Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dreams, Fears, and Hard Decisions

I sometimes think that people imagine me sleeping in a cardboard box in the rain surrounded by angry bankers and debt collection agencies and friends and family chiding me for being so bloody stupid as to not plan properly for 'the future', my accounts emptied and all I knew and loved having cruelly turned on me as I descend into penniless poverty hell.

In the spring of 2013, I traveled to India for a project I conceived of and crowdfunded called 90 Bikes, 90 Days. Within the first few days, I found myself face-to-face with an aspiring 3D animator who needed help with his bike so he could ride to class. He was confused what a Caucasian was doing in a bicycle shop in India -- many Indians believe all Caucasians are rich and therefore would not deign to associate themselves with an impoverished person’s mode of transportation. I was impressed that a 15-year-old Indian spoke impeccable English and was taking 3D animation classes at a community college while attending high school. We chatted about the importance of following one’s passion despite what society, or one’s parents, might have to say about it. Before he left with his newly repaired bike, he told me, “Stick with your passion. Don’t give in to the corporate monster.”

The paragraph above was the opening for my personal statement on my application for graduate school. I applied for MS Psychology at the University of Minnesota and the University of Madison, WI and got in to both. Now I find myself reading it again and chiding the irony. The moment described above -- the 15-year-old Indian boy telling me not give in to the corporate monster -- that was the moment I knew I wanted to be a psychologist. What made that Indian boy and I acknowledge and ignore the expectations set out for us by society? What was he doing studying animation? What was I doing there in India?

What am I doing now?

With less than two weeks before my last day at Epic, I have a crucial decision to make. It's not as if the weight of the world is on shoulders, but: bike around the world or go to graduate school? On the one hand, a life of adventure, probably danger, and the unknown. On the other, a life of surety and stability. I am passionate about both ideas.

This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don't like something, change it. If you don't like your job, quit. If you don't have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing the things you love. Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once, seize them. Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them so go out and start creating. Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion.

I know, I know, #firstworldproblems. This seems a perpetual debate for me: do I uproot my life to live as a nomad? Or do I get a degree, start a career, and live happily ever after? I'm 27, which feels old, but I know it's young. However young I might be, though, I won't be that way forever. If it takes five years to bike around the world, can I establish a life afterward? If I get back and want to go to graduate school, could I get in again? What about my friends, family, and potential relationships? There is so much I am leaving to fate if I choose to leave.

But then, everyone I talk to says they wish they had traveled more when they were younger. "The longer you wait, the harder it gets," they say. First, it's a degree, then a job, a relationship, a house, kids -- and before you know it, leaving even your home state for more than a week or two becomes near impossible.

There are two ways to be rich. One is by acquiring much. The other by desiring little.
Jackie Collier

Sometimes it feels as if my heart is being torn at the seams. I'm terrified of making the wrong choice. I like to think if you're afraid of something, that's how you know you're passionate about it. But thinking that doesn't help you be less afraid.

Travel aligns with many of my philosophies; in particular, the philosophy that too many of us do what's accepted because we fear otherwise doing it wrong. Capitalism posits that happiness is some reward that can be achieved and held on to. Businesses want you to think this so you buy their product: most ads are structured around making you feel something -- happiness, badassery, sexiness, whatever. Don't buy their stuff, and your life will suck: you can't have peace of mind, you won't have a secure retirement, you won't get laid. That's what many of us have been raised to believe: stuff makes you happy. But we've only been taught that by people who want us to buy into the system so we buy their stuff.

Here's the thing: stuff doesn't make you happy. Experiences make you happy.

Happiness is a state of being that you enter and exit, flowing like water in a river through it, into other emotions, back to it, and so on. Once you accept where you are, wherever you are, non-judgementally, you can fully experience happiness and other emotions. If you hold on to happiness, you will only be unhappy once you lose it. If you let it go, and allow yourself to be sad, or angry, or thoughtful, or whatever it is you are, letting happiness go when it is time to let go, then soon, you can greet happiness back as you would greet an old friend.

You can't buy happiness, and you can't hold on to it. Experience it, enjoy it, and when the time has come to feel something else, graciously accept that.

In other words, I can't have one foot on the dock and the other in a boat and expect to go anywhere. It is a tough decision. If I decide to travel around the world by bike, I'm not sure I can fully enjoy it if I'm always wondering what could have been. Or, my bike trip may change me so fundamentally that grad school may not be part of the new me.

If I decide to climb into the boat, it would be best to take a deep breath and let go of the dock.

To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation.
Paulho Coelho

I did try flipping a coin. Heads, I bike. Tails, I go to grad school. I sat there, turning the coin over, saying it over and over again. "Heads, I bike. Tails, I go to grad school. Heads, I bike. Tails, I go to grad school. Heads, ..." Finally, I composed myself and sat up straight. I delayed another few seconds, staring at the coin as if daring it to disappear into another dimension. It didn't.

I flipped it.


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