Monday, November 2, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Kant, Darwin, and Child

I never thought I'd be able to draw a common connection between Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, and Julia Child. In the context of gearing up for my second act, I've been coming across a remarkable number the stories about people who came to their calling and made their significant contributions to the world later on in life. Perhaps it's true that we find what we're looking for, and I've been looking for inspirations for my act 2. In this quest, the stories of Kant, Darwin, and Child bear repeating.

Immanuel Kant is recognized as one of the greatest philosophical minds, creating such constructs as the categorical imperative and transcendental idealism. I learned about Kant's works through Michael Sandel's on-line class, Justice. Kant received his first paying job at age 31. He was a university lecturer paid on commission based upon how many students attended his class. He published his first work at age 51 after a decade of near silence and introversion. Odd, yes. Worth the wait, absolutely. His first published work, Critique of Pure Reason, was the beginning of an entirely new branch of philosophy now known as Kantianism. Of course his brilliance did not sprout overnight - it took 50 years of training to condition his mind to be able to think clearly enough to write such a complex piece of work.

Like Kant, Charles Darwin wrote his seminal work, The Origin of Species, in his early 50's. This work revolutionized life sciences by putting forward the ideas of evolution, natural selection, and survival of the fittest. He spent many years as a student, as did Kant, and he followed his own interests rather than cow-towing to the desires of others to plan his life. His father wanted him to be a medical doctor, even though Darwin always had an inclination to be a naturalist. Eventually his will won out and he got to build the life he wanted, albeit a little later than he probably would have liked.

I get a lot of inspiration from food, and it's impossible to over-emphasize the contribution of Julia Child to the culinary field. Following the pattern of Kant and Darwin, Child published her best known book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in her early 50's. She didn't even entertain making a career in cooking until she was awarded admission into Le Cordon Bleu, the famed French cooking school, at age 36. She freely admitted that she had been looking for a career all her life; she had several other careers as a copywriter and as a government worker before falling in love with cooking. Once she discovered that love, she never looked back and by her own hands, literally, changed the world of food forever.

These stories give me a lot of hope for the futures of people who follow different paths early on in life, who pursue their every interest with wild abandon and passion. I know some people who have known exactly what they wanted to do since age 5. I used to date a man who at age 5 decided he wanted to be an attorney. Today, he does exactly what he always wanted do. He probably always will. I'll admit that I hate him a little bit for knowing what he wanted so early in life. Or at least I did hate him until I heard the stories of Kant, Darwin, and Child.

For some of us, our calling just doesn't find us that way. We have to follow lots of different paths to find our way home. We're in good company with Kant, Darwin, and Child. The only important thing is to not give up until we can finally find our true selves, until we fully realize our own great contribution to humanity. In the long-run, tenacity pays off.


Josh said...

AHHH! I was a philosophy major for a year. Just hearing Kant means I'll be hearing "categorical imperative" in my dreams tonight, along with rattling chains and shrieking banshees.

Well--it wasn't quite that bad. I only liked to do things that were easy, immediately. Kant was not one of those:)

Great post

Christa said...

Hi Josh! Thanks - I have LOVED Michael Sandel's class. Makes me want to run back to school. I should have taken more philosophy classes. Did you have a favorite philosopher who you studied?