The following essay by Josh Wagner is an excerpt from Asymmetrical’s recently published essay collection, Advice to My 18-Year-Old Self. Look for more of Josh’s work to be published by Asymmetrical Press in 2014.
Can you feel it? You’ve crossed the peak. For a long time you’ve been climbing up, pushing against gravity. Now it’s all downhill. You finally got the thing you’ve always wanted and it turns out having it is nothing like wanting it. Toward the end there you started to develop a real taste for the wanting. That window of time where you knew you were closing in, where you could almost touch it. Right before you pounced. And hey, look at you—you got it. But in your hands it doesn’t feel the same as it “almost” did. Feels funny, tastes weird. It’s heavy. Looks different, too. Not quite the same shape you saw from a distance. What the hell are you doing? You can’t carry this. It fills your arms, obstructs your vision, affords no space for wanting more.
But you want to want more.
You thought you loved this thing but really you loved the arrows that were burning around you as you circled the wagons. And now your entire focus becomes how do I get rid of what took me so long to achieve? Because it no longer feels like the end all be all of your entire life. Now it feels like guilt and confusion and naturally you have to wonder if you’re completely broken as a human because aren’t we supposed to want something and then have it and then we’re happy? But what you’ve forgotten is you don’t actually have it. We never have anything.
Here’s the painful truth you already know. Nothing lasts. Everything ends. The only eternal element in life is change. We call phrases like this cliché and roll our eyes when we hear them because we hate it. We hate that we’re going to die. In the morning we’re pushed out of the airplane and by sunset we’ll be a memory on the sidewalk.
So what to do on the way down?
If something has an expiration date you can let it spoil or you can turn it into fuel. What you have now in your arms, what you’ve struggled so hard to achieve, is ready fuel. You know you can’t keep it so you have two options: you can put it in a landfill or you can set it on fire.
Set it on fire.
You don’t have a choice as to whether your best days will end up devoured by time, but you do have a choice about how it’s done. You can waste it with passion, or you can waste it with doubts and regrets. Stop fooling yourself into thinking it lasts forever. That’s the thought that makes you panic, that ignores and denies your natural restlessness and turns it into careless impatience. Embrace your mortality, but don’t just sit there like a nihilist and moan about it. Don’t pour the oil back into the well. Strike it against a rock until you see sparks. Build the fire, tend the fire, and when the fire goes out don’t sit there sifting through the ashes. There’s only one time in your life when you can burn all the way down and walk away stronger. Waste your youth. That’s what it’s for. Don’t hold back. Love until it hurts. The fire will fade. You’re going to die.
I’ve got some more advice for you, too.
Ninety-five percent of your fears, doubts, and insecurities only exist in your head. Those people you’re so worried about being judged by aren’t even paying attention. Only the people who already love you are keeping tabs on what you do. Everyone else is too busy worrying about what other people think of them. Take risks, no one is watching.
The so-called “real” world is a labyrinth of head-games and monkey tricks. Most of these can be sidestepped with confidence and eye-contact.
All confidence is false confidence.
The gloomier things get the more valuable laughter becomes. This is basic economics. Practice laughter, she’s your most powerful ally.
Don’t be afraid to fight. But first make sure you know how.
Don’t be afraid to love. But first make sure you don’t think you know how.
If you’re going somewhere you’ve been before, take a different route to get there. Ruts are fearsome double-headed dragons devouring time and vitality. And you’ve got devouring of your own to deal with. Get to it. Stop putting all that work into agonizing over the imminent loss of everything you love. Simply love. While it’s still right there in front of you. Time not spent burning is draining, every bit of it trickling away at one second per second. Do you want a trail of fire through the sky or do you want a landfill piled up over your bones?
And when you do fall in love—and you will, again and again and again—don’t stop falling just because you hit the ground.