The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

What lies ahead

When most people think about what waits for them down the road, they are filled with fear and anxiety. If you've ever wondered why most seniors hate being asked, "What are you doing after graduation?" the answer is simple. In six short words, you are essentially asking them to tell you about the next 60 years of their lives. This may not be your intention,

but trust me, that's how it feels.

Now, if you are guilty of inflicting this torture on an unsuspecting senior, then please, don't feel bad. We've all done it, and it's not entirely your fault. Our society has us programmed to think in terms of the future.

Most of us feel pressure to achieve the staples of what is often seen as a successful American life. These include a high-paying job, a home, marriage and children. We are expected to know what our next move will be and what we want out of life.

For some people, this way of living comes naturally. They like comfortable situations and enjoy doing what is expected of them. But I would argue that these people are few and far between. It may seem as if they have everything figured out, but a lot of them have simply become very adept at looking in control and self-assured. In reality, most are just as clueless as the rest of us.

How could they not be? As we all know, life doesn't always allow us to follow our plans. Sometimes things happen that we can do nothing about. And sometimes our burning desire to do something different forces us to diverge from the path that everyone else thinks we should follow. In these situations we are forced to take a step back and realize that we cannot always be in control, that we cannot always remain in our comfort zones and that it is okay to want something different from the "typical American life." It may be daunting, but it has been done before, and by people who once called the University of Richmond home.

Andrew Pulley, Richmond College '03, was recently featured in Artes Liberales, the newsletter that we receive every semester. With degrees in English and rhetoric and communication Studies, Andrew had plans to attend law school, a common path for many Richmond graduates.

However, once he began working at a law firm, the sense of comfort that he felt could not make him forget about what he was truly passionate about. If he was ever going to be truly happy, then his plans needed to change.

Even though his future was uncertain, he quit his job and drove across the country to Los Angeles, where he worked in the film industry for two years. Then, wanting more than what the L.A. scene had to offer, he relentlessly lobbied the National Geographic Channel for a job until he finally got an offer three months later. He has traveled around the world ever since.

Chris Gordon, RC '06, wasn't planning on producing a documentary about life in Central America after graduating, but that is exactly what he ended up doing. With a loose itinerary, he and two acquaintances, Joel and Cody, set off in January 2007 for a place that was completely different from the college campuses they had called home during the past four years.

For two months they traveled throughout Central America and learned more about themselves than they thought was possible. They returned with 90 hours of footage, which they used to create their documentary, "Down the Road." To them, "Down the Road" isn't just a film; it is also an approach to life. Through their experiences, they hope to inspire a generation of Americans to "make it a priority to explore the unknown, to escape our comfortable and familiar lives, to look for ways to give what we can and receive what others have to offer."

The reason I am sharing the stories of these two Richmond alums with you is that I think it is about time that we realize that we don't have to live our lives the way that society tells us we must. What if we made similar decisions with our lives? What if we took the unknown and turned it into something that made us truly happy, something that made us feel excited and alive? What if we escaped from the comforts of the Richmond campus and embraced our newfound discomfort as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves?

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With these thoughts in mind, I recently chose to forgo the typical second-semester job hunt and made the decision to travel to New Zealand this fall to participate in the WWOOF movement (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and make a documentary of my experiences there.

I want to take my appreciation for our environment and my love of the outdoors and use them to learn more about organic farming by helping families who are running their own farms. I don't know what to expect once I arrive, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. But I love that I am doing what I want to do with my life instead of what others think I should be doing. And despite the fact that many people think I'm crazy, there is always that one person who brings a smile to my face when they exclaim, "Wow, I wish I could do that!"

Well, guess what? You can. Think about it. We have miles and miles of road ahead of us. We don't have to follow a map or arrive at a final destination. We don't have to do what is expected of us or what is deemed acceptable and normal. We can be the exception to the rule. We can be like Andrew Pulley and Chris Gordon, who took detours and discovered more about themselves than they ever would have if they had remained on the path of least resistance.

Sure, everyone likes to feel comfortable. We all desire security. But sometimes the best adventures are the ones that we don't plan for, when we get lost and must rely on ourselves to find our own way. It is in those times when we are most uncomfortable that we grow the most.

My hope for all of us is that we find the courage to throw away the map, put the car in drive and see what's waiting for us down the road.

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