Flip-flopping in the Fire Truck of the Future:
Why it’s OK Not to Know Where You’re Going

By Andrew W. Gillmore

When my friend Jon was four years old, he said to his mom, “When I grow up, I wanna be a fire truck.”

“Oh, you mean a fire fighter?” she asked.

“No! A fire truck.”

Growing up, I never wanted to be a motorized vehicle, but I did want to be the prime minister of Canada. I got older and then thought I’d make for a good economist. At other moments, I considered being a philosophy professor, a corporate lawyer, and a bar owner. When I was in college, I even pondered a career with Mossad despite having just about enough knowledge of Jewish custom to cuss out an old man in Brooklyn.

All of this flip-flopping has given me a reputation for being fickle, and this status is not entirely undeserved. In the past, I had trouble separating enthusiasm from rational thinking, and I often ignored consideration of the lifestyle that a certain career demands. I thought corporate law would be great because of the money, but I didn’t think about the grueling hours and tedious work. I thought owning a bar would be fun because of the social atmosphere, but I didn’t consider having to deal with a bunch of drunkards. I thought joining Mossad would be interesting because, well, Munich was a great movie, but I didn’t realize that a Hezbollah fanatic might shoot me in the head.

Sixty years ago, a good job was one that paid well so you could buy a house with a white-picket fence. But now, that’s not so much the case—fifties-style fences aren’t in fashion anymore, it seems.  But more importantly, our focus has shifted from dollar figures to a job’s worth and the lifestyle it allows. Teddy Roosevelt once said something about working hard at work worth doing, and he knew something about work worth doing.

I’m not an authority on much of anything, but I think it’s okay to be fickle. The world is a dynamic place, and as our surroundings change and present us with new information, we have the freedom—or even the responsibility—to adjust accordingly and shift directions. What’s really neat is that we also have the chance to turn inward and realize that we, as people, are dynamic and constantly changing as well. Having a good grasp of oneself isn’t easy, but in order to adapt to a changing world, we should know what we’re working with.

Sure, this is a daunting process, but it’s also empowering. The world is malleable, and because we have the power to morph both it and ourselves, we are able to change course and even mold the world to fit our visions.  I don’t think anyone will ever fault Jon for not becoming a fire truck, and that’s because we realize that nothing stays the same for long.