The gift I have given to a few college graduates over the years is the Dr. Seuss book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Subsequently, I learned that the receiver of the gift was somewhat confused as to why I gave them a children’s book. Despite my writing in their graduation card–to “pull this book out when life starts to interfere with your plans”–it fails to compute. A few days ago I came across Dr. Seuss’s book in a bookstore. It’s a best seller this time of year. While skimming through it I was reminded of my young cousin who recently left L.A. The reasons, as life has taught me, are varied. The 21st century mind-set races through endless, repetitive data, so even with a reasonably leveled head it’s still no simple task to decipher exactly why we choose to do anything. Naturally we trust the motives behind what the whys convey in the conscious mind.
When my cousin first began sharing his reasons for “going back,” he had several legitimate concerns about remaining in L.A. But it will take years—and I do mean years—for him to reach the full understanding behind his decision/s to “go back home.” And while he doesn’t know it right now, his choosing to leave L.A. was not in any way about failure. I cannot know this for sure, but I presume that on a deeply unconscious level he feels a sense of having failed.
The word failure is one of those nouns—like love, friends, and success, which are often overused or used out of context if for no other reason than the fickleness of human nature. For a few years I myself have said repeatedly that I have failed. Pick a decision at random; the outcome was failure. I beg to differ with believers of the theory that what you think you attract. My life has demonstrated that is not necessarily the case. That said, and back to my original argument: My initial thought was that my cousin was being impetuous about leaving L.A. Yet over the few weeks since he left I came to realize how I have done exactly what he has done. I didn’t do it in my early 20s, but I did it nonetheless. And thus, his decision seems all the more pragmatic. Life makes room for us to use the 20s to screw up. We get a pass in our 20s. It’s some kind of universal law or something. But me? I screwed up well into my 30s and 40s. How about those 50s? Time and time again I did exactly what my cousin chose to do: leave. And here I was giving him a hard time. Repetitiously, I reminded him of why he came out to L.A. in the first place (although I have always thought his reason for coming to the West Coast was based almost entirely on the idea of L.A.). But what was most important: time is a factor because building a life in a place where you have no history requires patience; that a young life unfolds in myriad ways and extraordinary stories tend to be elusive until they become amazingly vivid stories; and even most importantly, classics–great stories–are rarely sexy first drafts.
What my cousin might not appreciate right now—because it will most certainly take time, to be sure—is that he achieved a great deal in a limited amount of time. He moved out to L.A. and within a few weeks had a job; bought a car; found a place to live; he quit his job; started a second job (that paid more than the first one); and he did all of this within a few months’ time. Those achievements alone are the exception not the rule. Moreover, he moved to Southern California with minimal contacts except for a few friends; and he had some family to be there for him should he have needed us. In hindsight I see that I was critical of his decisions; that wasn’t fair. I may or may not have told him that thousands upon thousands come out to Southern California every single day and in one year will not achieve what he pulled off in a few months!
The last time I saw him, the family he had in L.A. at the time got together at a café in Studio City. His aunt and I really judged him harshly about the plans he was laying out for the future. My nephew was also with us, and he was quite amused–laughing openly. He might well have been shrinking in his seat, hoping to dodge that same bullet: hearing a lecture from the “middle-aged” to “millennials” about how life works.
The other story can never be known because we chose the story we are living instead. It’s natural to look back and in so many cases feel a heavy heart at some point because of life choices. And we will wish that we had done this instead of that. We become the person we are based upon the path we chose. It is the path that shapes life stories, not vice versa. And it’s what we do with those life experiences that will decide our fate. It has taken a very long time for me to get it: that whatever lane we choose, whatever path we deem the appropriate path at any given moment—that one, that precise path, is probably the best one in a practical way since it was based solely on where we were at that moment (the information accumulated; the decision-making skills acquired over time; and there’s the awkward nature of life!). You can never know for sure exactly what path is the better path; there are no perfect choices on our journey. That’s what I failed to tell my cousin. His decision to come was no different from his decision to leave: he chose a path. I feel it: he’s going to do remarkable things on the East Coast. His uniquely designed path is waiting for him to choose it. And while I didn’t give him Dr. Seuss’s book as a graduation gift, my cousin’s brief life in L.A. has covered at least the first 6-7 pages of that compelling story about Oh, the places you’ll go.