I was thinking about this for a while as I attempted to pithily caption a picture I took of the lemons and was posting it on Instagram (yes, I admit this). For the past many months since I've graduated, I've tried out a few different possible futures--in theory. There have been job applications, an interview or two, a few ideas tossed around because maybe the problem is just that I haven't thought of the right thing yet. But, all the same, here I am six months later, for some good reasons and some not so good reasons, still doing almost exactly what I was doing in May.
There are times when it is right and good to be still. When we not only can, but should pause to be at peace with ourselves or to be receptive to what is around us. Inaction is not identical with passivity or apathy, and rest is as essential to the end as work.
It is equally true, however, that when we confine our action to our heads, to the hypotheticals and to dreaming, without ever putting feet to our desires, we sicken. Challenges, life's lemons, may be bitter medicine when they come. But that which is unpalatable is not always therefore harmful. So too, that which is difficult is also an invitation to heal or to strengthen or to grow. If you're feeling stagnant, one of the first questions to ask yourself is: when is the last time you did something for the first time?
I have tried to take this idea to heart with some recent changes that I've been making in my own life. No, I don't have a flashy job to offer as proof that I've made it to adulthood. But I'm identifying what my interests are now that they're not dictated by the courses on offer for a given semester, and I'm trying new things. I love language, so I'm teaching myself Latin and trying to brush up on my German at the same time. I'm learning how to bind hardcover books. Thanks in large part to my siblings and the perfect birthday gift, I'm taking up calligraphy, both on my own time and through a workshop on medieval Irish uncial hand. I have a new job beginning in December that I intend to be the first half of a move into Philadelphia. And finally, I adopted a cat, who in two days has already given me a sobering sense of responsibility and the need for selflessness (she's also pretty cute when she chases lasers and sleeps on me).
As fun as all of these things are, they require work. Even keeping up this blog, such as it is, requires me to put forth some effort. But the challenges we choose to accept (because, yes, we do often have to choose our challenges) are also rewarding and invigorating. I don't want to feel dead: I want to know that I'm alive, even when being alive means that I'm squirming over how incredibly awkward I feel in a social setting--one that I put myself in because I'm sick of sitting back and anxiously watching my opportunities disappear into the past. The point isn't even to accomplish something amazing, although that would be awesome. It's the challenge itself and embracing it, whatever the result, that we can focus on and build on for the future.
So, for all my friends who are at a point of uncertainty in their lives--because I think you face these moments of decision at all times of life and not just when you're graduating--don't get stuck in the trap of thinking about what could be and letting that be enough. We have an incredibly abstract culture, from the movies we entertain ourselves with to the technologies that we use, and that can make it easy to cheat our way out of the test of real life. At some point, you have to move past your "lemon juice in theory" and drink your "lemon juice in fact" or you won't move at all. And that wouldn't be much a story to tell now would it?