I saw a bumper sticker proclaiming that last week, and laughed at first – then realized how much each of us would probably like to say as much to someone (or everyone?) in our lives. I am sure no two people in the world hold the exact same beliefs as each other, from the life-defining down to the silly. (In my opinion, if you think peas are a “grain,” don’t believe it.)
But after those two quick reactions, I realized that the bumper sticker is actually quite wise, and I would do well to take its advice. Thoughts, like sights and sounds and words, require consideration and analysis, not just blind belief.
We’re in the middle of our first summer in Oregon, and the puddles have all but vanished; we haven’t had a naturally occurring puddle in quite a few weeks, although there are some man-made (sprinkler) puddles here and there every morning.
I am afraid I’m sinking into a symbolic swamp, but here goes anyway – although the physical puddles are gone, I’ve had plenty of metaphorical ones to wade through in the past couple of months, and seeing the “wonderful” side hasn’t been all that easy. I think I mentioned in the spring that I was trying to finish a degree, and by a deadline – which at the beginning of June came and went, and as my friends and family members already know, I was not able to finish. It was something I worked on for a very long time, and while I have had some obstacles (moving away from the university, a hard deadline of my advisor’s retirement) the fact is that I was not able to work well enough, hard enough, quickly enough to finish my research, and now I’ve let go of the end of the rope.
I don’t want this to delve into what John has rightfully called throwing myself a pity party – so I will leave aside most of what is painful about not being able to “complete my education” as the goodbye letter callously phrased it, and move along with this post. One of the biggest struggles this summer has been: what do I do now? I’ve been in school for approximately 93% of my life, following the academic calendar, and suddenly – nothing, and nothing to show for it. I have been told by many people my entire life that I can do anything I want, if I just apply myself and make an effort, and of course that’s no longer true. But even laying aside the impossible (like the cartoon of Al Gore, which I’m paraphrasing: “Vice Presidency? Check. Nobel Prize? Check. Academy Award? Check. Next up? Hmm … maybe a Heisman Trophy?”) it is all to easy for me, at least right now, to look at anything at all and think that it’s too overwhelmingly huge and I’ll never be able to finish it.
At one point this summer that applied to every thing I thought about doing from posting a blog post or picking up the living room or trying to think of something other than pasta to cook for dinner – but more importantly, as I’m trying to figure out what my next step in life (a vocation? occupation?) might be my brain has crowded out any and all ideas with repetitive thoughts of impossible, too much work, I’ll never be able to finish, I can’t do it.
Of course not all self-critical thoughts are bad or wrong – they can lead to self-awareness and self-improvement – but I think that these are the product of having worked for a long time on something that in the end I couldn’t achieve, and not necessarily applicable to everything else I try to do. I’m going to try to keep that bumper sticker in mind from now on. I know that not everything (Olympic Gold in gymnastics? …probably not) is in my reach, but certainly many things might be, and if my brain comes up thinking “impossible”: I will try not to believe it out of hand.