The roads we choose will make all the difference

There is a common misconception that a goldfish will grow as large as the tank it’s placed in. This is a myth. If you put too small a goldfish in too large a bowl, it will probably just be very lonely. What you are really supposed to do is find out how large your particular type of goldfish typically gets, and put it in a tank that will allow it to grow to its full size.

I think people are like goldfish that way. If you jump into an enormous tank, simply assuming that you’ll grow to fit it, you’ve got a good chance of winding up belly-up. The goldfish approach is better. You find out what you need and what you want. You find out what your dreams are, and you find a tank big enough to fit them. And then you grow.

In three weeks, I’m going to graduate from college. Then, I’m going to take a deep breath, and go fishbowl shopping.

An editor told me once that my idealism would fade. His name was Alan, and he ran a small-town newspaper where I worked for a summer. I was 19, and giddy over my first real newsroom. On my first day, he laughed and called me “starry eyed,” and said I’d learn, in time.

In three weeks, I’ll have a degree in Journalism. The jokes have already started rolling in. “Oh, so you’re going to be a blogger?”

Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll become a foreign correspondent and show the public the furthest reaches of the world. Maybe I’ll move to Washington, D.C. and hobnob with Senators, spend all my time courting powerful sources.

Or maybe I’ll go back to Alan’s small paper, with its second-floor offices, community board meetings and little league baseball teams.

And maybe my eyes won’t always be full of stars. Maybe my idealism will fade, and I’ll become a little jaded. Maybe I’ll settle.

But first, I’m going to enjoy being young and idealistic for a while. I’m going to see the world, because it’s far too big a place not to go wandering around in it. I’m going to fall in love, and fall out of it, lose faith and find it again. I’m going to seek unadulterated bliss, sleep on couches and buses and airplanes, and laugh every day.

I’m going to find contentment, and move on whenever I get bored. I might live paycheck to paycheck – but I’ll live.

This world is changing so quickly it often seems difficult to keep up. But our bodies, hearts and minds are young and spry. We’re not yet set in our ways. We can change, adapt and grow. We are blessed with the openness that accompanies youth, and we must use that openness to our advantage.

In three weeks, when we step out of the University’s insulated sphere, we’ll be taking the first steps on our way to becoming salient members of society. We’ll be the workforce, the decision-makers, the power-wielders. We’ll carve out lives, careers and families.

But first, we should open up, and get to know this remarkable middle place between childhood and the rest of our lives, like when hot and cold fronts come together and summer thunderstorms happen.

We’ve spent our entire young lives in the same school-year routine, and now it’s time to do something different. It’s a brand new type of classroom, a brand new curriculum. It’s a new way to learn, and I plan to pay attention.

Our roads are diverging in this yellow wood of uncertainty, and though there are no street signs, and there will likely be countless detours and potholes, I take comfort in knowing that the ultimate destination will be ours to determine – and we don’t have to be in any kind of hurry to get there.

In three weeks, I’ll close the book on a pretty impressive academic career. I’m left feeling full of pride and gratitude. I’m feeling enlightened and empowered.

But most of all, I’m feeling very young, and like my whole life is stretched out in front of me. I’m feeling like anything could happen, and I could grow and grow – I’m feeling like my fishbowl is pretty big.