Courage, don’t desert me!

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These recent months, I have been reviewing several application essays. This seemingly dull favor, unexpectedly, delivers a fruitful insight. It reminds me of the enthusiasm I used to have months ago.

Early in the morning, just when I was about to rush to work, my cell phone rang. I anticipated nothing (but work) and I saw “Melinda*” on the screen. I answered the call and heard her blabbering things I could not understand. Later, I found out – this young friend of mine had just got accepted to her #1 college!

Coffee shops have been our favorite hangout (read: essay-feedback session) spot. This time, we met at Starbucks and this moment, the spotlight shifted to me. It used to be me doing the questioning and now, she was taking over me – starting to ask me things about work and life here back home.

Melinda is a life planner. She really knows what she wants to be and she knows exactly how to make herself happy. Perhaps, it was her enthusiasm about life that attracted me and made this essay-review session enjoyable.

So she asked me, “Tell me, what will happen next in my life?”

I was puzzled, “I thought you knew everything already. Reality check?”

She said, “Maybe. Frankly speaking, I cannot be more excited. I have been waiting for this new life but everything ahead seems so certain yet unclear. I know I’m heading to the U.S. next year, will graduate by the age of 22, take another degree and be done at 24, 27? I’ll be working after that. I know the big picture but what’s really in it?”

I laughed. I suddenly feel old.

“Mel, let me tell you this. Treat going to college like going to Disneyland. Go explore every ride you are dying for. In a theme park, no game is going to cost you your life (assuming they passed all the technical check-ups). Whatever you do in college, you are safe – as if you were jumping out of a plane with a parachute. Interested in Zumba? Go try it! Wonder what it takes to be in the school sailing team? Go for it! Want to know what it feels to perform in a musical? Go do it! Be adventurous and take risk! You will know more people from diverse backgrounds that way and your learning progress will be boundary-less and much more enjoyable.

If you are not doing all of these at college, when will these chances pass by you (again)?

When you realize you are not learning anything new, stop doing it. Don’t repeat things you’ve mastered. Be completely open to (positive) change. A gallery, a conversation, or a seminar may change your mindset entirely.

While you’re in college, try to seek friendship and love. This is probably the first time you come across love, lust, doubts, or even hatred. If you are fortunate, you may experience a relationship where money, status, and background have not manipulated your life. Love and friendship are, perhaps, at their purest stage.

After you are out of school, you look at the world and said – I am so ready for this. I will cure cancer, I will save the society from the corrupt, I will change the world, you name it! Remember that warmth, that enthusiasm! Because after bland daily work (e.g. managing administrative task, waiting in the never-turning-green traffic light, replying to countless emails), you may easily blow that spirit away.

You’ll be surprised with the number of wedding invitation envelopes you have to open every month. Later, invitation after invitation, most of your friends will begin to talk about marriage and kids. Age, family, and financial pressure will slowly penetrate your life. You may forget that enthusiasm you used to have years ago.  Those childhood wishes – driving a Ferrari, back-packing to Europe, or living in New York City, later sound so selfish and trivial.

The ideal life that we long for will soon be compromised with reality. How you see the world when you are just out of school will be totally different from how you see the world when you have been out from school. Some people go back to school to find that zeal, some other people accept the truth and move on. Regardless, the most important message is, no matter what happens, recall that enthusiasm you had. Do not fear challenges because every good investment always comes with a high cost. Ask yourself what you were originally thinking when you decided to start this venture and always remember why you are here. This is what I know and try to live upon.”

We ended our conversation there. I thank her for reminding me about that long lost spirit and I envy her so much – because her adventure just begins.

*Disclaimer: name has been changed to protect privacy

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via flickr