My personal goal-setting story goes like this: In 1963, when I was ten years old, my family moved to Switzerland. My father was a U.S. negotiator working on the nuclear test ban treaty in Geneva. My fifth grade teacher at the International School was Mrs. Elderfield.
One day Mrs. Elderfield passed back our graded essay books. She announced that she’d, “like to ask four students to come up and read their stories to the class.” She called for the first reader and the girl came up and read her work. When she finished, Mrs. Elderfield said, “Wasn’t that a wonderful story! That was the best essay in the class.” Then she called up the second and the third saying, “Now we’ve heard the next best two.” I was delighted to be called up fourth.
Once I’d finished reading, she clasped her hands in front of her and gave me a stern look. “And that, I am sorry to say, is the worst story I have graded in all my years of teaching.” Then she told me to go sit down. Oddly, the day she revealed me as the ‘worst writer she’d ever had’ was also the day that I decided to become a writer.
Notice how I put that: ‘to become a writer’. I did not say ‘that was the day that I decided to write’. The difference may seem slight, but the subtlety would vex me for years. The problem was that I had no idea if I wanted to write. I’d never practiced it at all. I was only in fifth grade. Worse, I was apparently no good at it. So, while I had no idea whether I wanted to write, I knew I wanted to prove Mrs. Elderfield wrong.
But compare Evan’s ambition to mine. Evan hadn’t said, “I want to be a lawyer.” That would equate to, “I want to make a high-six figure salary, drive a fancy car and join the country club”. He’d said, “I want to legalize gay marriage.” I, on the other hand, hadn’t said, “I feel inspired to deepen people’s awareness of man’s inhumanity to man.’ What I’d said was ‘I want to be a writer.’ Evan has accomplished his goal in spectacular fashion. I continue to struggle with my words.