So I’ve been using the thinking part of my brain and the talking part of my mouth recently, having those kinds of conversations with older people that make me wonder why I ever thought I knew anything in the first place.
One of those was with my former professor, who I now call by her first name and that’s a little weird. I don’t remember the exact words of the conversation, but I remember coming away from it, shocked to learn that there are many stages in life, and the fact that she is a professor right now doesn’t mean she will always be a professor and in fact she hadn’t even imagined she would ever become a professor.
To me, this was mind-blowing. For some reason, probably because I’m too intelligent, I imagined popping out of college and entering “career” or “dream job,” neither of which turned out to be true, and in fact I don’t even know what my dream job looks like. Understanding this stage in my life as part of something greater is extremely relieving, because that means I still have the chance to revive 30 Rock and write for it in 10-15 years.
On the note of life stages and the illusion of permanence, I read an incredible quote today, courtesy of Literary Jukebox. The quote is from someone I’d never heard of with an equally unknown book, which gives me hope that one day my words might inspire someone even if they’ve never heard of me. Debbie Millman in Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design writes:
“I discovered these common, self imposed restrictions are rather insidious, though they start out simple enough. We begin by worrying we aren’t good enough, smart enough or talented enough to get what we want, then we voluntarily live in this paralyzing mental framework, rather than confront our own role in this paralysis […]
Every once in a while — often when we least expect it — we encounter someone more courageous, someone who choose to strive for that which (to us) seemed unrealistically unattainable, even elusive. And we marvel. We swoon. We gape. Often, we are in awe. I think we look at these people as lucky, when in fact, luck has nothing to do with it […]
If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.”
When I read this, I find it extremely challenging and convicting, and it reminds me of something that Stephen Elliott of The Daily Rumpus (and other) fame said once in one of his letters.
He said that people will never be surprised at your failure if you try to do something “impossible,” like make a movie, or publish a book, or travel around the world. In fact, they expect it. They’ll say “of course you couldn’t publish your book, of course you couldn’t make your movie, of course you couldn’t change jobs” etc. etc.
But the reality is that people are doing those things every day, and the only difference between them and me is the fact they’ve been pursuing their passion with a relentless fever, making the impossible happen for themselves and not listening to the consolation of others.
What does it take to be extraordinary? I’m not completely sure, but I know that part of it is steely tenacity. Today I resolve to be more tenacious.
(By the way, if you don’t read the site Brain Pickings, you should. A side-burn of Brain Pickings is the tumblr Literary Jukebox, which is also fantastic.)