Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Being 18 Again

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 11 by Sara Mattinson.

Reading about Abigail Wood’s valedictory speech to Oxford graduates in last week’s paper touched a nerve in me, one that might have remained numb if I wasn’t working at this paper. 
According to the article, Abigail said, “We have the ability to do great things, even when people, ourselves included, tell us we can’t...The future is ours, the upcoming possibilities and opportunities are endless...”
Remember what if feels like to be 18 years old? Your entire life stretches way out, so long in years that you can’t imagine what you’re going to be doing in five years, let alone 10 or 20. You have plans – lots and lots of plans – and you truly believe they will come about. The hope and optimism of an 18-year-old is a wonderful, fleeting state of mind. What Abigail and her fellow 18-year-old graduates don’t know is that sometimes, those plans, all those endless possibilities and opportunities, don’t happen at all. Or, more significantly, they don’t happen until many years later, when you’ve exhausted all the other possibilities and opportunities that you thought were the ones you wanted. 
The nerve the OREC valedictorian unwittingly touched in me is the memory of what happened to me when I was 18 years old. When I accepted to university, I couldn’t wait to get there and work for the campus newspaper. As soon as I was settled, during Frosh Week when I was supposed to be partying with my fellow freshman, I walked into The Queen’s Journal and said I wanted to be a reporter.
But the dream was withered before it could blossom. 
I wrote three stories, none of which appeared in the paper as I had written them. I had no training for newspaper reporting and no idea how to do it. So I stopped. I never went back to the paper, never again tried to write another article. 
Because I was a young 18, because I didn’t know yet about that inner compass that guides us so expertly, I gave up. I didn’t have enough confidence or self-awareness to go to the editor and say, “I really, really want to work here but obviously I need to learn. Where do I start?”
Leap forward 24 years. I’m working at a newspaper and it’s called The Oxford Journal. The dream didn’t die; it just lay dormant until my inner compass guided me (on a very winding road) to the right place at the right time. Even then, it took me a year to make the connection with that pivotal moment in 1988. So for the past week, since reading about Abigail’s speech, this column has been writing itself in my head.
This is what I want to tell the graduating class of 2012: Say yes to everything. Ask for help. Don’t ever, ever walk away from something you’ve been longing to do. Find your inner compass and pay attention to it. Even though the moral of my story is that whatever you’re meant to do will eventually happen, 24 years is a long time to wait. I could have saved myself a lot of money, heartache and mileage if I’d said Yes instead of No when I was 18 years old and full of eagerness, optimism and naivetĂ©.  
As well as a self-defeating fear of failure.
“Let’s not be afraid to take chances and try something new,” Abigail said, “because that often leads to the greatest reward.”
She’s right. How did she get so smart at the age of 18? 

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