October 9, 2011

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

improve. explore.

And now for a little Sunday essay...

A year ago right now I was doing exactly what I'm doing in this moment: sitting on a bed with a laptop in my lap, trying to process all the ideas swimming around in my head. The considerable difference between this year and last is that my bed now is infinitely more comfortable and I'm 15 stories closer to the ground. 

Well, I guess things might have been a little more dramatically different last year... This very same Sunday night in 2010 I was scrambling to throw together three hours' worth of lecture for my first day of teaching in China, literally only 24 hours after I had landed in Asia.

It was a terrifying adrenaline rush. Looking back on it, I can now be sentimental and focus on the absurdity and humor of the situation. But at the time, I was horrified. I didn't know how to teach, I didn't know the language, quite frankly I had no idea where I was. The smoggy silhouettes of smokestacks and the dark outlines of highrise buildings glowed hazy orange at night and there were fighter jet flyovers every 10 minutes (for reasons still unknown) -- those first few nights were anxiety laden. And I still don't wish on anyone a first month of China as Alex and I initially experienced it. But the lessons I began learning exactly a year ago have impacted me in ways I never anticipated. 

I want you to watch this video. It's 15 minutes long and worth every second of your time. Perhaps you've seen it, or at least portions of it. It's been all over the news this week after Steve Jobs died. We lost a brilliant, unconventional, and feisty individual this week. This speech spoke to my soul. I hope it speaks to yours, too.

I feel like he took all the ideas and fears and uncertainties of potential-seeking individuals and compartmentalized them in a way that we can relate to in the most basic, human sense. 

He talked a lot about trusting your instinct, if something feels right then it probably is. Like most people over the age of 50, he reassured the young, naive set of folks like me by promising that things will work out. We're only be able to understand our journey's route when we look back on it.

But at 23, I have zero hindsight. I mean, beyond embarrassingly looking back at some of the, uhh, gems from high school, I have very little substance to draw from. And no one my age does. When you're in your 20s, it doesn't matter if you've seen the world, landed an outrageous job, or started a family with the man (or woman) of your dreams -- you're still young, and some things like hindsight can only be acquired with age. 

The real beauty of not knowing an outcome is that if you really listen to yourself, you'll know in the moment whether you're making a good decision or not. I don't care if you believe you get that feeling from Jesus, Allah, meditation, Mother Earth -- it doesn't matter, what matters is that you listen. If you follow that feeling in the pit of your stomach, it can only lead you to good things. 

Really. I mean, you might not be financially successful. You may get punched in the gut. And at points, I'm sure you'll convince yourself you made the dumbest decision of your life. But as an idealistic, possibly naive 23-year old, there is nothing more inspiring to see than someone decades my senior who has done nothing but what they love their entire life; they radiate happiness.

This Sunday's essay is as much of a pep talk for myself as I hope it is for you. Quite frankly, I'm scared. I'm scared of the state of our country and our world. I'm scared about hating a job. I'm scared about not finding a better half (let's be real, at this point I have no hope of ever celebrating a 64th wedding anniversary like my grandparents will celebrate this February). These fears can be crippling, but we should opt to use them as sparks for action and for changing what we don't think is right. 

And with that, I'll leave you with my favorite line from Steve Jobs' speech:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

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