On Saturday, I walked across a stage and was presented with a certificate. And so, after a long, tumultuous journey, I graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Languages and Culture.
My GPA is terrible. My major is irrelevant to my interests. I pissed off countless professors, organizations, and administrators. But I wouldn’t change a thing. Personally, I’ve had a rich and rewarding five years, full of friends who have taught me more than a college class ever did.
But if I’ve learned one thing during college, I’ve learned that life is exactly what you make of it. So how do we make the most of this tenuous existence, this brief mortal coil? I can’t say the exact right answer for you, but…
Here’s what I did, and what I’m still doing.
- Do everything.
- Do the impossible.
- Nothing is impossible.
I’m SURE you’ve heard the advice that you should do what motivates you, do what you like, and to follow your passions. That’s true…if you know what you like. If you don’t know what you like, that advice is pretty useless.
1) Do Everything
You don’t know what you want? That’s fine. Doing everything you can possibly think of should help you figure yourself out. Study abroad in Zimbabwe. Help feed the homeless. Tutor a child. Tutor an adult. Pancake club? Alright. Hang gliding? Skydiving? Bungee jumping? Great. Public speaking? Wonderful.
Try it and move on if it doesn’t work out for you. Keep an open mind, but when it starts to feel shitty, move on to the next thing. There is SO MUCH to experience in this world, there’s no point in getting dragged into something you don’t want.
And when you find something you do want to do, you can always pursue it. You can always come back for it, to explore as deeply as you could wish for.
2) Do the Impossible
You know that thing you’ve always wanted to do, or try, or be world-class at? Or that personality trait that you’ve always admired in the person you look up to? Or an impossible dream of yours?
Remember your dreams. Make a list. Then title it “To-Do”.
It is impossible to jump into the air, spin like crazy, and land safely. It is impossible to silence people in an entire building with just your voice. It is impossible to learn fifteen dances in four weeks and then perform them.
3) Nothing is Impossible
Those are all examples of things I have done. I better than succeeded for some, I outright failed others, but overall, I learned more than I could have ever hoped.
When you set yourself to achieve something impossible, your heart races when you think about it. You get up to pace around the room. You think about what you’ve done to prepare, and even then, you feel like you’re not ready.
And you’re not.
But that’s okay.
You will fail. It is not, in and of itself, something to celebrate, but if you truly challenge yourself, it is inevitable. Failure is only another word for not having succeeded yet. Babies fail at our day to day activities constantly. We celebrate when they say a single word, take a single step, and then before you know it, they’re speaking in full sentences and running headlong into the future. Celebrate small successes, because they will build.
Learning from those failures, meanwhile, is something to truly celebrate. Sure, I didn’t walk all the way to Chicago. Was it the heat? Was it the time constraints? Physical preparation? For 6 years, I failed to complete National Novel Writing Month. I ran out of ideas. I didn’t give it enough of my day. I limited myself too much. Perhaps most traumatically of all, in another time and age, I failed in my role as Executive Chair of MAASUand resigned. I learned not to do what I don’t believe in. I learned not to take responsibility without accountability. I learned, much later, that the pain of failure is only a tenth of the pain of believing that you are a failure. But learn, I did.
When facing the impossible, failure is almost overwhelmingly the outcome unless you try harder than you ever have before. Train harder, run longer than you ever have for that marathon. Plan obsessively for hours to figure out how you’re going to put that performance together in three days. Seek out pivotal people who have been in your shoes, people who have started that business, reinvented that industry, changed the world. It’s the passion of panicking, and it’s incredibly powerful.
When you finally manage to do what you once thought was impossible, it’s like being given the keys to the world. Anything is possible. You’ll see that it always was, but you never imagined or never believed in your own potential. You’ll curse the time you wasted and promise never to misapply yourself again. You probably will, but that’s another story. After doing the impossible, you’re euphoric and triumphant and you have every right to be.
Do the Impossible. Redefine it. And remember, you measure your own success.