What Do You Really Want to do with Your Life? An Answer That Blew Me Away
Surprise at the Stoney Knob Cafe
The Stoney Knob Café sits on a main thoroughfare in Weaverville, NC, a small town a few miles north of Asheville, NC, home to the University of North Carolina – Asheville. Along with the small town ambiance, superb food and hardworking, but extremely pleasant staff, the restaurant provided me with an unexpected opportunity to acknowledge an under-appreciated segment of our society in a very unique way!
My wife Sophia and I are oh so grateful to have the good fortune of dining out on occasion with her mother Pat. On this particular Sunday’s menu was an interaction with a young women that gave rise to the often ignored realization that there is more to our servers than we might suspect or imagine. Sophia and I like to connect with people during our treks away from home, wherever we wind up. Since I like to consume food we often wind up in local eateries. What better place to do two of my favorite activities at the same time, right?
Listening to the Future
This story is about such a connection. A connection that confirms my notion that there are a lot of really fine young adults out there in reality-land who don’t get the credit they deserve or perhaps even noticed beyond their tasks at hand. Sophia and I are always on the lookout for kindred spirits and this one with Alyssa Coburn was one worth writing home about!
Once begun, our conversations with Alyssa, interrupted only by side chatter, background laughter, clanking plates and glasses, and her swift and polite movements to serve other customers, blossomed into a request for an interview to learn more about her essence. Because so many young people and their achievements are overshadowed by the sensationalized news of the day which seemingly is broadcast to frighten, entertain and sell advertising, I’ve made it a practice to ask the younger generations what they are interested in and why. Sitting with and listening to our future is a phenomenal experience, one I highly recommend to anyone who doubts their potential.
What's the Question?
Since Sophia is a professional organizer and a world class net-worker she often makes contacts and arrangements much quicker and more effortlessly than I do so before I knew it Alyssa and I were scheduled to meet the following week at Highsmith Hall, UNCA’s student union facility. Our session together lasted a little over 90 minutes, almost twice as long as planned. The reason? This young lady was gracious with her time and incredibly interesting in her character and characterizations of how she came to be whom and where she is. I am honored to relay here a small portion of what I learned about her. Granted, most of what you read here is my opinion, but it is an opinion tethered to a desire to bring to light one of the many examples of quality in a sometimes maligned generation.
You may be wondering what question at the Stoney Knob Café prompted my desire to learn more about our blond haired, blue eyed bus person. Well, in a town that is huge on the arts and tourism, it isn’t unusual to find college students serving up the local fare, so I’m always interested in what they are studying or even more interested in their passions and what led them here to search for them? The University of North Carolina Asheville has a fine Liberal Arts program so I expect a broad range of answers to my question. What I rarely expect is a clear, concise answer. Not just from college students, but from most people to whom I direct the very same question. (What do you really, really, really, really want to do with your life?)
It’s no secret (a disaster perhaps, but no secret) that most people (approximately 80%) don’t know what they want or have been fooled or coerced into believing that what they want will serve them better than being who they are inherently. This illusion won’t ultimately serve them and they won’t find that out for years, if ever. (A connected but entirely different subject for another day)
In a lounge area at Highsmith Union my new student friend repeated her answer for me as succinctly as she had in the restaurant. “I want to work for NASA.” Whoa! NASA! Really, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration? (Hey, I wasn’t born under a rock; I just haven’t met that many people with that type of clarity of vision and decisiveness about their future.) Perhaps it runs in her family as Alyssa seemed proud of noting her brother is a Nuclear Engineer. Okay, maybe I was born under a rock but I cannot express how interested her choices have made me in hearing her story. It also inspired me to write about her as an encouragement to her to follow this path if… this is what she really, really, really wants.
Alyssa...You Can Do It
More than just student
My experience mentoring young people over the last thirty years is that this type of vision and focus is rare… and clarity, perseverance and support will be critical to the successful fulfillment of her dreams. After hearing what she had to say there is no doubt in my mind Alyssa will be exactly where she wants to be when she decides to be there!
During our conversation I found Alyssa to be complimentary of the school she attends and compassionate about her peers and the communities in which she lives and works. Her presentation of herself was well defined and articulated precisely, including “a plan B that will make me happy” for insurance. Of course this is something one might expect from a bright women studying and participating in a scientific curriculum. As a Geology major, with passions for Astronomy, Archeology and Anthropology, Alyssa anticipates alighting from UNCA after Graduating in 2016.
