Unsolicited Life Advice For My Brother Graduating College

While I could never choose a favorite sibling I have to confess I have different soft spots for each of the ones I have. One particular soft spot I have for my older younger brother, the brother who is older than everybody else but younger than me as I am the firstborn, is the fact that he is technically the sibling that made me a big sister for the first time.

And for the sake of tradition I thought I would celebrate his graduation from college with an old staple from our childhood: some bossy but well-intentioned, usually unsolicited and often uninvited life advice from a sister who has three years of extra wisdom to impart:

Dear Brother,

Graduating anything always triggers pictures of adulthood, reminding you of what you’re leaving behind and leaving you feeling unprepared no matter how much you prepare. But don’t be afraid.

I think the great mystery of life is that the fundamentals about you don’t really change, you keep a lot of the same personality, feelings, and perceptions that you have always had, but your experiences broaden, your confidence grows, and pretty soon you’re surprised that without ever meaning to you’ve actually grown up.

And as you take this next step forward you’re going to be given a lot of advice on how to lead “successful” life.

This advice is well meaning, but nothing can ruin a life quite like worldly notions of “success.” What I mean by that is all too often success in is measured the wrong way and becomes synonymous with things like an impressive career, prosperity, and having what your friends have in every aspect of life from the material things to personal relationships, as if attaining these things were the only way to create a worthwhile legacy and impact the world for the better.

Yet I would recommend entirely rejecting that outlook because that is the one that leaves people living in fear, stressfully trying to control every detail from their diet to their career path and competitively comparing their progress to their neighbors. And I would wish better for you because, contrary to what I would have had you believe during your formative years, I actually love you a lot and there is some big sister part of me that’s always looking out for you, even though I know you can take care of yourself. Your happiness is important to me because the only misery I want in your life is the misery caused by my own self.   

Therefore, I will admit that from my brief experience with adulthood thus far there is one thing I wish someone had told me as I was graduating: “don’t forget to have an adventure.”

By that, I do not mean to suggest that you should spend all your money on a trip to Europe. I simply mean that as you enter the workforce and begin to think about things like health insurance and a 401K, there is so much focus placed on getting ahead and securing the next step on the road to “success” that it can be very tempting to forget to enjoy the step that you’re on. In other words, you forget that even though you’re not technically a kid anymore, life is still the same giant adventure it always has been. You just have to take the time to look for it, since your to-do list will be longer than ever before.

But the incredible thing about life is that you live. No matter what happens somehow you survive everything that gets thrown your way, even the things that at first seem impossible. So worrying is basically useless and the time you would have spent worrying is better spent developing trust and gratitude, the two fundamental things every adventurer needs.

This is the attitude that truly determines success because not only does it lead to greater happiness, it also gives one the courage required to reject the temptation to measure happiness in terms of self-indulgence and end the lie that life worth is nothing if it does not contain a list of impressive accomplishments. It will give you the wisdom to realize the true paradox that an impact is made not through great achievement, but in those tiny little moments that at first seem insignificant but later turn out to be the moments that make life worthwhile. Mundane moments where you are given an opportunity laugh and be silly as you go about your daily routine. To appreciate everything you have as it comes to you. To share your unique essence with the world as you spread the love of God you’ve experienced in your everyday encounters with your neighbors. The ability to live life not as a competition but as the gift that it is, both to your own self and to the countless others you will meet. Because ultimately I know you will be successful for the same reason I love you, not because of the amazing things you do at present or will do in the future, but simply because of who you are. The wonderfully thoughtful and witty young man I have so enjoyed getting to know.

Congratulations on your graduation from college. This is a big day and we’re really proud of you.

Love,

Ellen

 

Advertisements

Those People Who Call Everything an Adventure

Recently I read something somewhere that was complaining about people who call everything an adventure. The tone from the author was a sort of mocking and directed towards, “those people who call everything an adventure and by that they mean going to get ice cream at 1 am”

I don’t know what the rest of the world was doing while in college, but that is an accurate description of many of my Friday night adventures with friends and I loved every minute of it. Moreover, I still fail to see the problem or why she felt the need to address this in the first place. I could tell her words were meant as a sort of loving critique but I feel like critiques are baseless if the alternative is not something better but something worse.

One of my favorite writers, G.K. Chesterton, once said,

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

Chesterton defied his realist, naturalist, and materialist contemporaries by seeing adventure everywhere, even in the most mundane moments that strike others as insignificant, and his reward for living with the adventurous enthusiasm and curiosity of a child was a wisdom and a joy that far surpassed that of his contemporaries.

The fruits of the seeds planted in Chesterton’s age, the turn of the twentieth century, are fully grown and blossoming now and despite the pleasant picture such a metaphor may conjure I do not necessarily mean that as a positive thing.

