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:
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.