Friday, July 26, 2013

An Open Letter to All of Us Who Wander (Basically All of Us)

This is a letter to my brothers, both in their early twenties, as they try to find their place in the world. It's also a letter for you, whatever stage you're at, if you need it. It's what I wish someone had told me earlier, and it's what I tell myself when I feel adrift.


To Whom It May Concern:

There are many ways to see the United States, right? You could travel by plane, train or automobile. You could walk. You could hitchhike. You could scroll through on Google Maps.

But say you did physically travel the United States, you could zigzag, you could go straight across. There is no "right" way to go. Sure, there are probably better, more efficient ways to do it, but you could, theoretically, go any way you wanted. "You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...” and all that.

As with travel, there are better ways and worse ways to navigate through life. Not all life paths are made up of straight lines that go from point A to point B. I would venture to say that most life paths are made up of wiggly, unsure lines that sometimes go in circles, around and around, until the force breaks out of orbit and kicks them onto a different path.

I know you are confronted daily with the question of what you will do with your life. You ask yourselves and others ask you. Constantly. I have been in your shoes, I am in your shoes and I can tell you this: the shoes never come off, but they get more comfortable. People will always want to know: What job are you going to take? When are you going back to school? When are you going to find a boyfriend or a girlfriend? Where are you going to live? When you finally have the things you thought you wanted, the answers to these questions, there will be other questions: When are you getting promoted? When are you getting married? And on and on. Pressure from others is an inevitable part of life.

You cannot allow yourselves to become dismantled by the questioning, by your own uncertainty. How do we ever really know what is certain in our lives? You cannot predict the future, you can only make choices in the present based on the knowledge you have and then hope for the best. The sense of the unknown that you are cultivating will provide a helpful marker later on because you will know, intimately, the uncomfortable feeling that comes with not knowing. It will act as a boundary for the future and help serve your intuition. You may understand this a different way: the first time you are in the middle of nowhere and your car runs out of gas, you may have a slight sense of panic or major confusion, but once you have that experience, you will be better prepared when it happens again in the future, because despite best intentions and careful planning, you WILL stall the car again.

I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. You are not a failure because you don't have the map of your life drawn out yet. Here's a secret: sometimes you will draw the map, sometimes others will, and sometimes things out of your control will play a part. It is what it is. 

I know you worry about success, but again, there is no straight line to that either.

by Demitri Martin via Business Insider

But still, the worry is there, however you define success. When I get down about my personal success, I like to think about Colonel Sanders. Yes, of KFC fame. By most measures, Colonel Sanders did not lead a very successful life early on. He dropped out of school when he was 12, he had an unstable family life, he bounced from job to job in 11 different fields and was eventually fired. His wife left him without telling him and divorced him. He had a son who died at a young age. 

When he was 40, he opened a roadside shack and started serving chicken. He spent nine years developing his "secret recipe." By the time he was 74, he had sold the company to investors. At that time, there were over 600 franchises in North America. There are many stories like this.

It is nice to be successful professionally, but there are many measures of success. Try not to tie all of your personal value to your job. You are a complex individual and you don't yet know the infinity of your potential. Be proud of your accomplishments, however small they are. If you are able to celebrate the little things, you will find life more rewarding and have confidence to pursue larger goals. 

Your life journey will take you take you many places and just because you are not in the place you want to be at this moment does not mean that you won't someday get there. Remember, you will continue to evolve and change. The person you are today is not who you will be tomorrow, next week or five years from now. The best is yet to come! Promise.

P.S. A little Avenue Q goes a long way. =)

1 comment:

  1. A well written piece, something we all need to remind ourselves every once in a while. The journey IS the destination.