One of the truly amazing qualities I noticed about this young lady was her markedly grounded lifestyle. Though anticipating the grind of graduate school in the not too distant future she knew where she wanted to go” and what she was up against to get there. She told me that she viewed her goals as once in a lifetime opportunities” and that she is driven to achieve them because she understands who she is.
What is her motivation?
I wanted to know what motivated Alyssa; what made this astute, coherent student tick and, I wanted to know how she got to this point of clarity. I wanted to know because perhaps there was something in Alyssa’s story that I could share that others might be able to engage to help them excel as well! There is a dynamic at work beneath the surface that she and others like her access regularly to maintain the vision and drive that leads them to places where others are not going. Could it be her appreciation for meditational ambient music, art and a fascination with her studies in conjunction with a well developed self-discipline? No one would dare argue they aren’t huge factors. I had to chuckle when she abruptly introduced, “I’m a nerd!” I didn’t see that one coming from this student/bus girl/scientist. In my day that declaration was not as complimentary or as highly respected as it seems today. In any case, her immersion into her “work” may be the one common denominator of success and yet, I still believe there is something more.
It's Only Rock 'N Roll But She Likes It
And She Knows How to Use It
What more could there be?
I want to return to my observation of her grounded nature for a moment where I suspect the real answer to her present and future successes lie. When I asked my initial question of how she got here (to UNCA) studying geology, what she told me a story. Her story was not uncommon amongst today’s college students but there were some elements of difference that stood out. First again, was a tendency to immerse herself in her work, not as drudgery or even as an escape, but more of a positive diversion of inquisitiveness that helped overcome issues many of us fail to overcome in our teen years, if at all. I was wowed when she recanted how she worked full time while attending Beaufort Community College in Washington NC full time as a young high school graduate. I admit there are others who have accomplished such feats and I imagine many of them are driven to succeed as well.
But that was not the only underlying factor I was sensing. There was more. In conjunction with Alyssa’s work ethic I perceived a valuable trait that surfaced in the phrase “you grow from the experiences you have.” There are many who might verbalize this idea and an even more limited number who actually understand and implement that philosophy into their daily lives. In my mind, it’s one thing to be a butterfly and quite another to know you are a butterfly because you were once a caterpillar. Alyssa’s innate ability to learn from experience and to analyze data from that experience in positive ways is another element in the underlying nature of her ability to self direct and achieve. Lastly, as a result of another comment she made during our discussion I recognized a third element contributing to her performance. She described herself as a “listener.” Revealing a smile, she continued to add that she believed she possessed the mental dexterity to “sync up” concepts from the past and present events of her life into a unified whole that works for her understanding.
This student of science also has the scope to feel energy that supports her decision making processes. For example, when she had narrowed her choices to UNC Asheville or UNC Wilimington her attention to the energy of the mountains (“I knew with the first mountain I saw”) pulled her in the direction to come here as this environment aligned with her higher purpose.
A Bright Star
Seeing into the future
Alyssa Coburn has a terrific and challenging road in front of her. In our discussion of the process of selecting a graduate school and working in a field of her choice she admits there is much to do. She is making the best of her time, (I noticed her glancing at her watch near the end of our session – a hint to me that deadlines were approaching that needed to be met) another trait that will serve her well in present and future endeavors. She values time…even if shared with space as an illusion on our space time continuum.(My thoughts) At least she honors it as a resource necessary to achieve her progress toward her goals and I so respect that in her.
So, in my final analysis of this brief but fortuitous meeting with Ms. Coburn I realize that I was indeed fortunate to have had lunch with Sophia and Pat at the Stoney Knob Café and I was privileged to have been served by a young woman intent on contributing positively to the communities in which she lives and serves. I was elated to be in the presence of a humble representative of a generation destined to explore the stars and worlds which I cannot even imagine, including natural, phenomenal, real and unreal, worlds of which I will not physically be a part. It is people like Alyssa Coburn who are laying down the gauntlet to transform our earthly existence into the possibilities of an extra terrestrial experience. Who knows what’s out there? Those who will determine it, in part, are those who already know what is within and are willing to challenge all of what we think we know. Good Luck Alyssa and peace be with you on your journey!