The other night, I found myself on a school bus at one am surrounded by drunk rock music fans. It wasn’t a dream. We were on our way back to Philadelphia from seeing a band play in New York City; it was late and everyone had been drinking since the bus left for the show earlier that night, around 6:30. I was pretty optimistic that everyone would pass out and sleep on the way home. Unfortunately though, I made a really poor seating choice.
Instead of sleeping, I stayed awake for the two hour drive listening to the drunk guys directly behind me. They were partaking in some pretty cliché drunken activities: the inevitable singing/yelling/butchering of classic songs, the stupid sex jokes, and the slurred spontaneous professions of bro-love for one another. Then there was the beer spilled on my skirt and the guy who kept forgetting that my head was not his own personal arm rest. But, as annoying as those moments were, there was one point in the night where I became absolutely fixated on their conversation. I would call it eavesdropping, but I don’t think it counts as eavesdropping if the people are talking loud enough to be heard in a different state.
They started talking about what they wanted to do with their lives. The younger ones, probably just a few years younger than myself, were talking about how they wanted to drop out of college. All of them. They all wanted to do the things that they were passionate about and were lamenting the fact that they had to wait four years to do it. Then, the older and “wiser” ones (I put wiser in quotations because, for the life of me, I can’t call someone who pees in the back of a school bus wise and mean it) chimed in. They were out of college, in the real world, and hating every minute of it. All they wanted to do was follow their dreams, but they felt trapped in their current situations.
One of the drunk guys loudly proclaimed “I have hated every single thing I’ve done since high school.” There may have been a few expletives in there, too. Everyone else mumbled in drunken agreement, and then they sang Build Me Up Buttercup and an arm landed on my head for the umpteenth time.
I was staring out the window during this conversation and, as I watched the car lights fly by on the other side of the Jersey Turnpike, I started reflecting on my own life. By the time they hit the chorus of Build Me Up Buttercup, I had come to a pretty profound realization: I have loved every single thing that I’ve done since graduating high school.
In June of 2008, when I walked out of my high school for the very last time, I remember feeling completely free. At 17, I had chosen to defer my admissions to my top choice school and in the process turned down a scholarship and an opportunity to play soccer. Unsurprisingly, I was met with a lot of different reactions to this decision, and most of them were negative. Many people at the time had no qualms about exclaiming straight to my face that I was “throwing away my future”.
Even within the confines of my immediate family, there were mixed reactions. My brothers were annoyed that I wasn’t being forced to go to school, and my mom, despite her unconditional love and support, found it hard to hide the disappointment that she wouldn’t realize her dream of seeing each of her kids with a college degree.
Some of my friends’ parents tried to convince me that if I didn’t go to school I would end up on the street as a drug dealer or a prostitute. And kids my own age thought that “pursuing music” was just a grand scheme to cover up the fact that I couldn’t get into college. This one annoyed me the most and it took a long time to stop being super defensive about it. For the record, just because someone is not pursuing higher education, it is not a definitive reflection of their intelligence. (I may still be slightly defensive).
Because of these reactions, I spent a lot of time agonizing over the legitimacy of my decision. Instead of enjoying what I was doing at the time, every move I made was laced with a back-of-the-mind thought that asked: should I really be doing this? Or should I be in college right now? Should I be doing something more practical? Should I be hating my life more?
I wish that I could go back and have a frank conversation with that younger version of myself. First, I’d probably tell her to never, ever get blonde highlights again. And then, after giving her some dating advice and a complete wardrobe overhaul, I would confidently and persistently assure her that she is exactly where she should be.
Because, had I chosen to listen to everyone else; to do what they wanted me to do and what they wanted for me; I may have ended up with a degree and a “real” job, but I am 99.9% certain that I would be miserable. I would be a drunk guy sitting in the back of a school bus complaining about life. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Now, I’m not hating on college. I actually think it’s really important and in most cases pretty necessary. But I just get frustrated when people complain about their lives and then do nothing to change it. And I get even more frustrated when they start to blame other people for their present circumstances. And I get the most frustrated when people look at me and tell me that I’m lucky because I’m not in those same circumstances.
I truly appreciate my blessings and all of the opportunities I’ve been given, and I am extremely grateful for them. But I also acknowledge the fact that my circumstances have not been contingent on luck. I wasn’t handed some winning lottery ticket that said “Hey, you can go do what you want now! Congratulations!” I was faced with the same choice that every single senior in high school has to make; I just chose differently. And I think that chalking it up to luck depreciates just how difficult of a decision it can be to actually chase your dreams.
Jim Carrey recently gave an incredible commencement speech at Maharishi University, and I highly recommend watching it on Youtube if you haven’t seen it already. The whole thing is pretty inspirational and of course highly entertaining, but there was one quote in particular that has stuck with me. He talks about fear and how we each get to choose how much of a role it plays in our lives. He goes on to state that “so many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” Fear disguised as practicality. I love that.
When people tell me that i’m lucky, some even joking that they hate me because of what I’m doing with my life, they don’t realize that they have the option of being just as “lucky”. Because it’s really not luck at all. They have dreams that they consider to be impractical, and so they have made a conscious choice to pursue something safer. Something more widely accepted by society. But they could have chosen differently.
I believe that it is an act of loving yourself to be confident enough in your own voice to use it; to be confident enough to choose your own path, even if it strays from the one that others have drawn out for you. But too many people don’t use their voice. They speak, but it is someone else who is talking for them. They choose to let someone else dictate their life path; and they do it out of fear.
Chasing a dream is a choice made by someone who has chosen to overcome that fear of failure and the fear of rejection; to overcome the fear of others’ disapproval. Because honestly, there is always going to be someone who disapproves of what you’re doing. And I just think the greatest injustice is having the person who disapproves of what you’re doing . . . be you.
Courage, not luck. Hard work, not luck. A choice. Not. Luck.
And everyone has the ability to make that choice.