This should come as a surprise to you, may it be welcome or shocking. I am your future self, around ten years your elder.
I am writing this letter to give you advice. You will be graduating pretty soon, and I know (of course I know) that by this time you haven't made up your mind (let's be honest: you haven't the faintest clue) not only on what you will be doing next but also on what kind of life you aspire to live or what kind of person you wish to be. It is my hope that you get this in time.
Note that you do not need to be exactly the way I am or be where I am right now; I'd most probably discourage you ending up like me at this age. I am only like this or here because of the choices I have made--choices, to be sure, that you haven't decided upon or haven't even thought you'd have to make. Now that's confusing. What I want to say to you or myself now is that you are still free, and that what I am right now you really don't have to be. That's the way it goes, really: That things happened one way and not the other usually have no deeper cause or grander meaning other than because that's the way you wanted it or it was the path you were already taking, even if unconsciously, with the basic choices you have made.
Take this as unsolicited advice from someone who, while he does not pretend being any better or being more experienced than most, is sensitive to reading lives and stories, is now keen in seeing the implications of our actions, and is, perhaps more importantly, someone who cares about you--especially now that you might be headed for stormy seas and dangerous places where you will meet men and women who will use you or hurt you, or where you might meet your self for the first time and not like what you see. Take this with a grain of salt and just bring home what may be useful, disregard the rest which you do not understand or see unimportant for there will also be a time for these things. I do not mean to burst your bubble now that you are still young and full of hope; and I wish that you do not see me as this grey or world-weary man pretending to be wise because I am not. If nothing else, I hope this letter either excites or worries you about your near future. Knowing you, you will not really listen to me and take my advice seriously however much you take pride in other people seeking yours. Let it just be said that I tried to warn you, my dear.
1. Do what makes you happy. Through some misfortune or good luck, you are someone who really has a choice when it comes to the kind of profession or career to pursue. Do not take this freedom lightly: as you will find out it is more difficult to be free than otherwise, because it's suddenly all up to you, and there's no external hindrance or force that keeps you from or forces you to a certain choice. Thus the question in your mind now is What do I do? You have some talents in different fields, some better in others but generally good enough to choose any which one, and this again may present itself as a problem because it widens your possibilities. So if there are multiple and relatively equal choices, how must you choose and what should the basis for your choice be?
Now this is where your philosophy comes in handy. As it has slowly dawned on you, your best bet is to do what you think makes you happiest. Yes, I know, it's overstated and somewhat (no, truly) romantic; but it holds for me even today. It's a principle that has silently guided your decisions when you listened to it sincerely, and it's a principle that has generally worked for me when I took time to really sort things out.
Aristotle (you'll meet him next semester in your ethics class) said that the telos or the purpose of all our actions is eudaimonia or happiness. Though you have not really read the Greek philosopher, you know in your heart that he is correct and that to be happy (or as you say it then "really happy") is what you truly want to become. Not that you are unhappy, right? Actually you cannot ask for anything more with all the comforts, riches and love you have been given. But, alas, the flip-side of these gifts is that you will--because you can--seek for higher things, like those of the spirit and of the mind. Because you can "afford" it, you seek for happiness alone without passing through means that will make you unhappy. Which brings me to my real point. Make sure you choose what will make your own mind and spirit happy.
That day will come, I assure you, when you all of a sudden take stock in that terrible moment of doubt, and you soon discover that you really have nothing except your vanishing happiness because you really did not care for anything else. When you're running low on happiness, or running on empty so to speak, do not doubt your decision to follow your heart. The race is long and riches vanish faster than love or happiness. Happiness should be more than enough. As Aristotle will also say, you will find out that if you are happy with what you do, you will excel, be successful and, who knows, you might also be rich doing it. But don't count on the last just yet. I'll keep you posted on that.
2. Read more, go out less. In your college years you have enjoyed the gay company of old and new friends, your reliable family, and your beloveds. That is understandable if not normal. And you think you are entitled to all the smiles of the earth and the spirits of the night because you are young and free and under a bright sun, thinking that in the next few years you will sober up, "pull your self together" and be the serious professional you assure yourself you will be.
I'm sorry, but that might not happen due to your tendencies, habits, company, and just because you enjoy it. Hence: more drinking bouts (you will learn to drink alone and often do so) and hang overs, more vices and addictions, or in sum you will enjoy spending most of your nights and money outside and nursing morning headaches more often than not. You will abuse your self and your body and think that you're invincible to sickness and deterioration.
I will tell you now that if you continue at this rate, you will notice by this age that, while really not that alarming, you will be visiting the hospital more often (from almost never to once a year and then twice a year) and start going through weird tests (the kind where they attach multicolored wires on different parts of your body) that you only saw on television but never imagined your self going through. While this will amuse you in the beginning (you like being the patient because it's the only time you can be helpless), and while the tests will turn out great (it's amazing how your heart and lungs will be clean after all those cigarettes), this will plant a seed of doubt in your mind--and sometimes that is all it takes for a thinker, or a reflective person, that is, to question himself and the life he is leading. So have I.
It's going to be scary at times, even though you have in secret adapted the teachings of the Stoics, and even if you will go through much more painful experiences that will no longer be of the body but of the mind. (I think God is fair: either you'll be sick in the head or in some part of your body). It's going to be painful, really, because the day will come--soon for my self, I think--when you have to give up the bachelor life for quiet evenings. You will realize, albeit painfully again, that you do not need all those artificial means to elevate your moods. Or we will realize.
Though I am just beginning, which means I cannot as yet speak with authority on this matter, I am enjoying more nights being alone in my room, fending off the temptation of going to the watering hole I've come to love. I'll read as long as I can, watch a film perhaps, and then try to sleep as soon I feel I already could (yes, sleeping will be a problem for your anxious heart). Part of this is due to health, partly because you realize your excesses, and partly because you will appreciate those blessed mornings when you feel like a god and your mind like a sharp knife; when you're free from those dull headaches and dehydration and huger episodes that always bog you down in the morning, and may also make you sullen. Though you will take pride in being able to perform your work in spite of these excesses, you will realize how much better you will be in what you do--no, it's really not a question of being better but being able to work more hours, being able to stay longer. But really, there is huge difference when you try to live healthier. I've only started jogging and exercising a couple of years ago; and I feel a lot better, have lost a lot of weight, and they say I look younger. And with more time for reading and reflecting at night, you should be smarter, too--even a lot smarter than me.
. . .