I have a love-hate relationship with inspirational quotes. I wish I could be the type of person who reads something like “make it simple but significant” or “be brave with your life” and feel energized or motivated to do something awesome. Instead, I look at these adages and think “damn, literally what have I done today that could be thought of as significant or brave? I can’t even wash my sheets on time. That’s not very brave — that’s actually pretty worthless.” I have always been the type of person who overextends and makes too many plans, then feels terrible when I can’t finish everything I’ve started. When I was a kid, I would have all kinds of machinations about what was in my capacity to accomplish, most of which were far outside of the realm of possibility for a 10 year-old anyway. Once, my dad and I attempted to make a ship in a bottle, a task which proved so impossible that when we finally gave up, I felt doubly awful for both failing to accomplish what I had set out to do and putting my father through such an exercise in futility. And the list goes on.
I get so down on myself for not yet having done anything of note at my ripe age of 22, at least in my own definition of the word. Sure, I just wrote a 130 page thesis and graduated with high honors, but so many people do that. True, I’m living in the coolest city on planet Earth, but so are so many other people. It’s absolutely absurd that I feel this way, even as I type it out, and yet it still happens. Just because I was able to do it or because something came relatively easily to me, it must not be very important.
Everyone talks about how true geniuses were able to structure their days down to the minute, get up early, finish everything they set out to do, and still have time to read a whole book before going to bed at night. And I can’t do any of that. I am not yet self-disciplined enough to be able to balance my fluid and often hectic existence. I’m at the point in my life when keeping my apartment clean feels like a relative victory. But, in addition to everything else, I need to be living my life “bravely” and “daring greatly” and “doing one thing a day that scares me.” What does that even mean? My garbage disposal scares me. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Eleanor Roosevelt was talking about, though I could be wrong.
I think that, as a generation, we get really down on ourselves for not being able to do things fast enough or with enough purpose. We’re regaled with these amazing stories of freshmen founders who made millions before they graduated college, and this happens frequently enough that we’re led to believe that that type of blind luck is the norm of success. But here’s the thing — some kid getting wildly lucky at age 20 (looking at you, Mark Zuckerberg), is the exception, not the rule. Just because you haven’t made a million bucks by age 23, or been featured in a major art publication, or been profiled in whatever magazine is popular these days, doesn’t mean that you’ve somehow failed your life. Of course. Of course it doesn’t mean that. And yet, somehow that simple fact is so, so easy to forget.
So screw all of the backyard philosophers urging you to live life to your absolute fullest capacity and accomplish one great thing per day. Here’s my new thing: just get out there and go. Whatever it is that you do, just get out there and do it. You don’t need to change the world every Saturday or found the next great iPhone game. 3/4 of the battle is putting yourself out there and doing what you need to do – such a feat requires courage, self-confidence, and enough optimism to keep you going back every day. Your life is what you make it, and this seems like a pretty great place to start. And that, my friends, is enough. Don’t you think?