“Write a letter to the bright-eyed job seeker interested in following in your footsteps. Illuminate. Opine. Advise. But do not exceed 800 words.”
I’m sure I’m not the only person to think “what if” on a fairly regular basis. What if I had taken that government job offer straight out of college, instead of going to study in Ukraine, then ricocheting wildly from the US back to Ukraine to the US to Moscow to Wharton, following a convoluted path that brings me to where I am today?
If someone had told me back then that sure, I could follow my own path, but that I’d wind up single and broke, crushed by the weight of medical bills, would I have wised up and taken a more traditional route? If that same person had said yeah, that part sucks, but on the bright side, along the way you’ll do tons of cool stuff. You’ll do a couple of Ironmans, enter a goat-weighing contest in Bhutan, stop a gas leak with a garlic press, walk on a snow-capped house in Siberia, swim from Alcatraz, bike across Iowa, become an expert at growing prize-winning heirloom tomatoes, go cycling in the Alps (and crash there, but that’s another story), and go to the Corn Palace. What then? Would all that outweigh the fact that I’m now 43 and having a hard time figuring out how to pay the bills?
To that, after much contemplation, and thinking about what my parallel lives might have looked like, I can finally say….yes. Yes, it’s been worth it.
Of course, the thing to keep in mind is that you can’t follow in my footsteps. You can’t even avoid following in my footsteps, if that’s what you want to do. That implies that you have a lot more control over the vagaries of fate than you actually do. The fact is, life is pretty damn random. It’s a crapshoot. It’s as inexplicable as a video of a drugged-out kid after a dentist appointment going viral on youtube. It’s only easy to pontificate wisely in retrospect, when you already know how things have turned out, to then look back and say yes, I made the right choices, or hell no, what was I thinking?
Sure, the chances of you following an upward career trajectory are higher if you hew to a more traditional path, starting with a solid company and working your way up the ladder. Maybe. Only you can decide if the adventures you might miss along the way by not taking the weedy, overgrown path are worth the risks inherent in doing so. I know what answer I chose, but you? Does youth ever listen to its elders? Well no, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to impart gems of wisdom.
My wisdom is this: live your life so that you never have need of a “bucket list.” Primarily because that’s an asinine term, but also because this idea of suddenly realizing your mortality and that you need to start cramming everything in, well, if you’re thinking that way, it’s kinda already too late. Because you should have been living your life that way all along.
Me, I have The Cancer, stable now but I know quite well that things could go south at any moment. Recently one of my closest Cancerchick friends went from Stage 1 to Stage 4 basically overnight, and I know that could easily be me, me and my Stage 2 badass self. But if I were told I had a week to live, while that would suck because my house is a mess, quite frankly, I’d also be content in knowing that there wasn’t anything out there that I’d have to try to frantically cram in.
Because having cancer makes you rather reflective, looking back to see if it’s been a life well-lived.
And it has. I can honestly say that it has.
So our key takeaway here is this: you’re young. You won’t always be. Someday you’ll be as old and cranky as the rest of us, and that time will come upon you sooner than you think.
So now? Do whatever the hell you want, whatever strikes your fancy, whatever calls to your soul. Don’t think of everything in terms of it being an “investment” in your future or another rung up the ladder. There’ll be plenty of time for that later on. Or maybe there won’t, and you’ll find yourself facing your own mortality, lamenting that you didn’t take that trip to Bhutan because you would have missed too much work. And wouldn’t THAT be a bummer.
My wish for all of you is that you let that philosophy guide your decisions. And if there’s ever anything that you’re thinking about doing that would fall into the “Oh fuck it” category as you throw caution to the wind? Yeah, do that.
Trust me, life’s a lot more fun that way.
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