If you want something in your life you’ve never had, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done. — JD Houston
The most important things is this: to be able — at any moment — to sacrifice what you are for what you will become. — Eric Thomas
I originally wrote the letter below for a friend graduating from high school, but after revisiting it several time over the past year, I’ve begun to wonder if I didn’t actually write it to myself. So here it is, after a few minor changes, just for you. Please keep a copy for yourself and revisit it as often as you like…I do.
There is so much I want to say, but frankly, there are not enough pages to hold the words I would give to you if I could. I’m not much of a gift giver, or receiver for that matter; I think that’s just because I value something different from most people. So this letter is your gift–it is an attempt to give you a taste of what I value, something I hope you’ll be able to understand and that will remain timeless.
When I sat down to write this, I thought I might write about my own experiences, about the lessons I’ve learned, what I might tell my younger self. During that reflection though, I realized how important those experiences are to me, how important they were to my growth and development as a person. So instead of writing some crappy lecture on life, I’m going to trust you to figure out that stuff on your own. Humans have the capacity to learn from the successes and failures of others, but that doesn’t mean we should give up first hand experience. We can only experience our own lives, so go out and take risks, make mistakes, do something you might consider regrettable later. Live passionately.
My friend, it truly is incredible how many people not only let fear govern their lives, but also let it downplay their passions. But you have the gumption most people do not; please don’t lose it. It will become more valuable as you pursue your passions and inevitably meet the resistance of the doubters who will try to impose their own fear on you and on the way you lead your life.
I do not believe fear should be discounted. It is an important experience in itself, but not one that should influence your choices. Cliché? Yes. Easier said than done? Absolutely. So let me get to your “gift” which is nothing more than a simple idea.
Time is a misconception. Neither past nor future actually exist. The past is just a collection of memories which you experience in the present and the future is nothing more than a present daydream hiding in the empty spaces of your consciousness. This means there is only one moment that exists, the only moment you ever live: the present moment. Keep this in mind when you think about what you want from life, because now is the only chance you will ever have to achieve those goals. Now is the only chance you have to define yourself as a child, parent, sibling; as a friend and teammate; as a student and teacher; as a partner and as a lover. Never let a chance to define yourself pass.
And fear? Well, we are creatures of habit. We tend to stick with a decision once we have made up our mind (even if it’s a bad decision). So, when faced with terror that stands between you and your passion, realize it only takes a split second’s worth of courage to decide you are going to stand up to that terror. Facing fear head on is not nearly as difficult as deciding to do so. Remember, now is the only chance you have to define yourself.
I hope this bit of philosophy isn’t too much for you, Friend, but I hope you hold onto this letter and glance back at it every now and then, if for nothing else, as validation of your potential, of which you have an abundance. So surround yourself with like-minded people, read inspirational quotes and anecdotes every chance you get, and remember that what you see is not necessarily as important as how you see it. The way in which you view the world will determine how you live your life.
Now let me close with one of my favorite quotes: “life begins where you comfort zone ends.” Always explore and remember that mistakes are inevitable, as are regrets. But it is better to regret something you did than something you did not do and when you do err, it may as well be on the side of passion. Welcome to the rest of your life.
Do you follow the red line? Do you trace its every angle and hug to each meander? Do you even know which line I’m talking about?
If you’re lost, don’t count yourself alone. I too was ignorant of the red line until recently. To demonstrate, let’s travel through time, back 2 years to when I was a college senior 3 months from graduation. I was passionate about science and would receive a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science. Biology, huh? That should land me a decent paying job right out of college, right?
Frankly, I don’t know. I haven’t even put that degree to use. Two years ago, I began an introspective journey, a very critical evaluation of myself and my values. This culminated in a bike ride along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the longest mountain bike route in the world. Now I spend my days writing, trying to capture that experience and the lessons it taught me.
One lesson I learned: the red line doesn’t own you, so go your own way.
The GDMBR traversed 2700 miles of country roads, forest service roads, single track, and quad track from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide. To guide me, I had a set of 7 maps. Each side of each map was bisected by the “red line,” the route, the path that I was supposed to follow if I was going to claim that I had completed the longest mountain bike route in the world. Hell of a resume entry, right? I suppose it was pretty important to stick to that red line then.
This wasn’t the case though. The map makers couldn’t know what I would be experiencing as I rode, what I would value, what I would hope to gain from the route. The further I rode, the less value I assigned to the red line–I didn’t let the red line dominate my life. On the 40th night of my backcountry-bicycle journey, my last night before finishing, this was the advice I passed on to a pair of cyclists that had just begun their own ride along the GDMBR. It seemed natural to me, even obvious: “Don’t let the red line dominate you.”
I still needed to apply this to the big picture of my life though. When I graduated from high school, I had aspirations to be a writer. I threw those under the bus though when I left for college. I enjoyed science and there was a career to be made in such promising fields as chemistry and biology. Better go that direction, right?
Now, almost two years a post-grad, I can tell you that if it were not for some life-shaking events, I would still be on that path–I would still be following the red line, the line drawn by someone else in a way they saw fit. I would probably be in some stuffy lab in a graduate program where thinking is confined to measurable observations, statistics, and line graphs. I would probably be building my credentials in anticipation of arriving at the red line’s next destination.
This isn’t to say that this particular path, this particular set of life choices is wrong. In fact, I hope to return to graduate school, albeit, to study something different from my Ecology/Wildlife education, something I’m more passionate about. But what I am trying to say is, don’t follow any red line, purple line, pink line, green line, black line. Don’t live up to the expectations set for you by someone else. Live up to your own expectations and go where your passions might lead you–leave behind a line that is its very own shade of you.