“So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.” – George Saunders
I have tried writing before about my age and what things I feel I should have achieved by now. This post has been sitting in my drafts for weeks, and though it’s incomplete, I’m posting it in hope it will help congeal my thoughts.
Below I have three links to graduation speeches. They have all given me some sense of freedom in terms of letting go of this linear plain I feel I’m meant to be on, and the margin of error ever attached to that plan.
I’m posting in response to two separate instances: a) turning twenty three and b) a moment I had with my housemate two days ago.
Two days ago I came home from my internship feeling disappointed by how I reacted to something. I told my housemate about this situation and how I feel like I keep getting it wrong. She put forth an idea.
“We glorify youth in our culture”, she said. “We are meant to get it done quickly, successfully and youthfully.”
She went on to explain that her dad had pointed out to her how throughout time, it was the elderly who have been glorified: in their wisdom, age and life experience.
“Let me suggest something drastic to you,” she said. “Life is long. And we are still figuring it all out.”
So amongst all that, I’m posting this: thoughts scattered in my drafts from earlier this year.
Yesterday it dawned on me that I am twenty-two. It dawned on me that twenty-two is young. Even though it is the age that many people finish their undergraduate degree, it doesn’t mean that I have to be hard-lined-on-the-road-to-success. Yesterday it dawned on me that more important than that, I need to err in the direction of kindness. Thank you, George Saunders.
On Sunday mornings I like to whinge to my parents. I talk at them of some of the anxieties I have accumulated over the week, and they let me air them out over a long black. I complain about the fact I have changed degrees, missed opportunities and should have stuck to certain things. I maintain some image that if I had stuck to things I could have achieved some quantifiable goals.
Yet the truth is that life gets in the way.
My sister got Leukemia. Mum changed careers. So did my dad. He worked double time. I had to look after my brother. We had to pay medical bills. Etcetera etcetera etcetera.
I was busy trying to achieve all the things.
My dad has reprimanded me before. He says, “The margin of error in life isn’t so thin.” Although I pine after an HD and a pat on the back, I am relearning how to measure success, and that the big part of life is and has been shifting through the bullshit that life brings you. The stuff that people might expect of you. I am learning that to hold onto interests and hope and let my failures float.
Ken Robinson says, “One of the myths of standardized education is that life is linear.” He says,
“A message we should give all young people is that it is not. Students are often steered away from courses they would like to take in school by well-meaning parents, friends or teachers who tell them they will never get a job doing that. Real life tells a different story, and there is often little relationship between what people study in school and what they do in real life.”
Jon Lovett references F. Scott Fitzgerald, saying “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time and still retain the ability to function. That’s what you have to do: you have to be confident in your potential and aware of your inexperience. And that’s really tough.”
So I’ve got these ideas and expectations, but the margin of error is wide, and what I study at uni will not always correlate with what I’ll do in life.
Jon Lovett continues his own speech,
“Don’t cover for your inexperience. You are smart, talented, educated, conscientious, untainted by the mistakes and conventional wisdom of the past. But you are also very annoying. Because there is a lot that you don’t know that you don’t know”.
And I am increasingly aware how little I know, and how young and incapable I am. But I am also clichèd-ly inspired. I am excited to do all the things, and live all the dreams, and wade through the planned and the unexpected.
And I suppose that while living and doing and wading through all of those, I will (err) to do so in kindness. I will (err) to do them with no need to rush, and with a gentle ear to the older and wiser who have gone before me. I will err in that way because life is long, and the margin of error, is wide.