Beyond Room 119

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A letter I’ll never send

Dear AJ,

You’re a great kid, and I like you. I think that you’re a smart guy who is trying to find his way, and you’re getting frustrated that you can’t even see the beginning of the path, much less how to walk down it. You’re at the point where you’re about to just plop down among the bushes and wait for the branches before you to magically untangle and for the path to appear. But, that’s not going to happen any time soon. So for what it’s worth, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that might help you along your way.

Failure isn’t fatal. There’s a Japanese proverb: fall down seven times, get up eight. The number of times you fall isn’t important; what does matter is that the number of times you get up is one more than that. Always. Failing is part of life, and it comes in different forms. Sometimes that means getting an F in precalculus – twice. Other times it looks like not realizing you needed to fill out paperwork to keep someone on payroll, so they didn’t get paid for the month. Or it could be losing your temper with someone you care about. It doesn’t matter the issue, but rather, what you choose to do with it. How do you grow from it, and when you make a mistake next time, how can you make sure it’s a different one?

It’s okay to not know what you want to do. If you think you want to go to a certain college, that’s cool. But know why that one is the best fit for you. Because dude, if you’re doing it just for your parents, you’re going to be miserable, and maybe not even finish. It’s okay to not know what you want to study, where you want to go, or if you even want to go to college or not. But you need to be honest with yourself. Once you are, you can better assess your situation, and explore your options from there.

You have to care. Beethoven said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” I don’t care what you choose to care about, but I care that you do. What motivates you? Why do you wake up in the morning? What is your purpose? Why are you here? It’s a process to answer some of those bigger questions, and I don’t think that we ever know exactly the entire answer. But you have to start trying to answer them. You need to find something you love – be it nature, playing an instrument, a specific class, the company you work for, anything. Otherwise, your life will be devoid from passion, and you risk living like a robot.

Life’s a journey. I’ll let you in on a secret: no one ever knows their entire life plan. Sure, some of us may think we know it, but our life is subject to the whims of, well, life. You can’t jump ahead to the end, when you think everything will be all settled and fantastic. Life isn’t about the destination, because let’s be real, that looks the same for all of us: a wooden box in the dirt. But the path we take before that, the experiences we choose, the perspective with which we view each day, all contributes to the wonderful journey of life. You can’t fast forward through that, so you might as well enjoy it.

You have more power than you realize. Sure, you’re not even twenty yet. And I get that you have certain constraints because you’re living with your parents and working for your father. But you have the power to change your life. You may not be able to change the circumstances of your life; sometimes, those are beyond our control. But you can choose how to view your life. Every difficulty can become an opportunity, if you choose to see it as such. The obstacle can become the way – but you have to allow it to. It is impossible to live the same day twice. Each sunrise brings new opportunities, situations, and moments into our life. The key piece here is that we have to be aware of them, or they’ll pass us by without a second glance. Choose to notice them, and see what that does to your life.

I wish I could tell you all of this. But even if I did, I don’t think it would make much of a difference at this point. You’d probably toss this letter in the trash as soon as you left the building because you’re not ready to hear this yet. For better or for worse, these are all lessons you need to learn on your own. I hope that you choose to start learning today, tomorrow, and each day moving forward. But if not, know that it is never too late. The moment you truly want to make a change, you can. And the next piece of the path will be right there, waiting for you to take the next step forward in your life.