by John Crutchfield ’94
First of all, congratulations on the Morehead Scholarship. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. By the way, a couple of decades from where you sit, the name of the scholarship will change to the Morehead-Cain. Don’t be alarmed. Chuck and Megan will not only remain at the helm, but will somehow manage not to age. Bizarre, but true.
Anyway, since you’re still young, tender, and impressionable, with “your whole life ahead of you,” etc., I’m hoping I can offer you some advice that, if taken to heart, might spare you much damage to that organ. I’m optimistic, since you strike me as a basically decent kid, respectful of your elders, and not lacking in curiosity, though confused in a number of ways I won’t go into here.
So. Most importantly: don’t worry about the “What Should I Be When I Grow Up?” question. You can’t possibly know all you’d need to know in order to make an informed decision. Plus, it’s not really about information. Nor is it about drawing up lists of pros and cons, weighing the options, calculating opportunity cost, and so forth. It’s about a process of self-discovery through experience; and the chief experience you have ahead of you now is UNC-Chapel Hill, i.e., college. Pay attention to what happens there. What sparks your imagination? What books can you not seem to put down? Which teachers inspire you? What moments, melodies, images, questions, problems, paradoxes do you keep coming back to, even in your sleep? Woe betide the young person who ignores the “still small voice” of these internal promptings, or who undervalues it in favor of what he thinks (or has been told) he “should” value.
Believe it or not, this process has been going on all along, even while you were keeping the bench nice and warm for your teammates on the Watauga High School soccer team in the fall of 1985. And even before that, while you were watching black-and-white re-runs of The Lone Ranger after preschool and thinking how cool it would be to have a Native American friend with mad skills, so you could save each other whenever necessary. Everything you experience either “resonates” or doesn’t, and if you’re willing to listen to these intuitive harmonics, they’ll bring you a little closer to discovering what’s inside you, what you brought into the world with you, and what it’s your responsibility to uncover, to develop, to make available for the good of others.
Which reminds me: The Good of Others is also not something you can easily calculate, á là Jeremy Bentham. No. Maybe you make a zillion bucks and donate half to charities; but if you made your stash exploiting (at whatsoever a remove) the very people those charities purport to help, then . . . well, you get the point. Anyway, you’ll know when what you’re doing is right both for you and, so to speak, for the planet, because you’ll feel it. The creativity will flow, if not the cash. You’ll have a sense of purpose and deep wellbeing, a sense that your life, minuscule though it is in the proverbial Grand Scheme of Things, actually matters, and that you’re not wasting it.
But let’s just say for the sake of argument that you become not a lawyer or a doctor, not a banker or an entrepreneur, nor any of the other professions along the well-travelled road of respectability, but . . . (wait for it) . . . yes: an artist. Okay, let’s say a writer. Well, brace yourself, kid, because in a society that prefers to measure success in terms of wealth, prestige, influence, etc., you may find you don’t cut a very dashing figure. You may find yourself in periods of extreme and painful uncertainty—spiritual, moral, emotional, intellectual, economical—with very little in the way of external validation to hang your dubious hat on. Be not dismayed. Hold firmly to what you know, to your passion, to the thread you’ve caught hold of—that is, your Art—and trust that it will lead you where you need to go. After all, it’s your thread, just as it’s your life. In other words: Keep Working. What the man says about the ratio of inspiration to perspiration is pretty much spot-on. There may be days (there will be) when you’re stuffing envelopes instead of changing the world, but that’s part of the deal. Those tasks too should be undertaken with seriousness, humility, and care. In fact, it’s there above all, where no glory is to be won and no rewards are waiting to fall about your neck (in short: when no one is looking) that you’ll show your true character.
Think of it this way: Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s wrong or worthless. On the contrary, difficulty may be the most important indicator that something is Real. And if, as an artist, you create something Real, then you may actually stand a chance of reaching someone else, of speaking to their full humanity, and of serving them in ways you can’t imagine and may never know.
Well, I guess that’s enough middle-aged guy talk for now. Enjoy this moment! The Morehead-Cain is a serious validation of all you’ve done so far and of who you are as a result; but it’s also, as you’ll soon find out, a call to greater things.
P.S. I almost forgot: you’ll be sorely tempted at some point to grow sideburns. I urge you to resist that temptation.