Will Ferrel, The Journey, and Veering From My Lane

Have you heard Will Ferrell’s USC Commencement speech yet? I’m not talking about his incredible rendition of the Star Trek theme song or even his lovely accapella tribute to Whitney Houston and/or Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You–both which are great. But I’m talking about meat of his speech.  His words, his story, his commitment to be who he is, and the space he gives for anyone to be who they are. Even Charlie, my 11 year old boy who is typically incapable of sitting still for longer than 22 seconds, sat through and listened attentively to the entire speech. My favorite part was his encouragement to those students in the crowd (and those of us watching on YouTube) who don’t yet know the exact direction their life will take.

Enjoy the process of your search, he told them (us), without succumbing to the pressure of the outcome.

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I still remember what it was like during my eighth grade year to take some sort of career placement test. (I can’t remember what it was called. An aptitude test? Placement? Projection?) Whatever it was called, I remember the way my classmates were abuzz over their results. I was surrounded by medical personnel and lawyers, teachers and community service workers. This test had big plans for my classmates and I couldn’t wait to see what my future held.

I remember being handed that white sheet of paper and excitedly looking down at my results only to see a nearly a blank page.

Blank.

Nothing.

My future held. . . nothing.

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In full, disclosure, my memory has faded a bit. I have a vague memory of maybe one thing typed on that paper. Maybe? It might even had said I would be a custodian? (One look at my house will tell you that I would have been a failure at that–just ask Chad.)

I was 13 at the time. Insecure. Unsure. And surrounded by professionals with bright futures while my future held, well. . . no one seemed to know. . .

I remember a teacher reassuring me at the time. You must have filled out the multiple choice wrong, she assured me. I’m sure it was a problem with the test, she said.

Because not having a future wasn’t humiliating enough, I also learned that I was a failure at filling out tiny multiple choice bubbles.

Yep, my future was looking bright. Certainly, my Mom and Dad bragged about me wherever they went. I can imagine the conversations in the grocery store:

Fellow Parent: Yeah, Susie just got back her career test and she’s talking about looking at Harvard or Cornell–she thinks she wants to be an environmental engineer or something in the biomedical sciences. How’s Summer doing?
My Mom, looking toward a window: Isn’t the weather amazing today?

Blank.

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I look back and laugh at that whole experience now. I mean, really, what 13 year old even has an inkling of what or who they are going to be in 10, 20, or 30 years? (Yes, I am aware that there are some who do–but certainly this is the exception, not the rule.)

I think that my test turned out that way because at 13 I had no clue who I was or, even more, who I wanted to be. How can I answer any sort of question regarding my future, when on most days at least one of my socks was turned inside out and my Mom was still reminding me to shower?

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It’s 25 years later and, oddly enough, I continue to find myself wrestling with similar questions that I did when I was 13.

What do I want to do with my life?
What legacy do I want to leave?
What mark do I want to make in the world?
Where do my talents and passions most align?

The language is a bit different now. My understanding of myself and the world has grown. Certainly, I have changed. Still, the questions remain.

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I am a Mom.
I am a wife.
A sister.
Daughter.
Friend.
I am a runner.
Taking pictures makes my heart skip a beat.
My expression of choice is through words.
The beautiful sound of the wind can move me to tears.
I love to sit in nature.
New York City stirs me like no other place.
I am fascinated by human behavior.
Being a therapist was the wrong fit for me.
I believe deeply in love and family and faith.
I’m constantly wrestling with my faith.
I am sure of the beauty in the world.
I view the world through a heavy haze of cynicism.
I question everything.
I get stuck in unanswerable questions.
I feel everything.
I’m deeply logical.
I am extremely independent.
I’m not sure what I’d do without Chad by my side.
I want to change the world.
I’d rather not leave my house.

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I could go on. On and on and on, really. The more I think about the 25 years that have passed from eighth grade, the more I think that the problem is the same. I think that all my life I’ve tried to fit myself into a box that doesn’t really exist. I’ve tried to fit who I am neatly into a column that would perfectly define me and, in turn, the direction of my life. And no matter how much I try to stay within my own lane, I always find myself drifting into the next lane–which, in my track days would have gotten me promptly disqualified.

Twenty-five years later I find myself wondering if we were never supposed to stay in our lane in the first place. I wonder if the world, the spirit, and life experience is just too big to be defined neatly by tiny bubbles next to 40 questions. Twenty-five years later I’m wondering if there is a give and take between putting my head down and doing my work and keeping my eyes and ears wide open to see the work that is waiting to be done.

Summer, I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up, is a statement my dad made often during my childhood years. I get it now. I get it.

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Twenty-five years later I suspect I could take that same career test and the results would be similar, if not slightly more focused. Twenty-five years later I’m still doing what Will Ferrel encouraged those USC graduates to do; albeit probably past the time he intended. . .

I’m enjoying the process of the search.
Trusting my gut.
And believing that the journey is the whole point anyway.

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Happy Weekend, Friends.

4 comments
  • lisa - oh summer….you have once again hit the message home!  While talking with my husband the other night about my rising seniors- YIKES!- about career testing and how it’s done way too early for students and how it needs to be revisited in high school…I keep repeating to them that even I have no idea of what I want to be when I grow up!  🙂  Life is an amazing journey of trying to experience all that you can and finding the beauty and gratitude in it all!  Thank you for always sharing your lovely, inspirational, and eloquent thoughts with us!                                         (now off to watch Will’s USC speech! )
      May 19, 2017 – 9:10 amReplyCancel

    • Summer - YES! YES! YES!
      Lisa, thank you for helping me to know I am not alone out here.
      And YES. . you tell your handsome boys to enjoy the journey!
      Thank you, Lisa.
      (I hope you like the speech!)May 19, 2017 – 9:14 amReplyCancel

  • Liz - So beautifully written and spoke to me in so many ways. I remember the “test” I was given in high school – it came back florist or hairdresser – then the school counselor explained to me my expectations in life are set too high and discouraged me from applying to my chosen universities. Talk about a smack in the face & crushing my self-esteem and any confidence I had. Well, I trusted my gut & my parents encouragement & got in to my first college choice. 🙂 I always think life is continually evolving for us all as Mothers, wives, friends, artists, whatever we are & yes, the journey is an amazing one! All the best!May 19, 2017 – 9:35 amReplyCancel

    • Summer - Liz, I just love your story so much. Good for you and your parents to trust what you already knew about you. And yes, life is always evolving and maybe that’s what makes it fun. Thank you for sharing a piece of your story.May 19, 2017 – 9:40 amReplyCancel

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