Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Reflections on the Status of Uncertainty

Uncertainty is good. In fact, it’s great. Many people stress about not knowing the future, how current problems in their lives are going to work out, what their love interests are doing or thinking about, but I find a great amount of comfort in the unknown. As graduation time comes around, I feel I should reflect on the status of my life, so that you who have yet to make a major life decision like where and what you are going to study, know what there is to look forward to. In one sentence, life for myself and surely other people in a similar position can be summed up by the phrase “I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, or where I’m going with this, but I’ll just pretend I’m doing something right and see where that takes me.” The feeling is almost like shooting a gun into the breeze, or like watching the horizon. There is no particular target, and if there is one, it seems to be far away and low in the sky.

Don’t get me wrong, senior year is great, particularly when you are 18 and you are granted certain freedoms like what you do with your time, what you drink, where you go, how you spend your money, and a bunch of other things. Many people say that the flipside to this is that the greater freedoms come with more responsibilities. It is ironic how the more “free” we are the more we have to tie us down and hold us back (like said “responsibilities.”) I, again, respectfully disagree with the idea that more responsibility limits freedom. In fact, I would go so far to say that responsibility grants you that freedom and, to a certain extent, makes the freedom worth it. The reason is because responsibility is not something to shy away from, or to pass on to someone else. It is something to take hold of, and act upon. Doing things that you are responsible for and completing them to satisfaction gives you freedom because it means that you have become self-reliant. To a certain extent, when you’re 18, your parents may still be paying some of the bills. The important thing here is that you know that you are at least capable of taking care of yourself and some of the things you have to do. Completing responsibilities that you’ve never had before, like planning your own vacation, paying for your own food, and other things (completing homework doesn’t count) is a lot like receiving your first paycheck from your first job; it does not matter how big or small the paycheck (or the responsibility) is, it is still a significant achievement on the road to freedom. At this point, if you are still relying on your parents to do a whole lot of stuff for you; you should reconsider some of your life decisions. So, Pro Tip number one; responsibility is good for freedom. Note that ‘responsibility’ also means recognizing your own shortcomings and dealing with them; never leave something on the ground for someone else to pick up.

Probably the next big thing that comes to mind when graduating (surprise, surprise) is what you are going to do with the rest of your life. There are several decisions that are expected of you here; where are you going to college, what are you going to study, and to a lesser extent, what will you build your career in (you still have a little bit of time before this one gets to be really important.) My answer to all of these questions is the following:

Credit: Glen Eichler/MTV  Source: http://i.imgur.com/Wv0sgOz.jpg

What I often find thoroughly uncomfortable is that people (particularly parents) will often ask what you want to do, but not what you want to do. From the moment this question is asked, we begin to construct our lives in a consequential matter instead of keeping an eye on the end goal. We construct our lives based on what the next step is all while ignoring the master plan. Consider an alternative; what if we decide to build each step of our lives based on an end goal that we want. I’m not saying that nobody would ever want to be a lawyer, or a businessman, or a pool boy for the sake of achieving what they want, but rather, I’m saying that we should allow our goals to motivate what we do as opposed to letting what we do motivate our goals. If your life dream is to become a person remembered for their dedication to the cause of civil rights and you want to do that by becoming a lawyer, then go ahead. What is important is to avoid becoming a lawyer who makes a ton of money and then just donates it to charities that claim to defend civil rights. If you do that, you become one of the reasons so many “why did the lawyer go to hell” jokes exist.*

Keep in mind that there isn’t some ‘system’ out there that you have to go ‘beat’ (although I realize all my friends have decided that I'm going to be a pool boy in the name of ‘fighting the system.’) All you have to do is concentrate on what you want, and let the rest (money, time, location, occupation, etc...) fall into place. If you are keeping up with the responsibilities you have, theres no doubt the puzzle pieces will put themselves together. For example, if what I want to do is travel exotic places, then i should pick a job that allows me to do exactly that because I will enjoy doing it; if that means being a poolboy, so be it. To summarize, Pro Tip number two: It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. I don't know anyone who doesn’t dread waking up one day and realizing that they are unhappy.

Finally, an anecdote about my grandfather. My grandfather always had the best dating advice—particularly for the young folks that are “coming of age”—and he would give this advice to all of his young students and grandchildren. It was an interesting monologue of his, and particularly entertaining to watch if you have already heard it. His—almost imfamous— monologue was as follows:

“If you’re going to ask someone out, don’t overthink it. Just ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ And you know what? I’ll tell you... the worst that could happen is that they say no.”

He would then go on to talk about my how he met my grandmother and so on. While my grandfather may have been talking about asking out the ladies (or the gentlemen), I think that his advice can be extrapolated to more general use. If we ask ourselves “what is the worst that could happen,” when making big decisions, there are generally three possible scenarios. In scenario number one, to put it quite bluntly, you die. In scenario number two, you don’t succeed and in the worst case, you have to start from scratch. Finally, in the last scenario, you
at least achieve some sort of success and you can reassess your position and keep going from there. Quite frankly, none of those scenarios sound all that bad. Although it is to be noted that avoiding death should be pretty high up on the list of life priorities. In the end, graduating from high school is a really cool, exciting, and slightly melancholic moment in life. You are leaving behind friends, hang out spots, cool teachers, perhaps a significant other, but it’s all ok because you’re on your way to something brand new! If you keep your wits about you and have a little bit of common sense, you may make it through the school system and step out into the unknown being someone who—at least somewhat— resembles who you have always been. The difference is that now you will be smarter, wiser and destined for bigger things than a high school diploma.


*Just kidding, lawyers always go to hell. No exceptions.

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