From Knowing to Doing

themartianPicture courtesy of: https://teaser-trailer.com/the-martian-movie-clip/

Within the first few minutes of The Martian, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself stranded on Mars all by himself. After recognizing that the next Mars mission wouldn’t be for four more years, Watney realizes that he must figure out how to make food on Mars. What struck me about Watney’s realization and subsequent journey to cultivate food was that it very much resembled the real-life experience of growing up; oftentimes, our journeys to adulthood are just as sudden and challenging.

Some background on the scene: Watney, a botanist and astronaut, gets stuck on Mars and must figure out how to produce food for three years. He devises a method using Martian soil, human waste, and a potato to start cultivating potatoes inside a greenhouse he makes. As a botanist, Watney clearly understands at a theoretical level what he has to do. Yet he is quickly met with several setbacks which prove that his extraterrestrial farm is far easier in theory than in reality. In fact (spoiler alter), Watney’s greenhouse ends up blowing over during a storm, ceasing his entire operation and leaving him with no new avenues for food.

To me, this scene seemed to parallel the process of growing up. As youth become adults, they are often forced to apply their theoretical knowledge at a moment’s notice, just as Watney was made to do in the movie.

Kids learn the ideas behind being an adult by observing their parents and other adults, attending school, and reading or watching television; kids as young as five or six know that adults must work, care for their kids, and run a household. Yet, for the most part, youth are not truly responsible for these duties until they hit a milestone such as going to college, having a first child, or getting a first job. These significant life events are often abrupt and sometimes unpredictable, forcing youth to turn their theoretical knowledge into action with a moment’s notice.

Thus, in a sense, Watney’s struggle is identical to the one faced by many adolescents. Growing up is difficult simply because even the most difficult processes look simple to a spectator. The true struggle of life is the challenge we face in transitioning from knowing to doing.

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