We're in a moment of transition, at the time of year when we're figuring out the year ahead. As Students, but also as new adults trying to make life work, we're facing the ultimate paradox. We're seeing the greatness and gratitude of our accomplishments go up against against the very human realities of transformation: feeling afraid, feeling inadequate, not knowing what's next.
Maybe we're striving to live up the expectations of our life-changing opportunities.
Maybe we're still working to counteract the Imposter Syndrome worry of "do I even deserve this?"
Maybe we're enduring the hopelessness when our plans falls through. Maybe many plans --- the kinds that depend on one another to work: an internship, an academic program, a job, a secured living situation, and the ability to eat and pay the bills.
Maybe we're not even sure how to begin making plans. Maybe it's all too big, or too new, and we feel like we have no where to go -- or that everyone else is going bigger places, faster than we can think to keep up.
Maybe we're growing as we become more flexible, more ambitious, and hungrier for the opportunities that allow us to rise and those that we need to deal with just to get by.
Maybe we're also forgetting to enjoy the moment of what we've just accomplished. Maybe we're forgetting the magic that happens when we figure out how to move forward.
If you've felt this, or you're going through it, I feel you. My friends feel you. Everyone I know is going through the same things. Most of us know reach for the support that flourishes in groups, organizations, friend circles, families, and just general, simple, perfectly imperfect social human spaces. In the places we go to find answers for ourselves, we can find others struggling with the same things. We hear cries for help, stories of struggle, pleas for advice, confessions of worry, revelations of exhaustion, moments of weakness or heartbreak, and all the bittersweet and hard-to-swallow pieces of the journey.
They're all real. They're all part of this. They're growing pains. They're also, in a weird way, the things that make it all possible.
Often, those two Big Future words --- "I'm scared" ---- aren't just coming from our own mouths. We're hearing them from our friends too. When I hear them, I'm always torn when responding with my gut reaction: 'I've been there. Me, too. Yes, I know, personally – exactly what you mean.' The fact that we're all experiencing it doesn't make your version of this transition any less real. Shared experience is not the same as empathy.
At times, it's almost harder to say the other thing I believe: "it will be okay". If I have confidence in anything, it is confidence in us and what we're capable of. I have seen, over and over and over, that things come together, no matter how bleak or uncertain. My confidence doesn't mean much when looking ahead -- our nation, our generation, and our world is experiencing just as much anxiety about the future as you or I about our own. I can't promise things will turn out, even if I believe it. I know what it's like to be on the other side of a dismissive assurance that "everything will be fine," and to be frustrated. It can feel like a wash. I know I've been pat on the shoulder and cringed away, thinking a little selfishly, "gee, thank you but none of this 'this too shall pass' is helping."
I don't always know what to say, only the things I want to.
I want to say, heck yes! This is scary! Life is unpredictable! It's hard!
I want to say, in full 'Adult Who Doesn't Understand' voice, that I've learned that the most amazing things in life come with that risk, that even adventurers feel that risk, and that I'm sorry if my optimism somehow cheapens my empathy.
I want to say I know that it can feel like gambling with your whole life, your whole future, even your whole dream. How crossroads feel like Russian Roulette. How too many possibilities is as overwhelming as having none.
We're all taking on this monolith journey. We're all in the lawless games of change-of-life, radical-change-of-circumstances, still-manage-to-feed-yourself-and-make-rent.
We're all able to see the magic during the good times. The novelty, the wonder, the joy – that never leaves us completely. We're all gracious human beings. Gratitude is easiest to access right in the beginning, and only at the very end. You remember that joy you felt before starting college, and when walking across that stage at the end? They're peaks. Hindsight is full of the gifts of perspective. We know that it's okay, in the back of our minds. We try to keep in mind a 30,000 foot view of our journeys – but we're also human. We're also anxious and emotional as much as intellectual or intuitive, and cursed (blessed) to live in the now and dread (anticipate) the future and mourn (remember) the past.
I want to say that even when the "but, it's also wonderful" thoughts don't immediately follow the "this day is HARD" thoughts, everything you're saying and feeling and experiencing is still real. It still matters. It's still valid. You don't have to apologize for feeling it.
I want to say that I hope somewhere in those hard moments, there's also room for accepting the light found in the intentions of people who are trying. I hope you always have the perspective to know that you are not alone. That there is a community of people that understand. That so many are willing to hear you and see you. That have felt your situation and relate to your truth.
Ursula K. Le Guin said, "The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next." I think intolerable uncertainty is inherent to those of us just beginning to build our lives. We're setting off on foot, having to improvise a new road at every turn. We're walking blind and trusting the road will be there by the time our foot falls, inventing roads that haven't been paved yet.
Part of me, not cynical but resolutely determined, thinks of this journey as less as a voyage or a climb but more "hopping lily-pads in a current" to get across. Sometimes the river's lava. Sometimes the water's cool and low, we get portions with flat rocks and strong bridges.
When you get ready to graduate, you lose having a live structured by requirements and semesters. You let go of the stability of understanding how your finances work, where you'll be sleeping, what's expected of you, and where your friends are. We have to let go of the stability of knowing. Sometimes we don't even know the next week, nonetheless the next sixth months or few years.
From what I've seen, we do make it, over time. We make it, we excel, and we thrive. Early on, we also spend months of Intolerable Uncertainty while we're waiting for the wheel to come round again to refill our cup (with means, solutions, opportunities, internships, experiences, connections, answers). We can – often already have – spend years like that. We're all in a terrifying waiting room. There's also something to be said for the real life we're living - and hopefully not wasting - while we're waiting.
I won't dare say "don't stress". (We are human!!). Emotional, psychological, financial, and circumstantial realities do not have an on/off switch. Even if they did, random platitudes from your well-intended acquaintances certainly wouldn't flip it.
There may be times that despite the incredible gifts of your life, you also look at the hard work and the calendar to fill with "TBD Future". From there, there may be times when you're feeling low, or terrified, or depressed. These feelings are valid. Maybe they "demand to be felt."
I hope even with the hard days, you still have moments when you find a way to come up for air. I hope that you come to a day when you don't doubt your worthiness, even if you doubt everything else.
I hope that there's always a voice in the back of your mind, loud and bright and singing, reminding you that life has an infinite potential to get better.
I hope, also, that it never lets you forget that there is no rule, in any worldview of any Universe conscious or unconscious, guiding or indifferent, purposeful or randomly-coincidental that says all of life can only and will always get worse.
I hope that you still have moments where you're able to look back on the mysterious ways it's all worked out so far. Maybe it was an acceptance letter, a scholarship, an A+ or even a good hard-earned B- when it was most, a Pass when Fail felt impending-inevitable, a person we meet at the time we most need it, a gift that fills a need before we know to ask for it, a product of a mistake that makes see what beauty a wrong detour can offer, or a bill paid with a check that seems to fall out of the sky.
I hope you see the trends that brought you to where you are, and maybe even intuit a few more for what's next. I hope you remember that you've survived 100% of your worst days thus far.
Sometimes we cry our way through it. Our feet keep moving, even when our mouths are saying "I can't; I give up" or we're bawling our eyes out. Sometimes we feel like we're flailing – and in hindsight, we realized that "flail" was really the hustle we needed to get our heads above water again.
I'm not in the business of platitudes. I'm not as interested in telling you that it will be fine is being here for you when it's not. If we have one thing to trust in, it's not easy answers. It's our own muscles. We know when we're fighting. We know when we're working hard. We only really get dragged back when we stop fighting and let ourselves drift. We can trust our fire.
Know that we can and we do make it. Remember that you've made it this far. All you have to do is keep walking.