The End is Not Fixed

A 20-something friend, uncertain and a little anxious about her life path, emailed an old professor of hers for advice. Here's what he said:

Don't think too much and don't worry (advice from someone who did too much of both).  Dewey has a lot to say about being on the road.  The most important thing is to give up the idea that the end is already fixed.  It is happening in real time.  Be in what you are doing, and always remain open — there are opportunities that will be created that don't even exist yet.  Just be there.  They'll come.

We are all on the road, and the end is not fixed.

7 Responses to The End is Not Fixed

  1. “Just be there” jumped out at me. How many people really are “there” – available and able to be present when life demands presence? Ready and willing to bring it when life asks us to – and able to recognize where we’re being asked?

    If you’re able to be present, are you more or less able than you were two or five years ago? For me, I’m much more able, a thought that brings me both relief and extreme anxiety – what did I miss when I didn’t have the same ability to be there?

  2. Seems more like self rationalizing than advice. All 20 year olds feel exactly like the old dude. So who is he kidding. He is trying to talk himself into reviving the feelings he had when he was young and has forgotten. Good advice for an old guy. Young people need the opposite.

  3. Shefaly says:

    The kind of stuff that, every old person forgets, sounds patronising to every young person. If I recall correctly, that is one of the things you said to me when I made a comment here, which was experientially loaded :-)

    What the Professor forgot to say is: keep your ear to the ground and your eyes open. A person advising me when I left college would have seen some robotics & AI in my future but never biochemistry. *I* had to see it for myself. I wasn’t just “being” there, I was aware of how the trajectory of my own intellectual thirst was changing and seeking things to sate it.

    Also: when you are given a box, open it! For my sins, several 20-somethings related or known to me, ask me for advice, introductions etc. Sadly I notice most of them never follow up. They are fixated on specific outcomes instead of exploring possibilities. Many, including those who grew up in North America and therefore reject the traditional Indian set up of “we respect age and experience”, seem not very able to translate their in-person glibness into meaningful and curiosity-led conversations with the very useful connections I make for them.

    The best advice is: there is no advice, figure it out yourself by observing, by asking questions and by doing (not just planning) things. If you don’t try, you won’t fail but you won’t succeed either.

  4. Akshay Kapur says:

    There’s no end. Even after death, your legacy will be shaped by others’ view of your presence. Worrying and thinking too much only takes up time from living in the current moment.

    Just be and you are. Even when I think of planning for the future, I don’t purposefully force myself to do so. My success is in my freedom. I know I’m enough of a planner that I will make the lists, do the research and set everything in place that’s required.

    In addition to what Shefaly said about paying attention to your surroundings, it’s equally important to pay attention to your “just be” reactions to the reality you face.

    What if you’re not naturally a planner? You constantly forget something or leave it for others to take care of. Worrying about not being able to plan things would be a waste of time. The moment you make a concerted effort to teach yourself planning, you’re in another present state of mind with full focus.

    So life flows.

  5. Ben Casnocha says:

    I love your last graf of the “best advice” — totally agree.

  6. Aliyu says:

    what a wonderful advice! But our anxiety wont allow us.

  7. When I was 20 and the war in Vietnam hadn’t quite ended, an old professor is the last person I would have gone to for advice. Wasn’t it the old people who screwed up the world in the first place?

    I and my ‘revolutionary’ comrades fondly imagined a Wild In the Streets scenario in which we, the bold and the beautiful young, would invade those foul old-boy clubhouses of the rich and powerful, yank the geezers from their leather-bound rocking chairs, then pack them off to training camps at Big Sur where they’d have to read Buckminster Fuller and Gary Snyder until they repented of their pernicious ways.

    Now that I’ve gotten my obligatory letter from the AARP, I take great pleasure in reminding the presently bold and beautiful that if the average lifespan of Americans is roughly 75 years, then logically it may be divided into three periods:

    0-24 years = Youth
    25-49 years = Middle age
    50-75 years = Old age

    Now I’m thinking that it’s all these babes in the woods and middle-aged whippersnappers who need retraining.;-)

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