“Mother, May I” is a game we all played when we are children. Because at a young age, we love to imitate life, the idea of a game where one player is the authority figure and the rest are the willing subjects, waiting for permission to do the most mundane of tasks is fun. But we aren’t children and life isn’t a game. Fulfilling our hopes and dreams doesn’t come at the bequest of another’s permission and if you are still sitting around waiting for someone else to tell you it is ok, to succeed, stop waiting for permission! Go out there and just do it!
Richard Feynman received the Nobel Price in 1965 for his work in Physics. He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb and was a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel who investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. A professor in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology, he was a born teacher.
Long after this death in 1988, his daughter, Michelle Feynman published a collection of letters found in his personal files. In the book , Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track, the younger Feynman edits a series of letters between her father and a young scientist, Koichi Mano. The exchange is extraordinary; Mano is discouraged by his work on “humble and down-to-earth” projects and Feynman is a mountain of encouragement and gentle discipline.
“No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.”
He offers Mano examples of his own career, where it took countless tries to work on simple, seemingly trivial projects that others might call humble, but which he enjoyed and felt good about doing. The sense of accomplishment that comes from the little wins can carry you through until you realize the ultimate victory you are working toward. But you have to give yourself permission to keep trying and to keep the goal you have in focus. Despite his discouragement and feelings of insignificance, Mano and Feynman continued their letter writing back and forth. In his final letter, the Professor offered some amazingly sage advice:
“You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself. – it is too sad a way to be. Know your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly…”
All through life we have people who tells us what we should and shouldn’t do. They set standards for us as to what is and is not acceptable; what success looks like and how we should approach life in some pre-determined order to meet the standards of acceptable society. Teachers, parents, college admissions officers, human resources directors, peer review panels and the like all set these blasted rules in place that we all follow blindly like ants to the nest. I say step out and create your own path!
I’ll bet no one told F. Scott Fitzgerald to write the Great Gatsby in his twenties, or gave I. M. Pei approval to propose the glass pyramid as a part of the grand renovation of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Taking risks and stepping outside of the restrictive box of convention and rules is where the walls of the mundane life fall away and the outrageously wonderful life begins. Stop waiting for permission and go seize your day!