Facebook can be a…uh…special place. People behave in ways I cannot imagine them behaving in the flesh. I don’t think this is good or bad, it just is. Still, it makes for some rather odd and entertaining moments.
The other day I shared a quote from a young college opt-out with whom I was emailing:
“I dropped out of university when I was 19. I had lots of friends there. My grades were great. My future was bright. But I was unhappy and restless. Most of all, I was feeling unfulfilled. So instead of taking out student loans and finishing my degree, I quit.
We talk a lot about “living intentionally.” But during my unfulfilling time at uni, I really came to understand what that means. Going to university right out of high school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” isn’t living intentionally. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted out of life, and it occurred to me that perhaps I would be just as clueless and lost upon graduation day.
I didn’t have a business idea or plan for what to do when I quit. I didn’t have a job lined up. I quit uni “the wrong way” according to most people. It was “the risky way,” “the stupid way.” But I survived. I made it work. And I’ve loved every second of the adventure so far.
We’re hardwired for thinking that taking risks and making changes will only end in disaster. We like certainty. We like predictability. We like routines. But there’s a certain danger in routine. Those things that we can “do in our sleep” run the risk of luring us into a slumber we may never wake up from. So I’ll take the discomfort of uncertainty over the slumber of routine each chance I get.”
Cool, right? It seemed pretty self-evident that I shared this because I thought it was inspiring and some of the many other young people I know who are slowly decaying in college but are afraid to buck social and parental pressure might take heart in her story.
It got some likes and shares, and then this comment popped up:
“This sort of thing brings out the grumpy old man in me. She quit college at 19 and now she all of 20 and not dead yet. What an inspiration! Insert sardonic face here. How much of a risk is she taking? I bet she has parents backstopping her. And I’m supposed to be inspired by her and follow her on Twitter and soak up all her wisdom? Give me a break. I’ll change my tune when she actually, you know, does something.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. So many hilarious thoughts went through my head. I don’t normally respond to comments, but considering this girl was insulted by a stranger after I shared her story, I thought I’d post something to stick up for her just a bit. I had a lot of ideas for responses, but opted to keep it simple with this:
“I think you underestimate just how much pressure young people face to unthinkingly go to college whether they gain anything from it or not. I share this not because this young lady has “arrived”, whatever that means, but because it takes a ton of courage to stop and think about your own life and live it on your terms instead of the conveyor belt you’re pressured into.
Anyone who’s not just bobbing in the current deserves respect.”
There was so much more to say about the comment though. Here are some of the other responses I considered…
Thanks for your comment! Maybe, just maybe, you aren’t the intended audience. Maybe you don’t need to follow her on Twitter for inspiration. Maybe middle-aged dudes who are not facing challenges similar to a 19-year-old aren’t supposed to be inspired by her. Maybe somewhere, some other 19-year-old hates school and is scared to death to face the social pressure of doing something more tailored to her. Or maybe she should be chastised for not doing something impressive to you yet…
Thanks for your comment! I wonder what “done something” means? Could you define what activities and achievements this young lady must complete before she is allowed to have a website or talk about her story in her about section? What challenges are big enough that she should be allowed to talk about them? To what authorities should she appeal before sharing her journey or posting a Tweet?
Thanks for your comment! You’re right, no one is really inspiring who hasn’t succeeded. Then again, what’s the definition of success if not living a fulfilling life with pride in your choices and accomplishments? If she earned a million dollars and hated her life and felt shame for her choices, would she be inspiring? She clearly said this was a big challenge for her to overcome, she did it, and now she’s happy. Is that not success because you think that challenge would have been easy for someone else?
Thanks for your comment! FWIW, this young lady is working at a business in Poland right now and started her own accent reduction service for non-native English speakers on the side. But that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that you were offended by the fact that her story was not directly inspiring to you. Sorry about that! In the future I’ll make sure to ask if what I post is personally inspiring to you, even if you’re not the intended audience. I’ll also advise this young woman to seek your permission before feeling proud or sharing her story in the future.
Thanks for your comment! Let me see if I can boil down the heart of it in summary: You’re upset because something someone posted to Facebook doesn’t inspire you. Your post could be shortened a bit to, “I’m not impressed.” Got it.
Thanks for your comment! Though it does bring out the grumpy young man in me. So you’re all of middle-aged-something, you shot down a young stranger’s story on Facebook, and you’re not dead yet. What, you want me to follow you on Twitter now to soak up more of your dismissive derision? Please. Call me when you’ve, you know, done something that piques my interest.
I decided not to post any of those. It seemed like it would have been mean. Plus, the Facebook inspiration police might have swarmed and pointed out with deep insight and profound erudition that they’re not impressed anyway. That would have been crushing.
Check out this podcast episode about call-out culture and the dangers of playing the critic:
Episode 2: TK Coleman on Comments, Critics, and Call-Out Culture