I went on a trip with three of my best friends this April and at one point, one of my friends asked us all what our illogical, far-stretched, “Plan A” goals for the future were. I listened to three of the most driven and future-focused people I knew spill out their crazy lifetime goals and for one of the few times in my life, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Here were my closest allies -- committed to college, full of passion, dreaming of being successful in the medical field, saving the world, leading our country, and there was me -- still undecided on college, still undecided on my future career, and, what seemed most apparent in that moment, still undecided on my passion. Today, I am relieved to say that I did get the college thing sorted out, but that’s just about all that has changed since then.
After having that conversation, I kept going back and thinking about it -- I’m a very good ruminator. While I felt better about the future of our society because I knew that people I believed in most would be running it someday soon, I wondered where I could fit in.
Today, the world feels more open-ended than it ever has and probably ever will. For some of us, you may be thinking of your future as one trail that cleanly merges into the next. This high school, living at home, dependent minor thing may smoothly transition into the next stage of your life -- filled with achieving goals and future plans that are clear and concrete. For others, myself included, today marks the end of one trail, one that we have practically memorized by now, and the start of some serious trail blazing. Regardless of whichever situation you resonate with now, there will definitely be times in our lives when we feel both -- times when our “Plan A” is clear and precise and achievable, and times when our “Plan A” is indistinguishable.
While it’s easy to isolate yourself in the times when everything feels unclear, I cannot stress enough the importance of resisting that urge. When I initially heard my friends talking about their goals, I kind of shut down. I immediately started judging myself for not having my life together in the way that they did. I was jealous of them for having such great plans. What I realize now is how unreasonable it is to not only compare ourselves with others, but to get trapped in a cycle of making goals and being so extremely rigid with ourselves in our self-evaluations. What I realize now is that having others around you succeeding does not mean that you aren’t. Success is not something that has to be rationed. In our impending futures, there will certainly be enough of it for all of us. Now more than ever, we must understand the importance of collaboration, and the fact that life is not all-or-nothing.
Not only should we try to control ourselves from comparing these plans, but we should also try and control ourselves from making these plans. At this point in our lives, we have been told that if we don’t have plans, we aren’t doing it right. What I’m urging all of us to do now, is to open ourselves up to possibilities. Our society values plans and structure, and to that we have definitely become accustomed. And, while that raises strong, focused people, it also closes us off to chance and spontaneity, which are key components of really living. My goal, and challenge, for myself and for everyone here, is to try and add an aspect of your plans that involves letting go of them. For me, someone that really values control, that sounds pretty scary, but what seems even scarier is realizing that we could become stuck in a structure that we’re not really loving. While it’s clearly important to never try and lose sight of our “Plan As,” it’s equally important that we don’t freak out, give up, or write ourselves off as failures when they don’t come to fruition.
Some of us may know, right now, what our passion is. Some of us will stick with that, and most of us will end up changing it. Some of us will realize that what we thought our ultimate passion was is not such a passionate thing after all. For some of us, it will take months, years, even decades to find our passion, while some of us will find it quickly. Don’t get discouraged if you are one of the ones that takes more time, don’t be discouraged if it seems like your schedule doesn’t fit the mold of others. Not only does it not need to, but it shouldn’t.
I truly believe we will all do great things, no matter how or why we end up doing them. Class of 2019, I know we all have the strength, perseverance, and the little bit of stubbornness that it takes to have the patience to wait for a life that makes us excited to get up in the morning.
Katherine Sheehy gave this speech on June 2 at the Newburyport High School graduation. Sheehy and co-salutatorians Eric Capri and Jillian Gray spoke at the ceremony, along with valedictorian Samuel Acquaviva.