I asked a wise woman I know to gift me with some life advice as a graduation present. These are her words:
You are no new traveler. You have not asked for, nor do you need, the basics for whatever journeys are painted on the map ahead. Your rucksack is worn, your shoes wise with the miles behind, and your compass, though still newer, is steady. What follows are not directions that you need. These are more like signposts that have served me well, places where I have found water to refill my heart and canteen, knowledge of which plants have made me sick, and which berries will sustain. As endless as the mysteries of the wild are, so too we are never done exploring life’s trails. Here’s to the next leg. You are never ready. Yet, you already are.
• My partner always says: “What’s the intention? And what’s the expectation?” When faced with whether to have a difficult conversation with someone or make some choice, ask yourself those two questions. If you answer honestly, the truth that you already know usually guides the way. We cannot lie about our intentions to ourselves; even if we do, we have nothing to gain by doing so. And typically the expectation is not hiding, it is merely an unasked question begging to be answered.
• You attract more bees with honey than vinegar. Always. Without exception. No one has ever changed their mind by reading an angry social media post or text, or being yelled at. I forget this every time I let my fury and passion get the best of me. Then I must remember it in the ensuing silence when I have to confront why no one wanted to engage in the conversation. Crowds don’t follow individuals because they are right, they follow because they are captivated. Being “right” does not inherently earn you anything. People don’t want to be told what to do. They want to find their way, and they always remember who helped them do that and who made them feel guilty for trying.
• Silence is sometimes a wise choice and not necessarily a weakness. I consider myself a very principled person in that when a rule is “technically” broken it is broken; and it infuriates me. I guess this is a “pick your battles” sort of cliché. But it’s true. Having principles does not mean always beating other people over the head with them. Trust earned now means a platform later. I am confident that you, like me, will not rarely struggle to speak up (maybe sometimes, but not often). Our more frequent battle is the challenge to listen and hear beyond our gut reaction. It’s endlessly difficult, but fantastically rewarding. People do surprise me, when I let them. And they teach me many unexpected lessons, if only I am ready to learn.
• I recently carried numerous suitcases of heavy bitterness up to my mountain and left them all there. People always say holding onto bitterness is like eating the poison waiting for it to kill the rat. I’ve heard isms like that my whole life and obstinately—I couched it as, successfully—held onto all my grudges. Don’t do that any longer than you have to. It has made me faster to anger, and slower to listen and learn. So take your suitcases of anger, bitterness, and hurt, and leave them somewhere. You can go back there to feel them, but only there. When I am on the mountain I can reflect on those past wounds, but when I leave, they stay. They don’t live on my shoulders anymore.
• Nest, make spaces what they need to be to feel like yourself and at home—but don’t accumulate stuff. As a practical matter (for moving—which, for nearly 26 years, I’ve done an average of once every 1-2 years), but also as a spiritual matter. Select the objects and energy you keep in your space wisely. I am constantly learning, forgetting, and then re-learning that new clothes, new belonging, or food and TV binges are like drinking sand. But hiking, plants, gathered rocks and totems, dried flowers, sage, art, reading, and images that reflect my journey and the life I’m building with my partner help ground me in the anxious moments.
• Rescue a fur-child, and fall in love with it and let it teach you all the beautiful things you have to learn from it. Walk it, daily if you can. Take good care of it. It will cost you money and time and heartbreak and it will keep you from being social and it will make you worry and it will be one of the best things you have ever done.
• Save. And never underestimate how fast that money can be spent. I once had about $10,000 saved during college and it was gone within a year. Before law school, I was once stranded in a parking lot, no gas, credit cards maxed out, in the red on my debit card, aaaandddd on my period without any tampons. Money is not everything. And in abundance it will spend you dry and dissatisfied. But being a she-hustler and having a responsible-ass savings account will never feel like a bad choice either.
• Get smart credit cards deals, use credit cards, and pay them off each month. There can be a lot of anti-credit sentiment among younger generations, but I have better credit than people twice my age. It costs you nothing, and it will give you the option of great deals on your terms with cars and homes in the future. If you spend more than you can pay, learn that lesson fast and never need to learn it again.
