When I was 10 years old, all I wanted to do was command a starship and be like Captain James T. Kirk.
I was obsessed with Star Trek reruns. I loved the real-life U.S. space program and I had eagerly watched the moon landings. I loved science and technology and adventure. But my reasons for loving Star Trek went far beyond that.
In Captain Kirk, I saw a template of what I thought I should be. He was tough and brave and smart and principled. He was respected by his crew and his opponents. He was a leader, not because of his rank, but because of his confidence and the way he carried himself.
I wanted to command men and women in the same way. I wanted people to follow me as we did great things. It just seemed so natural.
In his book, “U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life?,” Bruce Grierson suggests that you’ll find clues about what you ought to be doing now if you’ll look back to what you wanted and what you loved when you were 10 or 12 years old.
Writing for Psychology Today this month, Grierson said he saw a pattern emerge in his research into people who had made mid-life career changes.
“Among the hundreds of stories of midlife career changes I sifted through, the Rule of Age 10 came up over and again,” Grierson said. “These were lives of ‘aha moments’ decades delayed. And of better-late-than-never course corrections, back in the direction of those early enthusiasms, following co-ordinates established before what we ought to do (according to parents and teachers and other well-meaning adults) begins to smother what we loved and who we were.”
Grierson was so struck by this pattern that he gave each of his daughters a journal on her 10th birthday with simple instructions.
“Please, please, record what you’re going through, day by day,” he told them, “in as much detail as you can. That’s going to be your blueprint in about thirty years.”
When I look back at my life, I see that I was on the course of being Captain Kirk — or a pre-starship version of him — in my early life. In everything I did, I was in charge. When I joined groups, I naturally took charge. I gave orders — not in a bossy way, but simply because I knew what to do — and others obeyed. I never questioned why they obeyed. I assume they simply thought I knew what I was doing.
Even as a young man in the newspaper business, I was running a newsroom by the time I was 21. Most people spend years as reporters or photographers or in some specific task-oriented job before they are given the chance to manage. But 50-year-old publisher looked at me as a kid — the youngest person in his newsroom — and put me in charge.
In my 20s, I tried to build a company. I struggled and pushed against forces that made life difficult. By the time I was 30, I did fail — as I’ve talked about here before — and it almost destroyed me.
I got off course at that point. I still had another couple of stints managing people — as general manager of one newspaper and then publisher of another — but I was never the same. I lost the drive and the confidence I had had to lead people in creating new things.
I fell into politics by accident and then spent years working as a consultant. I made good money but it was meaningless. I wasn’t creating anything of value. I wasn’t leading people. That almost destroyed me in a different way.
So who am I? Am I the guy who played it safe by making obscene amounts of money from helping politicians get elected? Am I the guy who’s struggled for the last seven or eight years to figure out where I ought to be?
No, that’s not who I am.
I’ll never have a starship, but I’m still Captain James T. Kirk. I still want to do great things. I still want to lead people. I still want to create things which matter — things which will outlast me. I still want to be someone who’s loved and respected — someone who people are eager to follow.
In 1965, a copy editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Robert Manry, sailed a tiny sailboat — which he bought for only $250 — across the Atlantic from Massachusetts to England. It almost killed him, but Manry had dreamed of making this journey since he was a little boy. He explained to his wife why he had to make the attempt.
“There’s a time when one must decide either to risk everything to fulfill one’s dreams or sit for the rest of one’s life in the backyard,” Manry told her.
I’ll never have my own starship, but I’ve sat in my own backyard for far too long. I’m slowly reclaiming who I really am. The template for who I am — James T. Kirk — has been there in my childhood memory all along, just waiting for me to remember.