Dear Davia (fours years older, and perhaps wiser?),
Who could have thought you are where you are now? 17 year old you applying to collages could NEVER have anticipated where 21 year old you ended up, what you learned along the way, the experiences you have had, the hardships you have endured, the friends you made or the growth you have undergone. So I have no doubt that four more years will bring many more unexpected challenges, successes, failures, progress and more. Are you fulfilled? Are you mentally, intellectually, emotionally, challenged? Are you still in contact with the people who you are closest too at 21? Have you walked through heartbreak and tragedy and come out on the other side? Have you worked on your faults and celebrated your triumphs?
I’m writing because this is a time of intense transition, maybe even more so that I have ever experience to this point. As Hannah Sherk says in her article “Fresh Eyes” about graduating college: “Four years later, I was ambushed by a very punctual quarter-life crisis.” I am sure if I feel this way now, I can only imagine how you are going to feel in another four years. I want you (future me) to be able to reflect on my current times, and make sure that you stayed on track with what you originally wanted. Senior year at Guilford in Maia’s IDS class (titled Creativity, Vocation, and Success) I read a series of works called “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rilke. A few parts were so powerful that I am using them as a guide for my advice to you. Wherever you are and however you are doing, remember these things.
- “Just the wish that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people. And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.” (Rilke, Letter 9)
I’m sure by now you will realize how much you took for granted in college; the highlights like Frisbee end zone catches, dancing with your best friends at 1AM on a Saturday night, and presenting final papers you working on endlessly. And the small things like caf dates, laughing at memes in the library while procrastinating, how happy your sister was when you made the hour drive from school to home. The list is probably filled with endless things I can’t even anticipate right now.
In “Words to Live By” by Eric Ginsburg he says “Our conditions are like the air we breathe, so all encompassing and obvious it’s easy not to identify directly.” Sometimes you won’t be able to apprecaite these things until you don’t have them anymore. So now, in 2022, sit back, breathe, and take stock of everything you are grateful for in this moment. Get out a piece of paper. Make a list of everything you take for granted: the people who love you, the learning you have done, opportunities you have had, even the small things like the material goods you rely on, the air you breathe, a working body.
- “No, there is not more beauty here than in other places, and all these objects, which have been marveled at by generation after generation, mended and restored by the hands of workmen, mean nothing, are nothing, and have no heart and no value; but there is much beauty here, because every where there is much beauty.” (Rilke, Letter 5)
- “Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition.” (Rilke, Letter 7)
- “And the expenditure of energy seems to you so great only because you overvalue victory; it is not the “great thing” that you think you have achieved, although you are right about your feeling; the great thing is that there was already something there which you could replace that deception with, something true and real.” (Rilke, Letter 8)
Remember there is not a “final destination.” Embrace your journey. Believe I know this is hard for you! Let go of what you think 25 “should be.” I’m sure at this point some of your best friends are married and maybe even (yikes) be pregnant or parents. This is your reminder that that DOES NOT HAVE TO BE YOU!! If thing’s are not going as planned do not panic.
Move through life on your own time frame, and definitely remember that even if it feels like everyone else has things “figured out,” they probably don’t. Embrace your mistakes gracefully and recognize they are a part of the process of getting you where you need to be. Everything is relative. What is “conventional” is not necessarily what YOU need. Don’t be afraid to travel the uncomfortable path. And don’t rush!
- “No experience has been too unimportant, and the smallest event unfolds like a fate, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another thread and is held and supported by a hundred others.” (Rilke, Letter 3)
Think about ALL THE TIMES you internalized your stress, expressed worries to your friends, sweated with anxiety at night, and cried in the shower about the outcomes of situations that were out of your hand. Things always worked out. You always ended up exactly where you needed to be, learning from something you never would have chosen for yourself and from experiences you never could have anticipated. Think about how you unconventionally ended up at Guilford. You met people who taught you how to be a supportive friend, how to survive grief, professors who forcibly and willingly brought you outside your bubble, found opportunities to travel all over the world. Think about the internships you never expected to take, and how you learned how to be an ally, how to be responsible for humans other than yourself, how to work as a collaborative team. Think about Israel/Palestine, Morocco, Chile and the travel and people who taught you tolerance, passion, and understanding. Keep seeking that out. In “Words to Live By” Ginsburg says “it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid being shaped by the institutions in which we participate. Our jobs, families, homes and so many other factors leave indelible marks on our lives and sense of self, often in ways we don’t even realize.” Step back and recognize all the positives that have come from the institutions you have been a part of (and don’t worry, you are still allowed to call out their faults too). Thank the people who were helped you to get those opportunities.
