Ask Polly to graduates: ‘Don’t pretend you’re fearless’
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This week, Marketplace Weekend is all about life after college. In our series, “Graduating into the Economy,” we have stories and advice for recent grads — everything from career and credit basics to dream outfits, houseplants and homes.
Former Marketplace Quiz guest Heather Havrilesky is back — this time as our commencement speaker. Havrilesky writes the “Ask Polly” advice column for New York magazine, which is why we asked her to dole out some words of wisdom for the Class of 2017.
Below is a transcript of Havrilesky’s address:
On your graduation day everyone tells you that the future is wide open and the best part of your life is just beginning. Everyone urges you to believe in your passions and throw yourself into your bright, shining future. What people don’t talk about is fear. They don’t acknowledge the unbelievable fear that haunts you every minute of every day. It’s like you’re being pushed out of a plane without a parachute. As someone yells after you, “follow your dreams! Embrace the adventure!”
But it’s totally normal to be afraid, because for the past four years you’ve been living in the middle of a park where people read great books and drink beer all day long, and now you’re being kicked out of paradise. You’ve got to pay your rent, and your bills, and your student loans, and your health insurance. God only knows how. And you’re probably going to have to take some entry level job where you report to a middle-aged guy who uses words like “impactful,” and “scalable best practices,” and “core competencies,” without even cracking a smile. But you’ve also got to decide what to do with the rest of your life, which is like falling out of a plane and trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube before you hit the ground. The fear can be overwhelming and what your fear tells you is that only losers feel fear. Your fear interrupts that middle-aged guy talking about core competencies and whispers in your ear, “you have no core competencies. You can’t follow your dreams because you have no dreams. You can’t have adventures because you are too afraid to have adventures, or to do anything at all.”
But your fear is wrong. Everyone is afraid. You’d have to be a robot not to be afraid right now, and sometimes successful people are the most fearful people of all. But they use their fears to fuel them. That’s what you have to do; Admit that you’re afraid, face your fear. That doesn’t mean battle it. That means keep it close, like a potted plant in that dumpy new apartment you can barely afford. It will always be there, so you might as well make a little room for it.
Making room for your fear instead of hiding it makes room for other things too; sadness, and dread, and angst, and longing, but also hope. Because even though the world is scary, all human beings feel afraid and we work hard to believe in ourselves and to believe in the world in spite of our fear. Don’t pretend that you’re fearless, because if you pretend you’ll never know what your passions are. You have to feel fear to feel your passion and it’s not adventure if you can’t feel the fear. Adventures are partially made up of fear. Fear provides the suspense. You’re still going to have to work hard. You won’t be going back to paradise. But when people treat you like you’re small and foolish just because you’re afraid? That means that they’re still running from their own fear. So just ignore them. I hate to say this, but it’s true: some robots will want you to feel small because they can’t feel anything at all. But you’re not small. You know that you contain multitudes. Especially when you’re afraid.
And when you look back on this time years from now, you’ll almost miss the fear a little bit. You’ll look back and say I had it all but I didn’t even know it. I was so afraid but I was at the center. I could breathe in happiness. I could swim to the moon. I had everything I needed.
Havrilesky’s book “How to Be a Person in the World” is available now.
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