There are a lot of lists like this spinning around the internet these days. I don’t seek them out. I find them on Facebook when other friends post them and think, “Sure, why not spend some of my surfing time getting some perspective on how to live my life?” But I’m thinking it’s time to take a break from internet-sourced “wisdom” for a while. It’s not helping me and sometimes I have to wonder, who is it helping?
I’m about to finish my graduate studies at York University. Hence why it’s been a bit more hit-or-miss with updating this blog over the course of this month. My family is going through some major changes in terms of where we are all living and working. The future is opening up once again and for all I talk about thresholds (and this), this threshold is a big one for me. Bigger than leaving Rice last year, maybe more than leaving Texas and the United States. It’s easy to forget about the emotional impact of that in the mess of finishing up projects and looking forward. I’m already hyper-focused on how I need to plan out the next phase of my life, what to do and what to avoid in order to keep moving forward in the direction of my dreams.
Outsiders might hear this and think that I do need a lot of advice at this point. At every previous graduation I’ve received at least one or two books on the general, inspirational theme of “What To Do Next” or “How To Find Your Passion.” Most of which are still lying in a box in Austin, Texas unread. (Sorry if you gave me one; I know you meant well) Why? I already have a passion for life and even if I didn’t, the generalized advice from one of those books wasn’t going to help me figure it out. If anything, these well-meaning books of advice for how to lead your own life also came too late. I’d already picked college and graduate school; I may have been leaving high school or Rice University, but I knew where I was going. In essence, I knew these books weren’t the ones for me.
But now, since the future without school is looming like a big fat abyss (an exciting one, but still a black void of uncertainty if I’m being entirely honest), I am susceptible to take any and all direction. I clicked on this article one morning last weekend thinking that surely I could use some guidance over what to do in my 20s since another birthday is coming up and I’ll soon be out of the structure of graduate school; it might help me make better decisions. Instead the advice starting with the first on the list, #20: working for money instead of building your dreams, triggered a whole slew of panic and anxiety attacks that plagued me for most of the weekend and beginning of this week. Is wanting a full-time job for next year abandoning my dream of playwriting? Am I settling too soon? Do I need to leave the future more unplanned with part-time jobs cobbled together so that I might have more opportunities to advance this part of my career?
After talking to family and friends who actually know me, I can see now that I’ve blown this one, generalized piece of advice way out of proportion. Supporting myself so that I’m not a stretched-thin graduate student anymore is not selling out or settling. It’s common sense. It also means nothing about giving up on my dreams. I know I cannot predict what a full-time job will do to my energy levels, networking abilities, or writing time, but I have to try. I also don’t know what leaving graduate school will do to any of the items on that list either, but that’s out of my hands; changes like this are part and parcel to my next step.
Looking back at all the advice I’ve gotten over the years, I’m thinking it’s time for me to stop looking at things like this. And maybe even articles like this one from a playwright in San Francisco freshly graduated from an MFA program. It’s very rare that I’ve found generalized advice helpful. It overwhelms me. I’m a rule follower and it’s very hard not to see these suggestions based on one individual’s experiences as rules that I too must follow if I want “success.” But success is very different for me than it is for them and what might make sense on paper might not work when the context surrounding it is drastically different from predicted.
Taking advice with a grain of salt was a lesson I learned in my junior year of undergraduate while taking networking and leadership courses–and apparently I need reminding. Many of the activities and exercises these courses suggested were unnecessary and didn’t apply naturally to me. I tried to follow them to the letter, but ended up making more lasting impressions and connections when I used a combination of Leadership Rice’s tips and my own voice, style, and personality. In the end, that’s what they wanted to inspire in me anyways: my own personal leadership style.
So that’s how I’m going to attempt to refocus over the next few weeks. No more considering these blog posts as writ large laws, rules, or even serious suggestions for me to live by. If I want advice, I’m going to ask the people who know me, who know what kind of effort I already put into living and building the type of life I want, from career to personal life and everything in between.
And finally, this article makes me mad because it’s about discouraging 20-somethings from making mistakes. Once again, how are we supposed to live and learn if we’re all taught not to try anything new? Even though the 20th item on the list exhorts us to take risks in following our dreams, that very statement contradicts the title “20 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make in Your 20s.” The schooling systems have already trained people like me to be perfectionists and over-achievers with no working concept of failure or slowing down. We don’t need to be told these things; they’ve been repeated and beaten into us in a billion more subtle, brainwashing ways. We need to hear more things like “get lost in your 20s” as Tomson Highway told me earlier this year. More people obviously need to see my play The Failures to understand how productive and freeing failure can be. I don’t say these things because I’m comfortable with failure, making mistakes, or getting lost. (This long anxiety-driven rant over this article should be a clue.) But I think they are harder life lessons worth learning, even if that means making these sorts of mistakes to fall, fail, and receive their wisdom the hard way.