- “And if what is near you is far away, then your vastness is already among the stars and is very great; be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend.” (Rilke, Letter 4)
Be kind to others dealing with daily battles you could never understand. You are there for so many of your friends and that is one of your greatest strengths. Keep giving support and advice to those who need it. Never forget the daily inspirations your friends are to you. Think of the shit they endure and come out on the other side the better for it. Stay in contact with those people who changed your life for the better (your study abroad friends, college friends, professors, mentors). I hope that you are still dedicated to teach those who are ignorant; be patient, and learning about yourself through that process as well. As a person with lots of privilege, this is your duty. It will be hard but will come easier with practice, and Barak Obama urges me with wisdom that I sometimes know what is it like “to know what its like when you are born on third bass thinking you hit a triple.” I am in a unique position to make others in my position recognize this too and work to dismantle these systems of oppression designed to benefit us while pushing others down.
- “Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of, this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not.” (Rilke, Letter 1)
Be okay with being by yourself. Love your solitude; recognize that is the space you should settle into. I know that is a place you are comfortable, so don’t get TOO caught up in it. But be okay with who you are and who you have become without the approval of others. Are you happy with yourself?
- “I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.” (Rilke, Letter 1)
Constantly be questioning your intentions. Is seeking justice still important to you? Are you still living that potential? What are you doing that is selfish? When is it okay to be selfish and when is it not? Hopefully you have found found a balance between necessary selfishness and self care. Hopefully you have recognized that you are committing yourself to life work that requires being selfless and understanding that a lot of things are NOT ABOUT YOU! You should keep your mind open, acknowledge and be humbled by the amount you still have to learn. As Dr.Carolyn Finney says in a 2013 Interview “My thinking always evolves.” Just like Finney, you are not static and as the world changes around you be willing to change and learn with it.
- “For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.” (Rilke, Letter 7)
- “But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being”(Rilke, Letter 8)
I have a feeling I don’t need to tell you that you are whole on your own. You know that and you have lived that reality your entire life. But remember that it doesn’t make you less whole to let someone in, to be physically and emotionally intimate. With all companionships, never compromise who you are but be willing to recognize that others can pull you up, make you stronger and better.
- “Think, dear Sir, of the world that you carry inside you…What is happening in your innermost self is worthy of your entire love.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
Write down your deepest insecurities. But them onto paper and into the world. Ask yourself what if these are TRUE? Really contemplate how your issues can affect other around you. Then forgive yourself. Show the list to the people you love the most and it will be okay. Trust others with your dark parts more than you have before because if you haven’t yet, now is the time. Rilke says in Letter 1 “Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.” Don’t be afraid of your emotions, especially the terrifying one. You are such a support to your friends but remember that you can ask others for support too. Open up and be vulnerable. And take your own damn advice!
- “And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
- “Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad.” (Rilke, Letter 8)
- “We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes” (Rilke, Letter 8)
Think of all the people you have loved and lost. Think of the moment when you realized that life was finite and that death was a reality that sometimes seems crushing. Are you living your best life in their honor? If not, think about how you can change that. Write a letter to the people you have lost and let that out. Embrace your grief and hold it close until it doesn’t seem impossible to go on. Rilke says “A house that a guest has entered change,” but it can adapt and become stronger.
- “There is only one solitude, and it is vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward agreement with the first person who comes along, the most unworthy.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
Someone once gave you really good advice, “Kiss nice people or nobody at all.” And that applies to much more. Be friends with people who love you, challenge you, teach you, or no one at all. Work in a job that is fulfilling, engaging, or not at all (this may not be possible- but at least maybe attempt to change something if this is not true). Live in a place that excites you to get out of bed in the morning, or not at all (or move, you know what I mean.) I hope you are embodying these everyday.
- “You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” (Rilke, Letter 4)
IF YOU THINK YOU UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING, YOU DON’T. Grapple with all the difficult life questions, but accept you won’t be able to figure out everything. Love and enjoy that struggle. It should never be perfect.
Rilke asks: “How could it not be difficult for us?” (Letter 8). Guess what, it’s gonna be difficult! Let it be difficult. Let is hard. Let the obstacles come. Barack Obama says “Your generation is uniquely poised for success… but that doesn’t mean we don’t have work” (11:30).
“Be patient and without bitterness.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
“Be glad and confident.” (Rilke, Letter 6)
Be articulate and passionate.
Be unapologetic and empathic.
Be vulnerable and resilient.
Form/join communities that give you meaning, honor yourself like you honor your friends, keep your drive (but let yourself off the hook if outcomes aren’t perfect), read a book instead of watching trashy TV, FaceTime your mom and dad, take a trip to the ocean no matter where you are and swim in the salt water, blast One Direction in your car, spend your money on something crazy (I know you are waiting for that “big thing”—make that leap now), eat some glazed donuts!
Lastly, and most importantly: “You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall” (Rilke, Letter 8)