about to tell you which category you belong in, so don’t ask.