Start With Why

Garrett MacLean
Apr 25 · 5 min read

“You’re done with school? Now you can do anything you want!”

Roughly two years ago, I was standing on the 50-yard line of Folsom Field, fixated as I watched my fellow graduate's caps fall in front of me symbolizing the end of my college career. Looking back, going to the University of Colorado Boulder was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.



Four years before that, I remember sitting on a campus bench and turning to my Dad saying, “This is the place. I’m going here.” It was the first day I ever visited the state of Colorado, the first day I ever laid eyes on the flatirons resting above the Tuscan-vernacular buildings, it was the first time I ever stepped foot on the campus. Something inside me spoke, “This is it. This is where you should be.”

I signed my admission papers that day.

Fast forward to May 2017. I am surrounded by my best friends. Friends from all over the country, and the globe. Friends I experienced moments with ranging from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. These individuals who I had the privilege to stand beside, ‘shoulder to shoulder,’ are people that I will stand beside at future weddings and children’s birthday parties. Among the many lessons I learned whilst at Boulder, one stood out: true and honest friends are one of life’s greatest treasures.

Following countless hugs, we all exited the building to find our loved ones waiting eagerly to shower us with affection and celebrate us on our big day. For me, it was an amazing feeling to be clothed in my cap and gown, and to give my parents and siblings all a big hug. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the love and support that they have given me over the years.

After a number of photos, I was off to lunch with my family to further the festivities. Upon leaving the campus that I first stepped foot on years ago, I came across one of my favorite human beings on the planet: Madyx.

Madyx was 9 years old at the time, a bright kid with jet black hair, a freckled nose, and an adorable witty personality. That day you could find him doing what he’s always doing, playing a game in which he’s building something either real or in his imagination. In my family, I happily am the youngest of four siblings and yet I’ve always wanted a younger brother. Luckily for me, the world granted me, someone, better: a nephew.


(Yes, we made him carry this sign around the entire day.)

En route to lunch, I put my arm around Madyx as we walked out together. I looked down at him, and I said “Madyx! Can you believe it? I’m done with school.” We continue in stride, him still not breaking focus from his game.

Finally, you hear a noise marking a transitioning point, he looks up, Do you have a fidget spinner? I laugh nervously, my mind goes blank. I reply, “What the heck is a fidget spinner?” Madyx gave me flashbacks of a reaction similar to when Scotty Smalls in The Sandlot didn’t know who Babe Ruth was!

Nonetheless, I continued on, “One day, you’ll be in this spot. Graduating from college. Finishing school. Maybe you could even design a huge building like that?” pointing up at the one towering above us. Then it happened. One of the most influential moments in my life. Madyx, an innocent 9-year-old, looked up at me with his big brown eyes, and said,

“You’re done with school? Now you can do anything you want!”

It took every ounce of me to hold back the tears that wanted to come out that summer day in Boulder. Here stood a kid. A kid with all the optimism you need to design a life that you want. It struck a chord. It inspired me. It motivated me. It made me want to be a better person.



Exactly one year from that day, I was sitting at my desk staring out the window at the Pacific Northwest morning fog, yet to burn off. It’s early, a little after 6 am. I am wearing a dress suit, shoes, and a tie. I have my morning coffee resting on my left and my blinking phone to my right. I’m making cold calls. After college ended in so many words, I took the safe route. Corporate America. Solid Benefits Package. Real Opportunity to Climb the Ladder.

Between my early morning calls, and sipping my coffee, I thought about Madyx. I thought about our conversation that day. I started to think I let him down. I started to think, I failed.

But then, more thoughts started flooding my conscious. I said to myself, ‘I don’t have to do this.’ ‘There’s more out there.’ ‘Madyx was right! I can do anything I want!’

So, I did something about it.

I quit my job.

I sold my car.

I got rid of most of my clothes and belongings.

I moved out of my studio apartment.

I bought a one-way ticket.

I moved to a new country on the other side of the world.

I got a new job.

I got a new apartment.

I took the kid’s advice.

I sit here today months later, and ponder to myself: If I can do anything I want in my life, what would I want to do, how would I do it, and why? I’ve stayed up late, even early into the morning, knowing I have work in only a few hours, simply because these questions rest so heavily on me. After so many nights, I discovered my Why. I want to make my parents and siblings proud of me, and I want to serve as a role model for my nephews and nieces. Simple, yet personally all-encompassing to my values. After my Why, I struggled even more with the What and especially, the How. Finally, after more sleepless nights, my What hit me. I want to help inspire others. My How then ensued. It was simple, follow Madyx’s advice — do what I want.

So, I leave you with this. A challenge. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, write down the question, “If I could do anything I want in my life, what would I want to do, how would I do it, and why?” Most importantly, Start With Why.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Garrett MacLean

Written by

San Diego Native. Colorado Buff. Teacher in Ho Chi Minh City.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

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