Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Can Tarzan help you find your calling in life?

The other day, I heard an interview on NPR with Jane Goodall, the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. My ears perked up when the host asked Dr. Goodall to explain how she decided at such an early age to become a primatologist. I wondered: Would she describe some formative experience when she encountered chimpanzees in the jungle as a child? Had she been raised by anthropologist parents who infected her with a scholarly bug?

Nope. Dr. Goodall's answer made me laugh aloud. She said, "It started when I was a tiny child. And then, you know, I found the books about Dr. Dolittle who could speak animal language. And then when I was 11, I read the book Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and of course I fell passionately in love with this glorious being. And what does he do? He marries that other stupid, wimpy Jane!" (9/24/11 episode of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR)

What a refreshing answer to a heavy question! The first hints of a professional calling for the greatest chimpanzee scholar in the world weren't revelatory experiences or lofty aspirations. She just really liked Tarzan!


I don't think we should look to grandiose epiphanies for hints about our calling in life. Instead, we should look to our sources of childlike wonder. What captivated you at age 11 probably foreshadows what will captivate you now. Surely Dr. Goodall eventually outgrew Dr. Dolittle, but she never outgrew how it made her feel.

I would love to hear your stories about how childhood fancies have shaped who you are today. Please share! (Comment or email is fine.)


  1. Great post Brother Thompson! Such a simple idea. I think we often make things more complicated than they need to be. I know I do. You've got me thinking about what I used to love and dream about.

  2. This is glorious! As a teacher I always used to say that 11-year-olds write the best poetry because they haven't learned how to do it yet, and they're still fresh. As opposed to teens, who tend to be a bit overdone, at least poetically.

    When I was a child, our church group met in an Odd Fellows Hall. Nobody probably remembers those. We'd go in early on Sundays and clean up the beer cans and cigarette butts and put up chairs and air it out after the Saturday night dances. When we built our own building, my father was up there regularly with his bulldozer and we were there picking up construction debris. After activities we always stayed late to sweep and put up chairs and once my father drove to Kansas to pick up a semi-load of wheat for everyone's food storage. I stood for hours in the bed shoveling wheat into people's buckets. I was in heaven. It fired my soul to do things together as a community, to participate in communal efforts that equalized us all and made us feel like family. I still do that, developing efforts that bring people together for common goals, and they are what make me happiest.

    Great question!

  3. Thanks for the great post!

    When I was about that age, I was fascinated by Disneyland. Not so much for the rides, characters, and such, but for its attempt to to create a wonderful place that people enjoyed being. I wanted to know every corner, look for the secret passages where the "cast" seemed to magically appear and disappear, and to find out what was happening on the back lot. I would read short books about how Walt Disney imagined and built the park and Walt's dream to built a utopian city (EPCOT - later turned theme park after he died), and then I would lay awake at night thinking of what my utopian city would consist of. My mom also collected odds and ends that I would take and model my imagination.(Yes, weird). And then I became a teenager and forgot all about that.

    But, when I came to BYU and took a geography course, I discovered that people actually planned cities for a living. I knew I had found my life calling. Only later did I make the connection to my childhood thoughts and imagination.

  4. Matt, that is super cool! I hope you don't mind if I use your example. Great story!