Last night Jacqueline Woodson spoke to a large crowd of people at Fairfield, Connecticut’s One Book, One Town celebration. The town had selected and read Woodson’s novel, Harbor Me. Near the end of her speech Woodson said, “Do what brings you joy.” As she went on to tell her story, she said that her mother and her grandmother were a bit disappointed when she announced she was going to be a children’s book author. (Woodson even admitted that when her own teenage daughter suggested she might be an actress, she was a bit concerned.). We want our children to be “successful,” but what does that even mean?
My parents always told my sister and me that we should do meaningful work, work that would make us happy; that we should pursue our dreams. My father went through stages where he encouraged me to be a marine biologist and then later, a conductor (musical, not railroad). Of course my parents had each pursued their own dreams, one becoming an artist and the other a fashion designer, and later artist and jewelry designer. My sister and I are both spending our work lives in careers that we find meaningful and where we find joy. I’m a Literacy Coach, working to help children find the books that will provide them with both mirrors and windows (more Woodson insight) and working with them to find and use their voices as they write. My sister is a wedding planner, helping young couples to celebrate their love in beautiful and very personalized ways.
I have followed the family tradition and always encouraged our children to find work that is meaningful and that will fulfill them and help others. I’ve been so proud of my kids. They are not out in the world to make money or cheat others or be better than someone else. In a world that seems out of control with greed and crime and cheating, I’m watching my kids try to carve out lives filled with meaning and joy. One is bringing music to people in hospitals, one is teaching, one is creating culinary experiences based on literature for others to enjoy, and our youngest is pursuing the arts in both fashion and dance. I know their roads won’t be easy, but I know they feel like what they are trying to do matters. I hope they share this message with others the way Jacqueline Woodson shared it with us last night.