I’m graduating college in a month, and everyone loves to ask me what I’m going to do with my life. I usually pause, and stare off into space for a moment to think about it. It’s kind of a shifty question. Inside of that pause, this is the kind of stuff that’s usually sloshing around my brain:
The “3rd Rock from the Sun.”
The “Pale Blue Dot.”
The “Godforsaken Planet.”
This is a picture of Earth.
It’s been hovering here for 4.54 billion years, and Earth has seen some shit.
It’s seen tectonic and volcanic warfare; it’s seen asteroids plummet from the heavens; it’s seen the first lifeforms crawl out of the sea; it’s seen cavemen dare to leave the cave; it’s seen the innovation of art; it’s seen the innovation of commerce; it’s seen the birth and death of nations; it’s seen Christopher Columbus sail the ocean blue; it’s seen an James VI of Scotland ascend to the throne at thirteen months old; it’s seen Orson Welles’s elegant facial hair; it’s seen an industrial revolution or two; it’s seen Martin Luther King Jr. march on Washington, D.C.; it’s seen terrorism, war, and hatred; it’s seen love, compassion, and heroism; BY GOD, this Earth has even seen Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay! And yet, here I sit, just a man, contemplating what I should spend my life doing.
It’s a worrisome task. I worry about what life has in store for me in the post-collegial world. I worry that I won’t be able to support myself, or do what I love to do. Sometimes I worry that I’ll die choking on a hamburger at a McDonald’s drive-thru, and that alone will be my legacy. I worry, because I fear. And I fear, because fear is survival. When those aforementioned cavemen moseyed on out of their cave, I’ll bet some of them had to cope with some scary shit. Lions and tigers and bears. In the face of fear, the body pumps hormones to signal that danger is coming–this is the fight or flight that you’ve all heard about in high school health class. I watched a really awesome documentary about stress recently, and it showed how this process works in baboons. Like humans, the baboons anticipate danger by way of these stress hormones and this biological warning system increases their chances of survival in the wild. Unlike humans, once the threat has passed, these stress hormones subside and the baboons resume their shit-flinging frolic. Humans are so conditioned to feel fear that the stress response doesn’t subside when the danger does, which, in turn, deteriorates the body.
I had an interesting conversation with a coworker of mine the other day. He’s my age (21), and very much going through the same crises. He said, “I just want to start my career now. I know what I want to do! If I’m not doing that, then I’m failing!” Who are you people who know, with undeniable certainty, what you want to do? Remember, the Earth has been here for 4.54 billion years. You’ve been here for less than a century. As far as I’m concerned, saying that you “know” anything, is just downright insulting. There’s more stars in the perceivable cosmos than there are granules of sand on this planet, and you KNOW that you were meant to be in finance, huh? Just like that? No. You don’t know that, Stan. You couldn’t possibly know that. But we feel a compulsion to tell others that we know. It’s comforting to that human stress response. Certainty caresses the comfort nodules of the brain. Saying that you know what you want to do is like a shot of morphine to your audience (and you). Ahhh! Everything’s gonna be alright…he knows. But you’re lying, because you don’t know anything. But guess what?
[It's okay to not know.]
It’s not blasphemy to be unsure of things. We don’t know the answers to the big questions, and it doesn’t seem like we will any time soon. Why trouble yourself with uncertainty? Unburden your stress response. Just say, “I don’t know.” Go ahead, say it. I’ll wait. No, really, say it out loud. Felt good, diddnit? It’s perfectly normal. Admit that you don’t know what you’re doing, and then proceed. Because proceeding in spite of not knowing is part of being alive.
“So, what ARE you going to do with your life, sir?”
I still very don’t know what I’ll be doing. I’ve majored in engineering, marketing, television, and film, and I still have no idea what the hell I want to do. I’m too busy thinking about why we’re all here, what happens when we die, what’s up with our basic nature, and why Donald Trump looks the way he does. I’m thinking about that stuff, yeah, but I don’t have any answers, because I don’t know anything. I don’t know anything, you don’t know anything, and neither does anyone else. Everybody is fucking winging it. Still, there are those people who think they know things, and they expect you to know things too. They show up everywhere–maybe this person is your grandma, maybe it’s your priest? There’s going to be people who demand answers you don’t have to questions that aren’t important. I would again urge you to tighten your stance and hold your ground with me. Admit that you don’t know what you’re doing, and then proceed. Or maybe you’re being compelled to feel/do something but it’s not necessarily because of a single person. Old Spice thinks you should smell like Old Spice. People Magazine thinks you should look like whomever is on their latest cover. And yet, Old Spice gives me a rash, and my teeth will never be as white as Rihanna’s.
We’re doing ourselves a gross disservice by demanding certainty, perfection, and absolution. We’re making each other really unhappy. But if we refuse to obey these forces that compel us, they will weaken. If you’re anything like me (or if you’re nothing like me–which is cool too I guess), I wish you luck and peace of mind. I don’t know anything, you don’t know anything, and neither does anyone else. Life is a massive pill to swallow, and it’s for that same reason that we need to be looking out for each other. Taking a seat every now and then to catch your breath doesn’t make you lazy. If you sit still enough, you can sense the Earth moving under your body, effortlessly, just as it did before you, and just as it will thereafter.