“Follow your dreams, unless they suck.” — Benjamin Franklin (probably).
For the past two years, I have been in graduate school. Let me tell you what: “College Plus” isn’t as fun as I thought it would be. In fact, it is nearly zero fun at all. Chide me for being an overeducated waspy spoiled brat all you want — but I’m telling the truth. I worked my ass off on a lot of things I loved, but for the most part, I worked my ass off on a lot of things I didn’t. The freedom I ached for as a beaming undergrad was not granted the day I started my master’s degree — it was granted the day I finished it.
When I began my stint in the dirty south, my closest friends from college began journeys of their own. One headed back to our hometown to study for the MCAT. One started grinding (literally) at a coffee shop to save money. One returned to the promised land of central Pennsylvania to have, what arguably turned into, a much needed existential crisis of the mind and body. One lost his military career and started flipping tables. To be honest, none of us were doing cool shit. And yet, in some small, semi-embarrassing, indirect way, all of us were following our dreams.
There is a dilemma that exists when you are a starry-eyed 20-something in America. Success has become so romanticized that you are either Romeo Montague right out of the gate, or you are a lifetime member of the Unsullied. You’re either happy or you’re not. And it pisses me off. It is a poor measurement of success. In reality, most of us have to do a lot of not-so-cool shit to get to the good stuff. Think of licking a life-flavored Tootsie Pop (gross), or raising a child who sort of annoys you until they stop pooping themselves (also gross). It’s just not all roses and Zuckerburg people! In fact, it’s hardly either.
I am here to remind you that the uncool parts of your life are just as valuable and just as vital to your growth as the cool parts are. That you should still be proud of the uncool stuff. That you should, by all means, celebrate the grind.
A chubby digression.
When I was 12, I was fat and too loud. My teeth had gaps. I was your typical pubescent nightmare: feeling feelings, eating Oreos, singing Avril. My vivid imagination and I used to dream of a better future for me, one in which I wouldn’t have to search for Limited Too t-shirts from the bottom of the pile where the larges were kept, one where my smile would dazzle, one where my legs would be shaved.
I found, unsurprisingly, that even when I began to love my imperfect body, become mildly successful at flirting, and basically grow into myself around age 23 that those 12-year-old feelings never went away. They still haven’t gone away. I often look in the mirror and SMH. I sometimes get turned down for dates. I will never stop singing Avril. You see, the uncool parts of me became the very foundation that I built myself upon. It took me so long to realize that. I hope you already realize that.
And we’re back.
But if you don’t, I am here to remind you. Taking your time getting through the not-so-glamorous parts of your life is okay. In fact, doing uncool shit for a while is probably what will lead you to greatness. Or at the very least, to where you were supposed to be. Try not to erase the years you spent at a job you hated, or at home with your parents, or drinking your way through grad school, or fighting your demons. Instead, I invite you to memorialize and reflect on the hard stuff. Bring awareness to your hustle, like some kind of badass self-actualized millennial yogi. Believe wholeheartedly in your grind, because passion is the only thing you need to move closer to your dreams. I have watched my peers suffer through some very uncool shit, and I have watched them come out like Andy Dufresne on the other side. And I am constantly inspired.
My friend who spent two years at home in Virginia Beach passed her MCAT with flying colors, and now she is delivering babies in Bali. The coffee shop queen traveled from Ireland to Vietnam to Thailand, and now she lives in Australia. The Pennsylvanian hot pepper dropkicked the bad from her life and moved across the country to start a new career.
And the civilian waiter? Well, he began his own company and asked me to join him, and now we are working together on a dream that is becoming a reality. It is beautiful. It is cool. But do you know how it started? With years of doing some very uncool shit.
I wouldn’t trade the poopy diapers for anything.