• Make real art. Know you will spend your whole life re-defining all three of those words. Challenge yourself to search and create even when it is not easy. But do not guilt yourself when the muse is hibernating. Striving to grow and learn, even in seasons of drought, is not fake if you are doing it for you. But never feel guilt or shame about taking refuge in a hiatus and waiting for the next season to come. I know that I will write stories and poems and novels one day to feed myself. It may be many years from now. I rest in nurturing this particular part of my intellectual curiosity without fearing a loss of identity and self by not currently exploring my artistic curiosities. You will change and shape-shift throughout this next summer and the rest of your life, it does not mean you are losing anything. Release expectations of yourself that do not make you better. Reject the same when imposed by anyone else.
• Forgive the friends who leave, viciously love the ones who stay, and part with the ones who do not uplift you or make you better. There are people who are in our lives, as we know deep in our hearts, only for us to love them and learn from that experience. In my opinion, that should be the minority of individuals. The vast majority should share in the belief that relationships are two-way streets. Friends are seasons, too. I have spent a lot of wasted grief and bitterness figuring out how to accept that. But acceptance of that truth makes you a better friend for that given period of time.
• Listen to the voice in your gut, your chest, or the back of your mind—wherever you’ve placed it and made it cozy. Even when what it is saying is contrary to the advice of others. Hear their wisdom, consider it, let it inform the conversation you are having with your own Voice. And then listen to your own. You may be wrong, but I’m willing to bet you usually will not be. Hone the voice and take care of it so you can hear it better. Spend time in quietness with yourself. Practice mindfulness. Meditate. Pray. The minute I started listening to that Voice within I finally started living fully and honestly, and it hasn’t led me (too far) astray.
• Fight ego. We will spend our lives discovering and confronting the insecurities and ego that lurk in the shadows of our hearts and rob us of joy and valuable lessons. It’s a tiring battle sometimes. But keep at it. Humility is plant that needs constant sunlight and watering. Ego is an often-forgotten weed in the backyard that needs constant hacking.
I’ll end with this. You may be facing this summer and the nebulous “future” of post-college graduation and thinking, “what the fuck now?” If someone asked you what you wanted to do, you would (maybe) respond with an “I don’t know” only because it is not clean-cut or “acceptable” to list out thirty different things as an answer. I doubt that you really do not know—you likely know dozens of things you want to do but don’t know what the “right” next step is.
I once had a conversation with someone in response to this question, and it has stuck with me ever since. He asked me the question, I actually responded with a list of ten things I wanted to do and said I didn’t know where to begin. And he said, “just pick one, and do it until it’s not right anymore.”
We long for a sense of identity—the ability to say “I AM doing this,” and “I AM this person,” or “THIS career.” The idea of test-driving a pursuit and it not being final is paralyzing to most of the population. That fear—the fear of not making the “right” next step—keeps people from taking out loans to go to school, quitting jobs they hate, moving out of cities they are stagnant in, and challenging themselves at something they dream of doing. Just pick one. And do it until it’s not right anymore.
I changed my major in undergrad seven times. Literally seven different times I was convinced I knew my future. I nearly dropped out of college to devote all of my time to the restaurant company I was working for, convinced, again, that I would manage restaurants and then open my own someday. I graduated with an essentially worthless degree, and would weave in and out of a handful of jobs again for the next two years before I ended up on the path to law school. And you know how it happened? One day, my dear boss looked at me and said, “You’d be a great lawyer.” One sentence fell into my chest like a seed. We can’t anticipate those moments. We can only work hard to be listening and brave for when they come knocking. Just pick one, and do it until it doesn’t feel right anymore.
You are a remarkable human. I am endlessly amazed at, inspired by, and proud of you. Take care of yourself however you need to in the months ahead. Go on a trip, write a lot, paint a lot, be quiet. Rest. But don’t get stuck. The world is waiting for you, and she’s excited about whatever you’re wearing when you show up. Leave not a minute too soon, but don’t keep her waiting too long.
I realized this isn’t often said, but Harry is my favorite character in the series. I love other characters like Luna, Hermione and the Weasley twins; but Harry has always been my favorite. I just feel very protective of him. After everything he’s been through, the abuse from a young age by the Dursley’s, having no friends until school, having to grow up in a lot of ways even before hitting puberty, being hunted by a mass murderer, suffering PTSD, etc. I am proud of him, and glad he is happy now.
Ruth Lee, a hostess at a Chinese restaurant, flies a Chinese flag so she isn’t mistaken for Japanese when she sunbathes on her days off in Miami, in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 15, 1941