Three weeks ago at around 10pm on a Saturday night I broke down in Target. I could go on for pages about the many reasons why I had so many feelings that I figured that the only rational thing to do was to start crying my eyes out in the party favors section while reading a book meant to comfort people, but I am the only one who can really solve those problems so it is useless. That was the breaking point.
Yesterday I wandered around Barnes and Noble, skimming every shelf filled with books looking for nothing in particular-just hoping something would pop out at me. I spent about two and a half hours in there looking for this new read, but I did not stumble upon it.
Instead, somewhere in between laughing at how ironic it was that the section for books about feminism was directly across from the sections on dieting and nursing and pondering how many different magical worlds science fiction authors have been able to create, I found myself staring at the self-help books. Five minutes of me staring like a lost puppy had passed before a sales associate came and asked me if I was looking for anything in particular.
Before I could verbally say anything, I guess where my eyes glanced to did all the talking for me. At least, it was all this woman needed to tell me all about how wonderful a book The Happiness Project is and how it’s on Netflix and blah blah blah….I kind of stopped listening after she said there was a movie about it on Netflix because then all I could think about was why on earth would I buy a book that cost me fifteen times more than the free movie on Netflix would. When she finally took the hint that I was not really interested in anything in particular she finally left.
After that I stood there, staring aimlessly into the great abyss of words and sentences that was before me. I examined every title and author, occasionally pulling a book that had an interesting title or was written by a familiar name. Some books I pulled just for the sake of reading something, even if I had no interest in it at all. I kind of just wanted to read about other peoples’ lives to see what is going on inside their head. I wanted to see if anyone had any wisdom-any secrets or knowledge that they were holding out from the rest of the world and the only way one would be lucky enough to have it bestowed upon them would be to read the author’s book. I was wrong. Every book, memoir, and guide said the same things. Some made sense, others were barely comprehensible and made me question who makes the decisions about what books get published. Deep down, I know that I was searching for someone to tell me how to live my life. I wanted to read a “How to Succeed in Life and Never Ever Fail” guide. I knew then and still completely realize now that a book like that has never and will never be published since everyone leads a different life, however, I wish someone had figured out the secret to leading an amazing life and was willing to share it with me.
I thought I had it all figured out. I had been telling people what I wanted to do with my life since the seventh grade. I never really took the time to think about what I had to do in order to get there. I spent so much time pining over the college admissions process in high school that I never thought about graduate school. I am still in denial that in order to be successful I am going to need a master’s degree, but eventually I will come to terms with it. Realizing that I did not have my life in order like I thought I did scared me. It tore me up inside.
Today at my internship I was given the task of researching the different panelist we would be having at our first forum of the season. The first person on my list to research was Pulitzer-Prize winning author and presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin.
As I read more about her, I discovered her Ted Talk where she talked about her past and about her experiences with past presidents. In this Ted Talk, she says that when she ponders the meaning of life she thinks back to when she was an undergraduate at Harvard. She was sitting in on a seminar her professor, Erik Erikson, was giving where he went into details about how those that have “the richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love, and play.” I let that thought sink in.
I sat for a few minutes at my desk, staring at the tiny people walking on the sidewalks a few floors below me, thinking about nothing but that sentence. I further thought about the life I am currently leading and the life I hope to lead in the future.
While thinking about my future, I remembered the commencement speech that was shared with me a few days prior. In her speech to the 2014 graduates of Dartmouth College, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, says to the graduating students, “Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral. Pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” This was not news to me, but it made me realize how stupid the saying, “If your dreams don’t scare you they aren’t big enough” truly is. So, I sat there at my desk, basically strangling my cup of iced coffee while staring intensely out the window, thinking of what I should do now. The idea of not having dreams made me extremely anxious, and then I realized that rather than having dreams I will have goals. Goals are things that will happen. Dreams are mostly forgotten by the time one has woken up.
So, here I am, sitting up at 3 am thinking about life and its infinite possibilities, making lists of things I need to research more; different goals I have for this summer, this year, and my life; various tasks I have to get done before I travel. I do not need a self-help book. I do not need a man or woman giving me steps on how to live a fulfilling life because they are probably wrong since they are still trying to live theirs to the fullest too. I have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow, next month, next semester, or next year. My success is currently measured by what I have done and what people think I will accomplish in the future. I am eighteen years old and have one year of college completed. I have time to figure my life out.
- Shonda Rhimes’ Commencement Address to 2014 Dartmouth College Graduates
- Doris Kearns Goodwin TED Talk