The problem of realism, naturalism, and materialism is not that they are inherently bad but that when practiced to such a narrow and exulted degree they are confining. I know this to be true because their more zealous subscribers lose the very thing Chesterton had and the very thing I seek to have also: the mysterious and sublime adventure that can be discovered veiled amid the ordinary routine of everyday living. And the charm of the adventure comes not from knowing all the answers but seeking them and discovering them more profoundly as one goes about his ordinary life. The sense that there is more to the eye than what you can see with your eye.

And it almost saddens me that we live in a world that discourages silliness and imagination in favor of “growing up” into people who see but don’t see, hear but don’t listen, and live without living.

Obviously I’m Important

So I don’t know how it works for people who weren’t raised in my Facebook generation, but I am always getting about a million invites to various things, including those auditorium style events where they bring in a well-known speaker whose talk is generated around their extremely generic and inoffensive life advice with the intent of getting you PUMPED about something.

And while there are some speakers I would love to hear, I feel that the introductions always leave something to be desired. The speakers are essentially selling themselves as if they were a product, for example, “come see this award winning, Harvard educated, Olympic silver medalist, gourmet chef, accomplished author, activist, humanitarian, radio-broadcasting, home-schooling mother of 8 who shares her tips on balancing family and career. Act now and enter for your chance to win a free copy of her new book. Lunch is provided.”

It’s a lot to digest (pun intended) because it places these successful people on pedestals
and tries to claim that the pedestal version is the reality. In fact, that lie/intentional smisperception for the purposes of marketing is often meant as the very basis to draw in the crowd, “come see this winner who wins constantly and learn how you can be a winner too.” And because we live in a world that makes success the condition for love people flock to these corny messages in spades. I’ve had honest conversations with intelligent people who come away from these events full of motivation and inspired to “take charge” of their lives. Whatever that means…

I have trouble with these types of events, partially because I subscribe wholeheartedly to Divine love which is unconditional, and partially because I’m a nerdy hipster who can’t allow myself to like anything so mainstream and group-y as a popular speaker. I’m sure that comes across in this blog.

However, my distaste for these things also comes from the fact that I know that there is so much more to be found and shared than the trite life advice of these smug and successful speakers, because back in the day when I used to listen to these types I’d be inspired and/or peaceful for maybe half a second and then I would need more, the restlessness would always come back. But as I pursued a growing faith and sought a deeper bond with God I knew I’d found the way home because I finally stopped searching for satisfaction in other places, as there was no longer a need to. And I would never speak about these experiences by selling myself as a product or brand to happy/balanced/peaceful (insert any buzzword you like) living, because the way I truly believe that goal is accomplished is not my way, it certainly was not my genius that invented it, and it is not just a natural result of good habits, but rather a way that existed long before me and will probably exist long after me and finding any piece of it is truly a gift. A gift I got because I asked for it and God is generous. A gift that anyone can have if they humble themselves for long enough to ask, I only wished more people believed me instead of wasting their money on people arrogant enough to want to inspire the world to become more like themselves.

I controversially chose to remain Catholic in a world hostile to religion not just because I’m edgy and cool like that, but because to me it is the way, the truth, and the life. I firmly believe it and the more I walk down the way, discover the truth, and live the life the more convicted (and more joyful) I am. To share this way is an act of love because I don’t want you to become more like me, in fact that thought is rather frightening, but I do hope you discover everything I have found there and more. And these cheesy speakers with their “transferable” tips from their successful business ventures to your life or their 3 secrets to achieving 10 times more than you (a mere average person) are such a shallow imitation and waste of human energy because often the purpose is to get you to conform to be someone that the world loves in order to gain the love of the world. I would recommend rejecting a love so fickle as that.

Because here’s the thing, every speaker regardless of popularity or topic has one thing in common. They are going to die. They can’t take their many achievements with them and I don’t buy into the lie perpetuated by many of my fawning English professors that notoriety after death is somehow a comfort and/or affirmation to them. I think it’s just a band-aid used to soften the fact that the reality of death scares a lot of people. However, it doesn’t scare me.

Because I’m not looking to achieve, I’m not looking to be better than the person sitting next to me, and I’m not looking to impress by my life or my legacy. I’ve been looking to love and be loved and the road to real love is not temporal or subject to change. It is instead an infinite and eternal gift which eliminates my fear of death, or even my fear of “failure” while alive, because I know that this love is Divine, both perfect and redemptive, and the only real thing to ever fear would be living my life in such a way as to not recognize it when it calls or worse, rejecting it when it is offered because I listened to one too many crappy speakers and believed the lie that the only type of love worth having is the love that I deserve.