Special Edition – Life Advice From a Failed Student Missionary

I’m not sure I could say anything of value that wasn’t said by Bill Watterson’s phantasmagorical comic on building meaning in your life, but I will try. The essence of being, as described by a failed Student Missionary:

1. Go forward

When I was 13, my father died of a heart attack in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Two weeks later, I was in school, even though I could’ve stayed home a third, because life doesn’t quit. This isn’t to say that you have to always be tough and uncompromising, or that I am, but it’s to say that the two dogs in the “dog eat dog” scenario you’ve heard about are you and life, and you will be eaten alive in pursuit of the past. As hard as it may be, always know that better things are ahead than what we leave behind, and rather than seeking to repeat moments, create moments so splendid that you might wish to repeat them someday.

2. Fear not

This is easier said than done, but it is your job to be a light in the world. And this has nothing to do with the things that you tell other people that you believe or what you put on your Facebook information, but it has everything to do with who you are, and who you choose to be every day.

Don’t be afraid to be wrong, don’t be afraid to walk away, don’t be afraid to steer another course.

Fear is what gets us to ignore ourselves. Don’t ignore the things that you tell yourself. If you actually hate the major you’re in, listen to that voice. If you don’t like your job, listen. If you don’t share your parents’ convictions, listen. If you are dating someone who’s wrong for you, listen. Just like the physical body has so many ways of telling you before a situation is an emergency, your mind tells you when the foundations of your life are built on shaky ground. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, don’t be afraid to walk away, don’t be afraid to steer another course.

3. Perfection is none of your business

Even if I should I have the opportunity to be made perfect (whatever the hell that means), at this point in my life, I would turn it down. And I know that this is the cheesy realization that all heroes come to at the end of the movie, but no one really believes it in real life. Real life people have a much harder time accepting that the thing that they might most dislike about themselves could be their greatest asset, or an asset at all. Embrace who you are. There are so many better things to spend time doing than maintaining a false picture of yourself or falling short of imaginary standards. The world is yours, so live it.

4. Be You

As hard as you may find this to believe, I was positively impossible as a child. Well, I wasn’t, really. I put away the dishes, I ate my food, I did my homework, I did all the things I was told to do. But I was always impossibly myself. I talked a lot, and made jokes that weren’t that funny, but I thought they were and that was the only thing that mattered. I moved around a lot, bouncing from one desk to the other, and there was seemingly no way to control me. I never understood the art of reservation. In a science class in third grade, upon hearing that humans were actually animals too, I stood up and steadfastly told the teacher, “I didn’t come from monkeys” and walked out, like the (stupid) original gangster I was.

[I] walked out like the (stupid) original gangster I was.

My advice is to be you. Unfortunately, you’ll be introduced to a lot of voices. Some of them won’t be aggressive, some will come with honey, not with vinegar, and they’ll tell you to change yourself. It’s not that you’re a problem, they’ll say, but it would be a little better if you weren’t so much of you and were rather more like something else that’s not. Andrew Solomon says it best in his 2013 Ted Talk when he says “This is what we hear when you mourn over our existence. This is what we hear when you pray for a cure. That your fondest wish for us is that one day we will cease to be and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.” While the voices may promise a bettering of the self, remember that you get to decide what you would and would not like to change about yourself, and it’s never someone else’s prerogative to hijack your humanity.

It’s never someone’s prerogative to hijack your humanity.

Final Wishes: I wish you a life that is full of the integrity to speak up for your thoughts, the courage to change the things you must, the wisdom to deal kindly with others. I wish that you would have the ferocity to stand for the dispossessed, and the desire to know and tell truth. And when you inevitably fall short of these lofty standards, I wish you the strength to admit it, the sincerity to apologize.

The only other thing that I would wish is for you to know, for now and for always, that there is someone else in the world right alongside you, dying to be someone that they can be proud of as well.


I am deeply indebted to the 2014-2015 class of Villa Aurora for these insights. In posting this, it may seem as if I am telling this to them, but I have learned from them perhaps much more than they’ve learned from me, and I thank them for it.


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