My journey over the past couple of years, from my first day as a student at DePaul University to the beginning of Fall quarter 2014, has been a whirlwind of emotional highs and lows, culminating in a never-ending evolution of my character. It seems only yesterday that I wore an eager smile of pride as I stepped on campus for the first time, or that anticipation of my first day at an official political campaign (I felt like I was truly walking with giants for the first time).
The memories are distinctly ingrained in my head; the first time I met a girl without having to worry about making it back home on time, the first time I partied a little too hard, or even the first time I walked into my new home and developed friendships that would last me for years. By themselves they are all pleasing, but put together they stitch together the proverbial quilt of my independent adulthood.
I sought independence in the Windy City, and that’s exactly what I got. From day one, the dream of changing the world attached itself to my persona and followed me around wherever I journeyed into this new city of mine. Towers of glass and steel scraped the highest reaches of the sky and convinced the optimist within me that dreams knew no limits in this city on the lake, the water glistened under the beating sun of late summer and fall, and froze to reveal a world so quiet and serene that its iciness warmed my soul. I fell in love with this city of dreams, this city that embodied the spirit of a young man who had ventured from the forests into a concrete jungle.
This ‘can-do’ attitude carried me to a place that I had never been before. I experienced high school as an often self-described ‘outsider’, not in the sense of being outside the experience of the time but rather being so anxious to push forward to the future that I was unable to recognize the good times right in front of me. For me, Chicago gave me the opportunity to fully become my own man; it gave me the reins to my own future.
I hit the ground running; I campaigned loyally for the Obama Campaign in Iowa during the last days before the election, and was rewarded with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch the President accept his reelection at the Election Night Victory Party. I joined the Campaign of Congressman Mike Quigley, where I made friends that would last a lifetime and worked for a public servant that I consider to be one of the most genuine individuals I have ever met. From then on, I continued to find a variety of work at other campaigns and firms, dabbling in this new field of politics that I had been so unaccustomed to.
I dabbled in campaigns and political theories like most college-age kids experiment with varieties of fashion statements or music; unrelenting, determined to find the perfect match.
It took me time to realize the disappointing truth of my consistent life choices, but when it did come it came at me like a freight train.
This particular day had been incredibly brutal, so long and tedious that I barely wanted to move once I got home. I sat on my bed, and grabbed my journal (a journal that had unfortunately captured quite a bit of dust, my writing had all but disappeared once I got to school). I took a few of my pens, carried my journal in a sack, and just walked. I walked for probably two-and-a-half to three hours until I finally stopped at the lakefront, a few miles north of campus. I erased all prior thoughts, opened my leather book, and wrote.
I wrote so much that the friction caused by the cheap plastic exterior of my pen rubbed a bloody cut into the side of my thumb, and I didn’t even realize it. Here I was, for about four hours, writing on parchment a story of a young man who had been so in love with a dream that he didn’t even realize the dangers of the nightmare that had taken its place.
I rushed back home, and in my hurried frenzy of literary exploration I discovered that I had written down a frantic list of every single thing that I wanted to accomplish during my life. I was shocked that I had spent hours doing this, but I was even more shocked that I had never thought of writing down my true dreams before.
I went through my list, and to my horrified surprise I didn’t see anything about wanting to be a;
Well, crap, so I’ve poured about two years of my collegiate life into developing the connections necessary to be successful at either of these four positions. There’s no doubt that those experiences have helped me either way, but now I’m really worried that I’ve wasted valuable time.
My list of the things I wanted to do in my life, though frantic and a little optimistic even for my tastes, was somehow subconsciously written down on this pad and paper;
Write an award-winning novel
Develop a program aimed at increasing reading rates among children
Read all of the great classics
Know all of the major constellations
Inspire & teach the world about Space
Help create a National park
Woah, that’s new. I know that I’ve always loved books, NASA, and the sort, but this is entirely new territory. How does this fit into my model of wanting to be a political individual that inspires action and concrete change?
Answer; I don’t know, yet.
For the first time in quite a while, I let a large grin escape across my face. No longer was I burdened by the fear of being the perfect political individual; I could just be Michael.
I’m imperfect, I’m me, I’m human.
I learned that evening something very important about my life path and the choices that I’ve made over the past two years, and I’d love to let you in on some of these discoveries.
My search of political influence and experience, though noble, was driven more by my misunderstanding of the political world than by an understanding of the body politic. I thought that I could work my way through the system in a risk-adverse way that would guarantee me a spot someday at the proverbial table of power, only to discover that the only things in life worth gaining are the things that require a substantially abnormal amount of work.
Through my work, I was contributing to a system of hyper-partisanship and misunderstanding that destroys our system of democratic cooperation and instead substitutes it with a game that often balances very narrowly between the fine line of societal progress and societal status quo. I was simply not being a positive force upon the world, or at least I wasn’t being enough of a positive force. I had exchanged the ideas and creativity of my identity with the phony one-liners and political cheap-shots of attack ads and partisan hacks who revel in the disintegration of public cohesion.
And, more than anything, all of these things had made me unhappy. I just wasn’t experiencing life the same way that I used to; I became, as Charlie Chaplin once said, a machine man with a machine mind and a machine heart. I had submitted myself to emotional vices that had nearly eradicated all shades of my former and happier self.
After this process of analyzing my life in the third person, I realized one thing; the world is a beautiful place, and I’m not going to let my short-sightedness ruin the great memories that could potentially be created.
This quarter, I’ve been able to spend more time on hobbies of mine that actually contribute wholly to my advancement as a person; I’ve read several novels, written a few short stories and poems, and have taken time out of my evenings to journey to the lakeside with my new telescope and gaze upon the Cosmos. I’m going to avoid this being a self-help inspiration story, but I will say one last thing to the people in my generation who read this;
Friends, take a look around you. Look outside, look up at the sky, look down at the ground, look at all the people, and then just sit down and think. No phones, no books; just you and the deepest and darkest corridors of your mind. Give yourself the time to explore, think about yourself, think about life, think about the world.
Think, think, think.
Think of the things, the little things, that bring happiness to your day; that freshly-brewed cup of coffee, that beautiful person in the second row with the radiant smile, the teacher that makes you laugh, the boss that makes you enjoy work, the scent of wet pavement, the sight of leaves turning their autumn hue, the sound of people laughing and living.
Enjoy those moments, enjoy the little things. Don’t be trapped by the confines of a life that tells you to consistently push forward with little regard for silence and contemplation. If I had kept ignoring the silent pleas of my conscience, I wouldn’t be here writing this. I’d be in a cubicle analyzing poll numbers for $0 an hour.
Live life while you can.