Yes, All Of This

That Libba Bray, she's right (and hilarious) as usual. This time offering advice on life/career track choices* to a high school senior who wrote her with a question:

What good is it to spend a life doing something you don’t like? That’s not living; that’s marking time. And maybe it’s that from where I sit, I have the benefit of having witnessed the many transformations of various friends, almost none of whom ended up where they thought they would but almost all of whom love where they are. (Quick sidebar: Auto-correct is telling me that last sentence should read: “All of who.” Auto-correct is wrong. “Of” is a preposition; a prepositional phrase demands the objective case. Therefore, “All of whom” is correct, says the daughter of the hardcore English teacher who forced me to use correct grammar. See? I did learn something! This sidebar is just to say, Fiona, that IF EVEN AUTO-CORRECT CAN BE WRONG, who the hell can tell you how to live your life to the fullest? Right. Moving on.) We never stop coming of age. We never stop growing and learning and changing. Hopefully, the road is long and paved with interesting choices and sidebars and unplanned magic and love and loss and joy and frustration. This is all good news, Fiona. Hopeful news. There is a lot you can do with hopeful news.

And another snippet, in case you were thinking of not reading the whole thing:

You asked for my advice, and I don’t want to let you down. I can’t tell you what to do or what would make you happy or whether or not you’ll accomplish all of your dreams or half of them or if your dreams will change over time. Only you can figure that out. Maybe you should travel the world. (Travel broadens your mind and heart.) Learn about other cultures. (It creates understanding and tolerance.) Work to make the world a little more fair in whatever way you can. (The world needs you.) Pursue work which fulfills you even if it means having another job on the side. (Who wants to just mark time?) Be kind when you can and forthright when you need to kick ass. (Benevolent bad-assery. It’s what’s for dinner.) Most importantly, keep learning, growing, reaching. Keep getting to know yourself as much as you can so that you will understand what makes you happy and what doesn’t and know to go about the former and avoid the latter. Being able to make yourself happy is a life skill that we learn as we go along. Live as honestly and authentically as you can because, in the long run, it’s a lot simpler and less anxiety-producing. Really, if you’re going to wipe out and fall on your ass on occasion (also a vital part of your education…along with getting back up), it’s better to fail as yourself than as somebody else.

Read the whole thing, regardless of whether you need career advice. It is honest, heartfelt, awesome.

Note: My math portfolio item in high school was an essay about why I didn't like math because it tried to narrow down a question to only one answer. Score.

*After I'd been working for a year or two, I got invited back to my alma mater** (at state school–holla) for a panel to give advice to students on entering the workforce, getting good jobs, etc. I remember distinctly how insane everyone acted when I said, essentially, "Don't make too many plans–you never know what'll happen, and if you have this whole thing you're attached to, then you don't see opportunities. You don't follow the weird choices life puts in your path. Just: Be interesting. Work hard. Remember people's names." There was a whole five-year plan contingent that uproared. But, you know, I stand by this. Especially from that vantage, thinking you know anything about what's going to happen next is more than a little insane. And that doesn't really change: you can never know for sure.***

**When I was invited back to networking day this year to talk about networking, I gave a talk about how I don't believe in networking, that instead I believe in being curious and interested in people. (And, as Libba says, in making friends rather than "connections.") My handouts were from The Onion. They will eventually stop asking me back, I'm sure.

***This doesn't mean don't have goals, obviously. But goals aren't everything. Life is a process, and it can't be just about ticking ticky boxes and checking items off a list. Especially someone else's list.****

****I officially apologize to all my long-suffering high school and college instructors (I was a good student, but probably a, hmm, difficult to manage one at times). I liked to argue. I was already doing the self-education by book, ignoring math whenever possible, reality hacking thing by seventh grade. Oddly, I was convinced until I became an adult that I was lazy, but it turns out I probably wasn't ever lazy. I just only worked on the things I prioritized, and sometimes those didn't match up with what I was supposed to be doing and so that read as laziness. But I was always doing stuff… and I believe the right stuff. I was blessed with parents who supported me despite this contrarian quality. And I wouldn't take any of it back. I'm happy to be here.

10 thoughts on “Yes, All Of This”

  1. I totally am going to steal your “don’t make plans” advice to give to my overplanning high-anxiety students. If that’s okay.

  2. Yay for Dear AG!!
    The convinced-of-laziness is only hilarious because it shows there was too much distance between what you were interested in and what you had to do. Once you gained control over what you could do, the realization comes that you can throw yourself at things/people/places/ideas you’re interested in and suddenly life becomes interesting/worth living. Teenage years: somewhat fun, but most of all, great to escape.

  3. This is about the biggest pet peeve in my life – in fact I will probably blog about this because otherwise I would totally take over your comments. I wanted desperately to study writing and history in college and discover a field where those were important things to know & do but was told by my mother & stepfather I had to get a degree in something business-oriented so I could earn a “decent” living. Writing would be on the side. History was pointless unless I wanted to be a teacher. Four WASTED years later and two HORRIBLE years after that of trying to work in my new management field (don’t ask), I fled to Alaska, got a job chucking bags & checking in passengers at a bush airline and went back to school on my dime majoring in…wait for it….HISTORY! Up there I finally realized Dan Eldon’s “Journey is the Destination” truth (I completely freaked when I first saw that book). Work is good and work is honest and you should certainly pay your own way. I believe in that. But you can also work in a field that you love and not waste your life dreaming about when you will stop working.
    That was what my father did and he died two years into his retirement. I’ll spend forever being sorry that he didn’t know he had a right to pursue his dreams – and making sure I don’t make the same mistake.
    Libba Bray is awesome.

  4. Absolutely–if someone like me whose brain would have oozed out her ears long ago without television and wine can be convinced she’s lazy, something is very wrong with the system! Although I must admit, I had it better than most. My English teachers at least went with it, and I got to read whatever I wanted.
    (I may have been overly ambitious about getting column to you today, but definitely tomorrow. What a week. *juggles*)

  5. So sorry about your dad’s career getting sucked into that philosophy, and couldn’t agree more. I realize not everyone can live their dreams (or whatever formulation), but what misery to tell people not to even try.
    I also really do think Libba hits it that much of this is a root cause of things going wrong with our society–we don’t focus enough on the importance of being a good human being. That that’s a success in and of itself.
    Plus, a moment for Dan Eldon love. That is such an amazing touchstone book.

  6. Re: Dan Eldon. Chronicle is coming out with a book on him aimed at teens in the Spring. (Dan Eldon: Life on Safari). I’m not sure if it will have new material or is a repackaging of the first book but I’m keeping an eye on it for obvious reasons.

  7. I LOVE THIS POST! You sound similiar to me – I always wanted to write, to study, to be an expert in something, and to have a nice life with time for the things I value. I am NOT a “5 year plan” person. Been told I should be one, still can’t come up with much beyond “stay employed, write, read, have a nice life with time for things I value.” I just don’t “get” the whole 5 year plan thing – but maybe that’s because I gave in to family pressure years ago, left the academic career path that I wanted, and went to law school. My post-law school plans were “get a job, stay employed, and write, read, and have a nice life with time for things I value.” Actually – I do have a 5 Year Goal – get out of law firm practice and free up more time to do what I value. That’s about it.
    I so wish I could go back in time and tell teen-20ish me to relax. You don’t get only one shot at life – you don’t have to be so stressed when you are in high school and college that you’ll make one fatal misstep and die.

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