Unused Wisdom

Shawn Mihalik
Posted on January 18, 2014

The following essay by Robert I. Brown is an excerpt from Asymmetrical’s recently published essay collection, Advice to My 18-Year-Old Self. Robert’s short story collection, Lake Horatio, will be published by Asymmetrical Press in 2014.

When I was eighteen, I chose not to use the wisdom I had at that time. I felt in my heart I was on the right path, and I am now two years older. I was in college at my dream institution and living in New York City. I had been focused on getting to New York City since my tenth grade year of high school.

Life was wonderful; I was the happiest I’d ever been, and I thought I had it all figured out. In my eyes, I was striving—moving very fast to make my dreams come true. Impatience was my best friend; I was rushing tasks, neglecting time with family and friends all while trying to fulfill a vision. In addition, while going to a fashion institution, I grew superficial and put the clothes I wore before my character.

Continuing down my impatient path, I told myself I would spend most of my time sharpening my skills as a writer. However, this did not happen. Since the age of fifteen, I have been a lover of words, and I knew I wanted to be a writer then. At age eighteen, my awareness of how real the possibilities were for me to make an honest career as a writer opened my eyes. I judged my talents and beliefs on the overnight success of others, and this was the unhealthiest thing I could have ever done. I chased the illusion of overnight success, thinking I was running out of time.

When I thought time was against me, I set out to write early in the morning, during class breaks, after class once I got settled at my living space and before my bedtime. Did this happen? No. I was undisciplined and wrote when “inspiration” would strike. Said another way, I hardly ever wrote. Instead, I watched countless reruns of Boy Meets World as I waited for Mr. Inspiration to drive me to my laptop to battle the white page and blinking cursor.

There was a time when I felt uncomfortable explaining to people—and even some family—the literary path I wanted to take. I feared they would not appreciate it—most of them being blue collar, hands-on types—and I was correct; they did not understand and laughed at the idea.

Sometimes in life, a second chance is impossible. What I mean by this: I’ll never get a chance to be eighteen again, not that I want to be.

I’ve learned to never place my happiness in the hands of fickle external factors. Hence, my happiness level will only go up and down—being inconsistent and sending me on an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve learned to be content, and I now understand inner happiness is the only true happiness. I’m still young, with much more living ahead. However, at eighteen, I should have known better. My patience was tested as I zoomed through that age as if my vision would be fulfilled in one solid year of hard work.

That’s not how life works.

Two years after eighteen, clothes are less important. I still enjoy looking neat, but focusing more on building my character than my wardrobe has allowed me to put what I do above what I wear. Instead of wasting thoughts on what to wear, I can use my mind in healthier ways, one being thinking of writing ideas.

Instead of watching countless Boy Meets World reruns, writing would have served me better. Instead of accompanying my roommates from Brooklyn Heights all the way to the Upper East Side just to window-shop, writing would have served me better. Instead of waking early to surf the Internet before my 8:15 a.m. class, writing would have served me better.

Eighteen was a pivotal year in my life, and though I’m shedding light on my many mistakes, that age paved the way for me to discover and flourish in my true calling.

The best advice I could give to my eighteen-year-old self: Never worry about those who do not understand what you are trying to do with your life, and never go out of your way to explain the path you’ve chosen to take, especially if those individuals are too impatient to take the time to understand you.