Yes, You Are Worthy of Options

by Bryn Watkins

In my circle of friends–actually my whole generation for these next few years–the future casts a constant, brooding force over any conversation. I feel it breathing on me when I try to sleep at night, peeking through the window at me when I’m loafing with a box of cookies. What are you going to do with your life, Bryn? Have you figured it out yet? Have you? Naturally, I have a bit of a fraught relationship with that annoying, incessant animal that lives at the back of my head, but only recently did I discover that its presence may actually be something wonderful.

See, in a discussion with a friend recently about our respective futures, she said to me (I paraphrase), “But you’re lucky. You can go to university. You’re smart. I’m not like you–I don’t have anything to offer.” That struck me as totally tragic and totally wrong. I wanted to shake her. The more I’ve thought about it, however, the more I’ve realized that her mind-set is the result of a broad conditioning we all undergo as we age: Options are for the elite. As for the everyone else? Well, too bad.

I realized I am lucky to consider my future in various shapes and sizes. Let’s just take a brief gander through my current list of ideas:

  • Much of Europe provides free, English-taught undergraduate degrees for foreigners. I could go to school in Finland (my favorite option of late–I’m seriously considering it).
  • Community college in the States is totally digestible, money-wise; I could live in Louisiana for a while and attend some JC there (always wanted to speak French like a Creole). Or in South Dakota. Or Alaska.
  • I could get another job abroad before going to school full-time. Life is its own school anyway, right?
  • I could apply to this university or that one. (Why not send an app to Columbia? Wait, don’t answer that).
  • I could volunteer full-time for a while.
  • I could become a homesteader in Wyoming. Land isn’t that pricey.
  • …Mountain Guide School?
  • I could travel until my savings run out. Arguably worth the expenditure.
  • I could move home to finally read Les Mis and never shower (kidding, Mom and Dad).

You’ll notice that none of these disparate imaginings actually require me to be “smart” (clearly), or to have any extraordinary aptitude for one field or another, or even funds. It seems the only barrier that separates me from my friend–or (more to the point) my potential future from hers–is my preposterous and frequently quixotic imagination.

Clearly, there has to be an effort at pragmatism at some point. But I believe that’s for the future I’m stepping into and not for my feet to decide–I will step regardless. I don’t want to sound like I think I am talented enough to succeed in just any old line of work that may pop into my head on a given day, but I do want to practice feeling worthy of the effort. And I want to tell my friend, and anybody who feels they fall in a similar clan: You are worthy of options too. You are smart enough to go back to school. You are ambitious enough to be “one of those people.”

Recently I had the privilege of corresponding with a hero of mine, an adventurer and film producer for places like National Geographic and the North Face. I found her email on Facebook, I wrote her an entirely unabashed fan-letter, and she responded(!). I wanted to know how she got where she is. In my mind, she’s absolutely “one of those people” whose extraordinary circumstances I figured were a reflection of an extraordinary skill-set. However, among other golden tidbits of advice, she said that really the best way to get where you want to go is simply by reaching out and asking to be involved. “That’s it?” I thought. “I just have to try?” But it’s true: How unproductive it is to invalidate your dreams before they even get a shot; how much more productive it is to decide to take action, ask the right questions, and invest in your inherent potential.

I may be constantly at battle with my naggingly nebulous future, but I think perhaps that nagging is the first important step in figuring it out. Asking, “Where can I go? What can I do?” invites the healthiest amount of imagination and self-indulgence that I’d like to think I’m entitled to. I am worthy of even the craziest options, if I put in the effort and simply believe.

More solid advice came to me just this evening as I was watching an interview Aung San Suu Kyi gave for the International Bar Association a few months back. Amidst a discussion about the national reconciliation for which she’s working in Myanmar at the moment, she interrupted the interviewer (“So you are hopeful, then–”) to say, “I’m sorry, no, I’ve never believed in hope. When people ask me if I hope for this or that, I always say, I don’t believe in hope, I only believe in endeavor. You work. You work to get what you want, you just don’t sit and hope for it.” Similarly, wishing you could be “one of those people,” who had the chutzpah to go back to college, or re-enter the workforce, or travel, will never be enough to satiate your hunger to succeed. Just choose to become one of those people.

So now I have to go to bed, which will inevitably invite a pre-snooze inquisition from the year 2016. I just hope that women everywhere understand: feeling poked in the side like that with goals and dreams for our futures is something we actually deserve. So let’s get to work. I’ve heard that kind of craziness is already trending in Myanmar.

7 Comments on “Yes, You Are Worthy of Options

  1. Another option: be a beach bum in Santa Barbara and live with me and share your wisdom with me daily!!

  2. I love these thoughts. Something else I’ve learned: don’t form an opinion about a potential career based on portrayals in television or film.

    For most of my life I made assumptions about medical careers based on TV shows. Now that I’ve been volunteering in a 29-bed NICU, I see the reality is very different. Before I thought, “I’m not smart enough or capable enough for a medical career.” Now I know that those professionals learned their skills one step at a time. Persistence and practice are needed more than genius IQs or doing chest compressions while on a moving gurney! This realization has opened up a lot of options for me to consider.

  3. At first reading I had a hard time getting past the bit about a box full of cookies. 😉

    I teach seniors, and one thing I try very hard to get across to them is that they want to do everything they can at this stage in their life to multiply their choices. Making key good decisions now opens more and more doors down the road. I wish when I had been 20 I had embraced a little bit more. I made a lot of good choices, but they were really safe choices too. I wish I had been a little more daring.

    Because what I know now, staring down the business-end of 40, is that the 20’s are all about choices . . . during my 30’s I winnowed those choices down a lot. Children. Family. Settling on a career. These things have a way of slowing you down. I still dream a lot, and have some big goals for myself this year, but the limitless embrace of opportunity is a little less realistic at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love the choices I’ve made, and my life now, who I am now, is only possible because of so many years of deliberately taken steps into the darkness and not telling myself what I could NOT do.

    I wish that your friends could see that 40 is filled with regrets when your 20’s are filled with timidity. You are awesome, Bryn. Shine your light and help them find theirs.

  4. Oh, my darling Bryn! What a fruitful mind you have, and the imaginings to equal it! Go, my adventurous one, and see the world, if only in your aspirations! Then, come back to us before we head up beyond the stars! Your “lonesome for you” Grandma (and Grandpa)

  5. From GRANDPA WELLS: We are proud of your adventurous spirit and unlimited talents and gifts. Life IS a great adventure. Someone even said, “Our eternal spirits are on earth enjoying a human, mortal adventure.” From our perspective of life, which has been full of adventures, we have come to realize that the greatest adventures of all have been the ADVENTURES OF THE SPIRIT. (mission, romance, marriage, family, church service, etc.) I love you. Grandpa

  6. I hope that more women realize that it is never too late to make more adventurous decisions. Many people are still shocked that my husband and I decided to move to Alaska, as our response when the company he worked for went out of business.

    We are both back in school, and while we will be in our 40s when we graduate, we would have been that old, whether we were in school or not. I think that many people, of all ages, could use more imagination, and less fear. I sometimes wonder what would need to happen for there to be a revitalization of the pioneer spirit that drove the pioneers to move around the world to make a different life. I think is one of the things that I love about AMW.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. If you decide to try Alaska, there are amazing opportunities in Fairbanks. I would love to have another adventurer to compare dreams with.

  7. You are wise beyond your years. I agree with Nan that your twenties are a great time to be adventurous and to not limit your choices.

    I always love reading Grandma Helen’s comments on your posts. I can see where you get some of your greatness.

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