This essay is essentially a life update, but I also hope to pass on the experiences I’ve had since my year of post-graduation. The biggest thing I’ve learned is this: Whatever plan you have in place for yourself, it will not go the way you think. I want to be clear that you should make a plan for yourself, but keep it simple and leave room for adaptation and growth. I’m in Japan during the middle of the biggest pandemic since H1N1 with a broken heart and in the best shape of my life as I write this. A lot of shit has happened and if you had told me all of it would happen in the span of one year post-graduation, I would’ve had you committed. For those of you on the precipice of your coveted graduation, which will most likely happen via Zoom, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “What the fuck am I going to do with my life?” For some of you, this will be the first time your life wasn’t bound within the timeline of the academic year. Here’s my advice for that question: take a step back, assess the situation, look at your options, make a simple plan and execute it with the utmost discipline you have. And do not settle. Be patient, but don’t settle.
When I received my English degree almost one year ago, I didn’t know what I was actually going to do with it. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I still do and am still writing and submitting creative works to publications. I thought I was going to graduate, take a year off, get into the MFA in Creative Writing program, and slowly but surely become an accomplished writer. I didn’t know what was actually going to happen was that I was going to have the best summer ever, fall in love, move to the other side of the world to become a teacher, get my heart broken worse than I could have ever imagined, become immersed in a wonderful culture and make wonderful friends, lose my great-grandmother to cancer and be rejected from grad school on the same morning, get in the best shape of my life, or have most of my travel plans be canceled because someone ate an undercooked bat and plunged the whole damn world into a pandemic. I don’t know if this essay is turning into a rant or if it isn’t, but I guess my message boils down to: You Are in Control of Nothing in this World but Yourself.
You can’t control what life is going to throw at you, but you can control how you react and adapt to it. You can’t control the fact that life can have you meet a woman who – in the quiet of the night, after you’ve just finished making love for the third time that night – takes your hand, puts it to her stomach, and tells you she can’t wait to have your children in a few years. You also can’t control when life decides to take her away from you. And worse, you can’t control the fact that even after all of that, you can’t honestly say you don’t still love her. You can’t control when life sends cancer to take away your great-grandmother and a grad school rejection email on the same morning. You can’t control that this all happens when you’re one the other side of the world, with nobody but yourself to bear it all. You can’t control that you still have to get dressed and go to work because your students are the best and they deserve the best. You can’t control when the whole world is put on lockdown because of a pandemic; and you have to wear panda masks to work because all of the other masks have already been bought.
When life decides to throw all of these things at you, there’s only one question you should ask yourself: What are you going to do about it? You can curl up in bed and not contact anyone for days, you can shirk your responsibility to the company who sponsored your visa and show up late, you can take your lumps and cry. Or, you can look in the mirror and take ownership of the fact that the only common denominator in every aspect of your life is you. If you want things to change, it has to be you who implements that change. You have to be the one that gets yourself out of bed. You have to be the one that adapts your travel plans to best navigate a pandemic. You have to be the one that works out every day for your own mental and physical health. You have to be the one that starts reading again because it makes you happy, even when you don’t want to be happy. You have to be the one who practices every day to get better at the language of the country you now live in. You have to be the one who implements change and instills the discipline to maintain it. It all falls on you.
You’re going to make mistakes; if you don’t think so, right there is your first one. You’re not going to be perfect. But that’s okay. You don’t have to be. You just have to be better than you were yesterday. Sometimes that means having to backtrack, reassess your situation, come up with a new plan and execute it. That’s okay. Just keep it simple and leave room for adaptation. And don’t worry, things are not always going to go your way. But, if you don’t actively make the effort, they never will. You can either push forward or stay down, but you can’t win if you don’t push forward.