It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. — Eleanor Roosevelt
When I see this quote on a college dormitory bulletin board, I wonder what Eleanor Roosevelt meant by “wish.” And was she also suggesting that “having a plan” might not always be the best thing?
My wondering continues and a week later, I ask myself this question: Might wishing, which one often associates with birthday candles and fairy tales, if done energetically (as Eleanor suggests) lead us to pay closer attention to who we want to be?
Finally, I try changing the word “wish” to “have a passion,” i.e. “It takes as much energy to have a passion as it does to plan.”
I decided that a poet would be a good person to ask about passions and plans, so I asked Topacio Althaus, a recent college graduate and our local farmer’s market poet, what “having a passion” means to her. She answered with this poem:
The pursuit of passion is an endless journey the brave choose to undertake,
Sharpening our wits, courage & our best armor to conquer a definite backlash of opposed force.
But let this not be a deterrent to inherent urges,
Our innate necessity to purge what dwells within onto written page, blank canvas, projected screen.
Let us be bold enough to throw ourselves into these modes as swiftly as we throw out any forms of logic that categorize,
as we leave more room for creation, for the inspiring, the uplifting of the soul.
We are not here to wonder if our passions have succeeded, but if we were sturdy enough to bring them from within, so we can recall at some distant hour this frame and inspect it with sighs of relief and grand tales of intrigue.
I found a similar perspective to Topacio’s in, of all places, the Business section of the New York Times. One of my favorite columns is called the “Corner Office.” Various individuals from a wide range of fields are interviewed about the lessons they’ve learned from earlier in their lives. They share how they’ve applied those lessons, as well as more recent experiences, to their careers. A recent interview with Yorgen Edholm, chief executive of Accellion, a developer of software for mobile file sharing (I’m not even sure what this is!), included this question —
What career advice do you give to college students?
Mr. Edholm answered: They want to know, “If I take this course, will I get a good job?” I sometimes find that there’s nothing that really sets them on fire. You can’t be really good at something unless you have a passion for it. I see lots of kids who are totally brilliant at getting to a goal, but they don’t know why they’re going to the goal. They are good at zeroing in on the “right” thing to do, rather than pursuing something from within. So I always say to them, “Don’t try to worry about what looks good and what may be good.” First of all, these things change all the time. So go for something that you love, because you will probably be very good at it.
I think Natalie would agree. She turned to me a few years ago and said, with so much certainty, I am writing it in bold:
You know, Mommy, there’s a certain part about getting good at something that involves loving it.
Then yesterday, one week after glimpsing Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote in the college dorm, I read Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times affecting column “Her First, and Last, Book” about Marina Keegan, who two years ago was about to graduate from Yale University with high honors. She had already accepted a job with The New Yorker after writing an essay for the Yale newspaper that had “sparked a national conversation about whether graduates should seek meaning or money.” Her essay was inspired by watching the rush of students who were accepting well-paying jobs on Wall Street – not because of innate interest but because that route was lucrative and practical. She wrote, “Standing outside a freshman dorm, I couldn’t find a single student aspiring to be a banker, but at commencement this May, there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll be sitting next to one…. This strikes me as incredibly sad.”
Kristof points out, “Life is complicated.” “…We need bankers and management consultants as well as writers and teachers, and there’s something to be said for being practical. Some financiers find fulfillment, and it’s also true that such a person may be able to finance far more good work than a person who becomes an aid worker.”
Yes, indeed, sometimes Passions and Plans (i.e. “being practical”) can go hand in hand.
In Marina Keegan’s essay before graduation she reminded her fellow graduates: “What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”
She sounds like Eleanor Roosevelt to me! Isn’t she beseeching her fellow classmates to put as much energy into wishing as planning?
Five days after her graduation from Yale, Marina Keegan was killed in a car accident. Her book, The Opposite of Loneliness will be published this week. I will read it. As Anne Fadiman, her writing teacher at Yale, said “Every aspect of her life was a way of answering that question: how do you find meaning in you life?”