Whenever we do something we have never done, it seems almost an instinctual desire to seek the wisdom of those who have done it before. Perhaps it is a reflex to avoid ever having to feel like we’re facing a situation with absolutely no idea what we’re doing, some sort of desperate attempt to never get caught unprepared. Advice can certainly be helpful, wisdom is unquestionably meant to teach, but in some ways it can only do so much, can only go so far when it comes from an external source. It is often far more valuable to have a strong, defined sense of who you are and what is important to you than hundreds of little nuggets of wisdom from philosophers and scholars and sages and bloggers. And I say that as someone who loves to give advice, as someone who is about to do just that.
In some ways I think we seek to learn from the experience of others because we are afraid. We are afraid of looking foolish, afraid of not knowing things, afraid of making mistakes, afraid of failing. It is far more comfortable to do something we have done a million times before, to do something we are good at, to do something familiar. For the last four years, my classmates and I have settled into a comfortable routine of walking to classes on the same sidewalks, seeing the same people in our free time, going to the same places at night, doing the same things over and over and over again. There is no risk, there is no uncertainty, there is no anxiety or adrenaline rush involved in doing any of the things we do all the time.
There is a phrase in Spanish that I learned in high school whose importance in my life snuck up on me unsuspectingly, originally through the lyrics of a Spanish rap song, but over time through its aggressively, undeniably challenging nature. The word atrévete is not actually a word at all, but a reflexive verb conjugated into the imperative form. It is a command. The infinitive verb atreverse means “to dare onself,” and atrévete is a call to the second person to “dare yourself.” It is a far more powerful phrase than the watered-down English equivalent, largely due to the presence of the pronoun attached to the end. In English, we use only the infinitive verb “to dare.” But what makes the Spanish version so aggressive, so provocative, is that it implies that the subject must do the work themselves. You must dare yourself.
I have atrévete up on my wall in giant collaged letters, facing my bed so that I see it every night before I go to sleep and every morning when I wake up, but in reality I carry the word with me everywhere I go. What atrévete implies but does not actually say, what other word it seems to run in circles around but never actually touch is the word “fearless.” To dare yourself is to be fearless. Or at least to ignore the fear, to put it aside and go forward. Atrévete. The whole word seems to exude movement—you can feel the momentum of it, down to the forward-slanting accent mark on the first “e.” The best part about atrévete is that it can be as broad or as specific as you want. You can leave it as it is, an open call to dare yourself, or you can add the preposition “a” afterwards (the Spanish version of “to”). Dare yourself to…anything. Dare yourself to move somewhere where you don’t know anyone because you got a job you love. Dare yourself to interrupt your routine. Dare yourself to say what you mean. Dare yourself to try something even though there is a very real possibility you might fail. Dare yourself to live outside your comfort zone. The best part about atrévete is that it is fully, completely, 100% customizable. It can fit any situation, be personalized to any human being. It is versatile and it is a call to anyone who is listening to look his or her fears in the face and move forward anyway.
And that is why as we all leave the safe, cushy, place we have called home for the last four years, it is imperative that we dare ourselves. Frankly, it is imperative that we all dare ourselves, all the time, to keep fear from stagnating our lives. We are all spinning off in a million different directions. Some of us are continuing our educations, some of us are starting jobs that require nice shoes and pantsuits, some of us are moving to new cities, some of us are exploring the world. The beauty of atrévete is that you can take it with you wherever it is you’re going.
That is the beauty of this school, and the beauty of the entire world, really. We all have so many different things that we love, we all have a unique and eclectic mix of things that keep us going, and wherever we are going, whatever we are doing, it is our duty to ourselves and to the universe to keep doing what we love. To keep loving what we love, fiercely.
When you do what you love, you become your best self, this lit-up, gleaming version of yourself, and you owe it to yourself and to the universe to be that person as often as you can. Even if you can’t do it from 9-5, even if you have to steal time or put other things aside, keep doing it. It might be building things or making music or helping others or solving problems or making people laugh. It might be fixing cars or planting flowers or playing with animals or reading books. It might be something you can shape your life around, or it might be something that fills in all the white spaces around the things you have to do. It might be something that you love but are afraid of. It might be something that want to do but have no idea how to build a life around. Atrévete. Dare yourself to believe, dare yourself to try, dare yourself to keep doing whatever it is. When you stop doing what you love, you become a shades-dimmer version of yourself, and the world deserves to have you in all your iridescent brilliance. Dare yourself to believe that it’s worth it, that you’re worth it. And if you don’t know exactly what it is that you love yet, go out into the world and simply seek what makes your skin tingle, what makes you feel like you can’t breathe, what makes you remember so viscerally that you are a human on this vast, sprawling planet. And when you find that thing, you’ll have your answer.
It is hard to give blanket, helpful advice to “recent graduates” a demographic that is so diverse and eclectic it is almost a twenty-two year old microcosm of society itself. How can a single piece of advice be applicable to or resonate with everyone? For me personally, Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar column The Future Has An Ancient Heart is the most powerful piece of graduate advice I’ve read, but it is specifically aimed at English/writing majors. The thing is, even if someone has done this before, even if someone has experienced being a new graduate, the experience they had was singular, was isolated, was theirs. They can share what they’ve learned, but what each of us is about to go through is completely unique, completely different— because we are the people we are and not the people who are giving us advice. Which is why perhaps as someone who hasn’t even graduated yet, I have even less authority to do so than they do. But it is an undeniable fact that we are about to face moments of fear, moments of uncertainty, moments of having absolutely no idea what we’re doing. And the best thing we can do is hold onto who we are, hold on to what we love, and try to be as fearless as we can. We won’t always succeed. We won’t always do the right thing, we won’t always feel prepared or competent. We won’t always be sure of what we’re doing. But if you’re sure of the things that matter, sure of the things you can control, sure of what’s important to you and what makes you feel alive and what you are here on this planet to do, then at least you’ve got that. At least when life throws you into a situation where everything seems new and terrifying and uncertain, at least you’ve got those things to anchor you. Sometimes you have to stare down the new and the foreign and the difficult and realize that you alone are responsible for, but also capable of facing it. That you can read as many bits of advice as you want, but in the end you’re the one who has to live your life. The Spanish language figured out what the English language didn’t manage to: the verb “to dare” needs that reflexive pronoun, needs that sense of self-sufficiency. We won’t always do it perfectly, but neither did the people writing those columns, those speeches. Wisdom is often a direct result of error. If you’re doing what you love and being your real, pure self, if you’re being fearless, things will eventually figure themselves out, even if you have to flounder a little before you get there. You’ll be drawn to where you’re supposed to be going, to where you’ll thrive. I may not have graduated yet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced that– that I don’t believe it ardently.
Wherever it is that you go, whatever it is that you do— don’t forget what you love. Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget to dare yourself.
To the next steps of the journey, class of 2012. May your feet find a rhythm that makes your soul blaze.