This morning I told a panicky student that he doesn't need to figure out right this minute how he'll be spending his whole entire life because (a) he'll be spending his whole entire life figuring out how he'll be spending his whole entire life; (b) even the most complete and detailed Road Map to Success is likely to get piddled on by a puppy at some point; and (c) that essay isn't going to write itself, so let's postpone the existential crisis and sit down and write.
But the whole time I kept flashing back to the movie I'm currently showing in my Sports Lit class--Breaking Away, the 1979 film in which a bunch of recent high-school graduates commit themselves to the goal of spending their whole entire lives not figuring out how to spend their whole entire lives.
Today we saw the scene in which the long-suffering dad takes his son on a walk through the Indiana University campus. Dad points at a building and says, "I cut the stone for that building," but his stonecutting days are long behind him and he wonders whether anything he's built will last. He asks whether the young folks still swim out at the old quarry, and when his son says yes, Dad says, "So the only thing you got to show for my 20 years of work is the holes we left behind?"
In 1979 when the film came out, I identified with the misunderstood son; today, though, I sympathize with the disillusioned dad looking over the meager evidence of his impact on the universe. Just those big holes in the ground? That's it? I don't remember any holes in the ground on my Road Map to Success!
But here I am at a point that I couldn't have predicted or planned 30 years ago, and here's this student in front of me so overwhelmed by the prospect of mapping out his whole entire life that he can't focus on the task immediately in front of his face, and it's my turn to offer the voice of experience. Don't worry about the holes up ahead, I tell him, and don't worry about comprehending every possible permutation of the route through the obstacles; let's just find enough light to take the first step down that road.
For today, that means butt in seat and hands on keyboard, because the Road to Success starts in my classroom.