building the glass house

In the space between 18 and 22, we’re often asked, quite broadly, what we’d like to do with our lives. It’s a question usually posed from a well-meaning adult, who’s just trying to engage with us and doesn’t know how else to relate. I’ve heard it over and over again: “What’s your major?” followed swiftly with its much more complicated partner, “and what are you going to do with that?”

Your major might be something you’ve always known innately, or a passion that presents itself only after 6 semesters, endless general education courses and $65,000 in tuition. I can’t point anyone towards the elusive best major, because it’s something only you can answer, and it matters a whole lot less than you think it does.

There will be a moment when you know, more strongly than you ever thought possible, something you’d really like to do with your life. The moment when your wispy daydreams harden into solid ambition and you are ready to commit. When that feeling arrives, you’ll marvel at the strange relief of deciding to move forward no matter the consequences. There’s a tension in dreaming, a gnawing insecurity that you may not ever really make your idea happen. The idea glistens in your mind, and there it seems flawless because you’ve never had to test the possibility that it could fail. It’s perfect, a house made of lace and glass – beautiful but breakable at the first sign of trouble.  

During the exhilarating, confusing transformation from adolescent to adult, I’ve sketched up enough glass houses in my mind to build a small city. There seems to be so much time and possibility for it all – training for a marathon, studying abroad, going to law school, moving to a city where I don’t know a soul. I’ll get around to it, I reckon, this weekend. Or this summer. Or in my twenties . . . at some point. And there the houses sit, in neat imaginary rows in my mind, never spoken aloud or even written down in a notebook.

I’m here to tell you how scary it is to begin building the house of glass out in the real world. I’m also here to tell you to do it anyways. Draw up sketches. Buy the materials, strong concrete and steadfast columns that will weather the strongest winds. Hire the architect and find your plot of land. Take a step. 

As I write this at twenty two, my glass houses are still works in progress. They look like going to graduate school, traveling to Ireland, moving out of Ohio, and working for a nonprofit that makes me leap out of bed in the morning. They are smooth, shiny and still untested. They are things I long for, but don’t always feel possible on the average day in my life.

There’s a good chance I don’t know what your glass houses are, because the grandest of them are the ones we’re too frightened to bring up. I can’t pretend to know everything there is to know about following through on dreams, but I can tell you that the way you speak about them, to yourself and to others, matters. A lot.

When you talk about the scary-good blueprints in your mind, make them statements, punctuated with periods and not question marks. Tell others with confidence of the things you’re going to do, how it will feel, and what your vision for yourself entails. Speak your house into existence. We can build them together.

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