There was a lot of dressing up in my neighborhood — friends with homemade capes (or bath towels), colored hats from the zoo, cardboard-and-glitter crowns.
We were superheroes of the best kind.
We crusaded for peace, imagination and the American way. We patrolled on our bikes, saved lightning bugs from wiffle-bat-wielding older kids, ran through the neighborhood on a mission mapped out by bird feathers fallen on the green grass.
We were invincible. At least until dinnertime.
Looking through family photo albums, it’s almost impossible to tell when it was Halloween or just a Tuesday afternoon.
My dad was a chemist and lent me a lab coat and brought home dry ice for my mad scientist Halloween. There was the ballerina Halloween, the Pocahontas Halloween (decades before the Disney movie, and everyone thought I was Hiawatha, a somewhat crushing response seeing as how Hiawatha was a boy and I am not).
The indeterminate red-caped Halloween, the cowgirl Halloween. A couple of different princesses over the years, and the Groucho-glasses-and-newspaper Halloween.
It was all about trying on someone new — and resisting the annual brilliant idea from a neighbor kid or classmate that I should cover my prosthetic leg in ketchup and then yank it off to scare people.
Not doing that — way too obvious. I wasn’t too keen on being viewed as horrific, either.
But at its core, Halloween is about trying new things. Figuring out who you’re going to be, even if just for a night. Doing something that scares you and making it through — a lot like high school.
That thread – who to be – ran through the career fair I visited this week. Kids milling around, trying on identities for a moment or two as they passed the rows of long plastic tables marked “biologist” or “engineer” or “pharmacist” or “journalist.”
High school kids tend to move not as individuals. Herds of them create currents in the hallways, entire weather systems of hormones and awkwardness. The outward confidence of some balanced against the visible uncertainty of others. The vast middle.
The keys to success at a high school career fair: bring animal pelts (Arizona Game and Fish), wear a uniform and carry a gun (law enforcement), or have a mannequin head (a beauty school).
Or offer giant bowls of free candy and stickers (a national big-box store). Trick-or-treating in reverse, using candy to attract teenagers’ attention.
The students collected brochures, listened to professionals explain their jobs and, if they were feeling brave, maybe asked a question. They looked to their friends and spoke softly, nudging each other toward tables.
Go. Ask. Do it.
They wanted to know how much a journalist gets paid — you won’t get rich but you can make a decent living — and they wanted to know how much it costs to go to college. What do you have to do? What do you have to be good at? Is it fun? How do you do it?
Asking takes courage. Courage in the small ways, the ways that add up and shape lives, isn’t often recognized. We usually frame it in the macro — courage on the battlefield, in the face of danger or illness.
But courage doesn’t require an opponent to vanquish. It doesn’t need adrenaline to thrive. We do a disservice to the kids when we overlook the courage it takes to do something different than you know, to picture yourself in a future that’s far from where you are today.
This kind of courage isn’t the kind that gets you through a haunted house of staged monstrosities. But it will help you get through life.
You don’t have to know where you’re going, or how you’ll get there — you just have to have the courage to decide who to be.