To My Brother Upon His Graduation

To my brother and (if they feel like reading) the class of 2012,

You have done it. Congratulations! Thirteen long years have resulted in a diploma. Here are some things you should know.

First, a lot of people are going to try to give you advice. Don’t pay attention to it. Maybe that makes me sound like a jerk. But here’s the thing. One, you should probably pick and choose the advice you follow anyway. And two, at the end of the day, you aren’t going to follow advice. So I’m freeing you from it. Just make up your mind now. At some point in the next part of your life, you are going to remember the words someone wrote on a graduation card to you, and you are going to ignore them. Revel in it.

The next part of your life is not the best. The last four years of your life were not the best. Life should be lived somewhere where you are trying to make each day better than the last. The last day of your life should be your best. You still have some ways to go.

Don’t buy into the real world/childhood dichotomy. You have been in the real world for a while. Thirty year olds still watch cartoons and play video games. Seventeen year olds are beating cancer. Think about that.

Always act as if you have a ton to learn. When you are an expert in something, you will know because people will want to learn something from you. Until then, ask a lot of questions.

Remember that for four years, you mostly got along with a group of 300 something people. That’s amazing. I’m lucky if I get along with a couple of people every week. Remember that no matter how much you disagree with someone, they were a teenager once, too. They once struggled awkwardly through a first kiss and stayed up too late on a school night and tried that thing with the Pop Rocks and the Coke. Believe in humanity.

As much as you can, stay away from anger. All anger will do is make enemies out of friends. There are already too many enemies in the world.

Sometimes, you won’t be able to avoid anger. When that happens, remember that you are angry at ideas, behaviors, and situations not at souls.

Find something to believe in. Believe in it wholeheartedly. If it turns out you are wrong, believe in something else.

Asking for Help is Harder than Asking for a Date

I like to do things myself.

In high school, I dated this girl for a while. The thing about dating someone regularly in high school is that you always have a built-in date for dances. And that’s nice.

But without fail, my parents would start hounding me about a month and a half before the dance. “How are you going to ask her?” they would ask.

I like to think that I am a creative person, but sometimes I have trouble coming up with original ideas. And at my high school, it was pretty important to ask someone to a dance originally. Fireworks were not necessary but encouraged. If you could figure out how to build a canal for gondola rides, you should do that. That sort of thing.

So a month and a half before the dance, my parents would be like, “When are you going to ask that girlfriend of yours to the dance?” I would respond that I didn’t have an idea, yet. And then they started to give me ideas. A lot of them were great. A lot of them were cute and adorable. But I refused to listen to them because I wanted to use my own ideas.

That was a noble quest, I suppose. Except one year that idea never came. And I waited too long. I asked my girlfriend to the dance one morning before school. That was it. Yawn.

This is a mistake I’ve repeated many times since then. I hate asking for help. Even when I get it into my head to ask for help, I rarely ask the kinds of questions that would benefit me. Instead, I dance around the issue, hoping that the person I’m talking to will magically read my mind. They don’t.

There are people out there with specific knowledge that you can use. These people are probably not in your immediate group of friends. We tend to encircle ourselves with people who are similar to us – single or married, student or businesswoman, parent or childless. They are great friends, certainly, but if we want specific knowledge we need to seek out people who have what we think we want. We need to talk to people who have already been through what we are going through. And then when we talk to them, we need to ask them very specific questions.

That way, we will always creatively ask the girl to the dance on time.

Power Places

Everyone has a power place. A power place is a place where you get stuff done, where you are supremely productive, where the world seems safe, and it feels like you can’t fail.

My power place is bookstores. Any bookstore, really, as long as they have wifi and a coffee shop. Here are some qualities of good power places:

1) Memories. I don’t drink coffee, but I love the smell. My parents don’t drink coffee so my first associations with the smell were having important conversations with dates or friends and finishing that eight-page paper. I think that’s partly what goes into making a successful power place: it has memories that are productive. All of my substantial memories of books/coffee are of me being responsible, friendly, hard-working; in short, all of the things that I want to be.

2) Things you love. When I am in a place with books, I feel an immediate commune with the world. I love books. I love the written word. I love other people who love books. It’s easy for me to be in a good mood when I am around so many things that I love.

3) It’s yours. When I came to college for the first time, one of the first pieces of advice anyone gave me was that I needed to find my own special place to study. I didn’t understand at the time. There are plenty of places to study: study rooms, libraries, your room, etc. But that’s not what that advice is about. It’s about owning a place, feeling at home there, and having it feel special. It’s kind of like choosing a church. A lot of times, there really isn’t a correct answer. It’s about finding a place that speaks to you.

Where’s your power place?