Advice from Space: Bee! I’m Expecting You!
Dear Advice from Space,
How far into unknown or unexplored regions should I travel?
[Totally, Mysteriously Unsigned]
Dear Letter Writer,
This seems like a good time to talk about my recent spacewalk. It does, doesn’t it? But it’s not a good time. It will never be anything but a terrible time to talk about my spacewalk.
Instead, let’s talk about you. Do you remember your so-out-of-touch-he-was-cool 8th grade history teacher who said things like “Whoa, Nelly” and taught the entire class how to tie a Windsor knot? Do you remember how he would let you do wacky things like present your report about Isaac Hull in song, to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme? I think you do.
And do you remember when this teacher assigned you to write a letter of advice to yourself, to be delivered to you at some unnamed time in the future? Oh, that you definitely remember. You remember, because you’re still waiting to receive that letter and you’re not a little fearful to see what it says.
And yet, you know exactly what it says, don’t you? You know that, as you wrote it, you pictured your future self living a sad life full of thwarted and unexamined dreams. You worried that you would find yourself, one day (or many days) trapped in your own inertia. And you thought that this letter might make a real difference in the trajectory of your life. Remember?
And, Letter Writer, in your letter you told your future self not to settle. Don’t settle, you said. Don’t get stuck in a life you don’t want for reasons you don’t know. Don’t get swept up in the doing of things for the sake of doing them. And more importantly, don’t get swept up in the not-doing of things.
Yes, you may also have advised yourself to abandon commitments that didn’t make you happy. Which could be right or wrong, depending on the depth and importance of the commitment and depending on your interpretation of “happy.” Yes, your 13 years of life experience maybe left you with less-than-nuanced views of choice, compromise, and what might constitute a “good” life. And yet.
Recent personal experiences aside, Letter Writer, I would advise you to go far. Go a little further than your 13-year old self thought you would. Go further than makes you completely comfortable—if you lean toward the anxious end of the spectrum, somewhere between hand-wringing and manageable nausea is the range that you should shoot for. (Non-anxious folks, this goes for you, too. It’s good for you to know how the other 18 percent lives.)
This isn’t to say that you’re beholden to the dreams and musical stylings of your 13-year old self—or even your 20-year old or 40-year old selves. But that person and all the subsequent, embarrassing iterations of that person are who built you—so at a minimum, be respectful of who you were and what you wanted.
Letter Writer, I would also advise you to go differently. Go rogue and surprise your 13-year old self. Do you think that Space Astronaut was something I wanted to be in 8th grade? Do you think I pictured myself floating, untethered, through the dark universe in pursuit of something neither attainable nor defined? I wanted to be a tap dancer and boxer and homemaker à la Tony Danza in Who’s the Boss.
Seeing into the future is hard. You can’t know the things your 72-year old self will want from life any more than your 13-year old self knew what you’d want now. But everyone enjoys a good story. Give yourself some.
Advice from Space
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