Who am I? What am I? Which of those is the more interesting question? Are the answers even that different?
A few months ago I thought I was a listless college graduate with a road ahead of him. I hoped the road would be decades long. But I didn’t know yet just how wide the road was. (I still don’t.)
“This road isn’t my road anyway,” I used to say. “This road was paved before I was even born.” And I was angry and depressed and scared about the road before me that I knew wasn’t really mine.
It was during my spell of post-graduate reflection that I realized something: All that there is of the road is past. Nothing is in front of me. The road hasn’t been paved for me. I’m paving it. The discovery, while perhaps the most exciting of my life, was a difficult one to stomach.
I was like the little boy who, wearing a life jacket on his parents’ boat, looks down at the water and longs to jump in; he knows not where or even how he’ll swim once he jumps, only that he wants it more than anything. I leapt two months ago.
I couldn’t find a job in “Corporate America.” Self-loathing, that ever insidious cancer, set in.
“Why did you even go to college? Why marketing? Why didn’t you try to be a poker player? Or a comedian? Why did you let everyone else make your decisions for you?” I asked myself.
My sheepish half-answers were always inadequate. Then came another epiphany.
The past did not and does not matter. I haven’t got much use for a rear-view mirror in my car. I’m the only one driving on my road. Onward!
I had just begun laying the first conscious bricks on my liferoad when I heard about Praxis. It’s an education/work program that lasts less than a year? It’s designed to help give open-minded young people personal and professional tools to live the lives they want? You’re guaranteed at least a $40,000 salary upon completion of the program? (A bricklayer has to eat, right?) The Praxis website might as well have said, “We’ll help you lay your bricks the way you want to lay them, Alex.”
But isn’t that what college does? No. College says, “This is how you need to lay your bricks if you want to be successful.” Screw college. Praxis, sign me up.
Rulemaking, as a rule, is a practice most commonly reserved for boxed-in ninnies, but every rule has an exception, doesn’t it? And absent rules, I’d probably end up with a heap of disjointed bricks. Here are the rules I’ve come up with for building my road:
- Read and write every day. Words are your lifeblood.
- Don’t let them win. That is, don’t do things because everyone else says you’re supposed to—think for yourself.
- You do not require anyone’s permission to lay a brick.
- Liberty, freethought, rationality, courage, altruism—these are the bricks you will use to pave your road.
- Go outside. You can’t lay a road indoors.
- Your road is to be big and passionate and loud.
- Only through discourse can you smooth the cracks and bumps on your road.
- It’s okay to change your beliefs. A provincial, curvy road is more pleasant to travel down than a straight and boring one.
- Never be afraid to lay a brick on this road for hope that there’s a better one when this one ends.
- Don’t let the fear of failure keep you in the boat. Jump! Jump! Jump! Once more unto the breach.
As my fellow bricklayers know, there is an irksome body that gets constantly in the way when it comes to laying roads: government. In this case, government doesn’t only mean government, though. It means anyone who stands in the way of me paving my road to my liking. There’s going to be lots of them, I know—haters and critics and jerks and regulations and laws. Fight them. There’s nothing else for it. And I wouldn’t want there to be. Struggle begets accomplishment, no?
There are some folks whose roads I’ve passed by and admired. Milton Friedman’s, Christopher Hitchens’s, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s, those of various friends and family. I will no doubt steal parts of their designs, but I will try not to mimic them too closely. For I want my road to be new and mine, not a tenth-rate knockoff. Anyway, I’ve got to go. There’s work to be done.