Make the voice happy
Someone asked what practical piece of advice I’d have for a person under the age of 30. I brushed a strand of white hair away from my face and typed this.
Don’t settle. That’s the short answer.
Take the time to figure out who you are. That’s the slightly longer answer. But it’s worth it, so buckle up.
Some people grow up knowing exactly who they are and what they’ll do with their life. These people are freaks and should buy you beer. Because the rest of us have not a sweet clue. Our purpose is, at best, awfully diffuse. And as you know very well, this ain’t “at best” circumstances.
In short, you don’t know the first thing about what you want to do with your carcass for however many years it will continue to metabolize on this lovely little planet.
Other people do, though. You have parents, bosses, friends, teachers, exes, who all seem so certain about everything (except possibly the purpose of their own life but it might be cruel to point that out so don’t). You should be a psychotherapist. Obviously you’ll run for office and run the show. Go to law school. Unless it’s med school. Both? Make sure to marry well. Get a job with a future. And save for later.
Yeah. But why?
These people are well-intentioned, especially if they occasionally let you use their Netflix account. They have your best interests at heart. They know you, more or less, and feel that they have the answer to your existential questions.
Don’t listen to them. Listen, instead, to that little voice coming from right behind your belly button. That’s your gut. It’s trying to tell you something.
What’s that? You can’t hear it? Well, now. It’s time to go away.
You’re young, you’re not especially attached, you have freedom, and time on your hands. Take it. So what if you don’t have much money. You don’t need much. I could tell you stories of traveling for weeks at a time with one small carry-on and roughly no money and making it to the other end without starving to death. You find ways.
Go somewhere where you’ll be alone, even if it’s just in the woods behind your grandfather’s shed. Isolate yourself. Don’t bring your phone. Don’t listen to music. Go somewhere quiet (absolutely no tv allowed) and sit in silence. No fidgeting. Don’t think. Just breathe.
Nothing happening? Fine. That’s not a problem.
Most of us have so much noise around us that it takes us a while to clear the data processor we’ve got between our ears. Some of us need many trips behind the shed just to flush out the trash that’s cluttering up our synapses. That’s fine.
If you’re lucky enough to have more resources at your disposal than I used to have, go on a trip (alone) somewhere weird. No, Minneapolis doesn’t count. Go somewhere where you won’t recognize the culture. Ideally somewhere they don’t have Starbucks. Backpack, bum around, visit museums, climb trees, swim with dolphins, sit in the shade, bike up and down mountains, do whatever, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re out of your element, alone, with as few distractions as possible.
At some point you’ll start hearing that little gut voice inside you. Listen real carefully. It’ll tell you what to do. Do that.
Periodically as you move through life you’ll need to take breaks and find that voice again. Make sure it’s not giving you hell, because it only gets mad when something’s wrong. Make the voice happy. It’s very important, to you and to everyone else around you that you care about.