Bridge Over Troubled Waters - Part II (Guest Blog by Micah Webber)
Editor's Note: If you've missed Part I of this post, give it a quick read. Micah has been one of the rare few in my life who have challenged my thinking on a regular basis. He thinks on a totally different level than most people and it shows through in the staggering questions he tosses my way. Many of the recent blog posts I have been putting out have been products of my conversations with him. You don't want to skip over anything this guy has to say. You can follow him on Twitter, @micahwebber93.
Cover image by MorningJoy.
So, following from Part I of this post about grasping our lives in the present, there are four general concepts which I have come to learn and which might be of use to you in understanding your own journey. This is just a start but I believe it is a true and solid one.
1. "YOU ARE HERE"
You know whenever you're looking at a map with no little arrow or friendly "You Are Here" marker? Without any initial orientation the map is basically useless to you. That is why I think it is important to be intentional and cognizant of who you are and who you are becoming. If we orient ourselves in the present by being introspective, by asking these questions and considering these ideas, we naturally become intentional about who we are growing into and where we are headed in life. To live in the present, we must think of the present.
*To corroborate that and add a side note: much of professional counseling or therapy is primarily geared toward helping you understand your own thought process. There is no better way to understand and live in the present than to dig into your own thoughts, questions and concerns. This is also why I believe counseling is deeply useful, necessary even, for everyone.
2. "FINDING YOURSELF"
This is hogwash. As George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." I am not splitting hairs here. The difference between thinking of life as a journey to find yourself and thinking of life as a platform on which to create yourself is vast. As we grow older, part of maturing is realizing that answers you've been given are not good enough. If you live expecting others to tell you or write to you of who you should be, you will forever be defined by their perspectives and their ideas. Grasping life in the present is about realizing how undefined you are and molding yourself and accepting sole responsibility for the person you are today.
**Second side note: this point is not about absolute truth or the value of wiser people's advice. It is about how you realize those truths or advice in a personal, tangible way that has bearing on your specific life, personality and direction.
3. "BRIDGE TO NOWHERE"
After being intentional about yourself and your thought process, and after taking on the responsibility of determining your own course, some direction has to be taken. I think this is a lesson I have and still do have the hardest time learning. The more you learn the more questions you will have. The more you learn about yourself, about the world, the only thing you will realize is how much more there is you don't know. This type of not-knowing, this place of confusion is disconcerting. And because it is so sharply uncomfortable to not know, to ask questions you cannot hope to answer right now, many of us shy away from it.
True intelligence and wisdom is measured in how much we realize we don't know, not how much we think we know. Socrates, the father of philosophy and dialectics, arguably one of the most intelligent men of his or any time, embodied this idea. He argued that wisdom was to arrive at the place of humility where we admit, "I know nothing."
I want to encourage you! When you are the most confused, the most unsure of direction and the most afraid - that is when you are growing and learning the most. You will look back with fondness or at least appreciation for how much you changed and matured during those times. I know it may feel to you that when you are unsure and everyone else is very sure and confident about who they are and where they are headed, you can feel less accomplished by comparison. But let me assure you, the only people who are really headed somewhere worth going are those brave enough to admit they have no idea where they are. I think we can all agree, people absorbed with their intelligence or bitterly embedded in their list of truths and rules are the most boring, most infuriating idiots around.
4. "JUST DO IT"
Contemplating these concepts - what it means to grasp the present, what it means to create yourself and what it means to ask questions and pursue goals that are beyond you - is not enough but so many of us stop here. I do all the time. When you are confused and introspective and dwelling on "the meaning of life and being" it is easy to rest in complacency and laziness - priding yourself on being "deep".
No one will retell the story of the vastness, complexity or profundity of your thoughts. Not to mention, a million other people have had the same exact thoughts, I promise you. A million smarter individuals have voiced the same ideas in much more subtle, more sincere terms. History books are written in the ink of actions, not ideas. Ideas are beginnings, and completely essential, but without actualization they are dead. What is difficult, what is scary, what is deeply confusing - behind these doors are rooms beyond your wildest imagination.
As I write this, I can think of several specific goals in my life that I have not done yet simply out of timidity, out of the fear of failure. I honestly think traveling - having to get and stay and explore places myself and without guidance - was what woke me up to the importance of action and stretching yourself. So maybe start with traveling! Even if the action holds no great consequence for your career or academic course right now, if it is difficult or daunting it will stretch you.
Perhaps it means simply hopping on Google and searching for internships which you haven't even tried looking for because you didn't know where to start - you stopped before you started because of the difficulty of the task, because it wasn't a preplanned, spelled-out assignment you simply had to fill in. Perhaps it means planning a trip to a place you have never been but never had the initiative or boldness to plan yourself. Research it. Plan it. Save up. Get others on board. And GO!
It is in that process that boldness, confidence and direction come to you. It is AFTER you've started moving that you realize which directions are actually options. That is deeply counter-intuitive!
School today with its standardized measurements and procedures exemplifies this type of learning: not a hunger to absorb information but a message branded into our minds that what we should learn should be told to us in a neat, one-size-fits-all format. Only once we've stepped outside in the real world do we realize how absurd so much of school was and that we missed out on the richest opportunities in school - the grants, the research work, the internships, the published papers and presentations with professors - simply because they were opportunities we had to find and pursue completely on our own.
Let's change that! Think about what scares you the most, a list of goals you had or have that you have never actualized not because they were stupid (though this may be one of your rationalizations) but because you were scared to commit to them and make them happen. And once we are committed to a direction, committing to an identity or the creation of one, committed to thinking about and understanding these things - there we are, without even realizing, moving through the present intentionally, meaningfully. In my experience, this is where vitality is found.
As you read this, I hope you read it extremely critically. Disagree with it! Explore its undefined claims and advocate differing opinions. Hopefully in that process, in interacting with the reading instead of simply seeing it, you can be sparked into thinking about these things for yourself and making individual and authentic decisions. Thank you, sincerely, for your attention. Best of luck on your journey.