Originally printed on 28 April, 2015 in my former university’s newspaper. Written by myself, Mary Zakheim.
Advice for our futures: one size fits all?
Image from here.
Even as I write the headline, I shake my head in obvious dissent. Of course our futures are not one size fits all – what a silly concept: in clothing, in ideas, in beliefs. As a varied mix of people with differing experiences, worldviews and perspectives, it seems ridiculous to continuously write this column, preaching how one “should” act or pursue their unfurling future. And yet, I continue to think in this way – as I dole out advice matter-of-factly when my friends fret over their woes and as I sit down write my column from week to week. I seem to imagine that for every situation there are absolute truths that bypass small concessions and minute exceptions.
In a world of differences, there is some small comfort in thinking that there are one-size-fits-all explanations for the things that we tend to encounter along the course of our lives. Perhaps it is the (false?) knowledge that no matter what we come across, no matter how complex or harrowing a situation, there will always be someone else who has experienced something similar and has something worthwhile to say about it, something that consoles and councils us back to the road we should be walking on.
I mean, that is what the Internet is for, right?
Inevitably, though, we have all found that, as well intentioned as advice and stories and anecdotes are about people who have experienced similar situations, there is something missing from the advice and council that we receive from our friends and Google alike: us. As helpful as it is to talk to someone who has felt your feelings and gone through vaguely what you have gone through, there is often a sort of emptiness as advice pours out of would-be-helpful mouths and off of your computer screen as you think to yourself, “Well, that is kind of like me, but –” and the “but” trails off into a list of individualised perspectives and concerns and exemptions.
So here I sit, wondering if I should take the steady (and visa-offering) job over the blind ambition that my harbored passion wants to pursue and wondering what advice to offer the people who may glance over my column on their way to the crossword or a challenging game of Sodoku. Do I profess to follow one’s dreams over anything else? Do I make a succinct list of the pros and cons and offer my unique perspective on this conjured up list? Do I tell you all to be safe and smart and secure and go for the steady job, just to get you on your feet as you ready yourself to pursue your dreams?
The truth is, any one of those pieces of advice could be valuable and valid pieces of advice for different people – depending on your individual values, dreams and passions. Who am I to value my own views over those of people different than I? While my whole life has been one of gawking at those who do not share my own perspective (gawking followed by reflection and eventual understanding, mind you), I also must admit that there are surely people who, were they to follow my writings, would find themselves unhappy, uncomfortable and far away from where they should be.
So how do I go forth, then? Undoubtedly, I cannot offer a choose-your-own ending type of advice service, nor can I promise a one-size-fits-all approach.
The answer lies in the way we should all perceive newness, change or differences in opinions: to question, question, question, until you have an answer that burrows deep down to the root of it all. When confronted with a piece of advice, an article, a column, a moving speech, a talk with one’s parent or mentor, a book, it is essential to the understanding of ourselves that we ask of each notable quote or counseling word, “Why?”
Like the child who refuses to stop asking why until they are satisfied with the knowledge of why the sky is, in fact, blue, so we too must ask why, why and why again until we are satisfied with our chosen path of being.
Indeed, the person who stops asking why can never find the because that they search for.