Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Becoming Fierce Blog Tour: GUEST POST: Gerard Collins, author of "The Long Last Year"

It's a pleasure to take part in the Becoming Fierce blog tour. Becoming Fierce is a creative non-fiction anthology of teen stories. Think of coming-of-age experiences dealing with peer pressure, finding one's place in the world, bullies, relationships, dealing and escaping from harsh circumstances, and more. This generation's Chicken Soup for the Soul. 

All the stories dealt with meaningful struggles, but I felt a special connection with Gerard Collins' youthful self in "The Long Last Year," in which he is trapped in poverty and tense family dynamics. The year after high school, Gerard watches his friends go off to colleges and other pursuits while he stays in the city, unsure of what he wants to do with his life. 

"The Long Last Year" captures the transition period in which young adults have to make tough decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Gerard can't afford to go to college. But as the year progresses, he finds that he can't afford to stay undecided forever. 

 An authorly photo of Gerard Collins (that I found on his Facebook author page, heehee

Below is Collins' insightful guest post about choosing between happiness and financial stability. This was something I struggled with during my senior year of high school, and is also something that I'm still grappling with. 

What now?
The last year of high school can be exciting. Soon, you’ll move out on your own, make new friends, and start a new life. There’ll be no one to boss you around, but neither will there be someone to cook your meals, clean your house or pay for your clothes. You can do whatever you want.
Everything seems bigger and more important in that year. Your grades will decide if you can get into a good college and/or get a job. This last year will instigate your own sense of who you are and, to a great extent, who you are going to be.
Not only is school more serious, you’re also expected to make solid plans and hard choices.
Most of us have heard that cruel question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I first heard it, I was in elementary school, and my eyes nearly crossed with confusion.  I was already a good reader, a good speller, an excellent petter of dogs, and winner of many games of hide-and-seek. What more did I need to aspire to be?
When the day comes — first day of graduating year — it starts waving and shouting at you like some pushy monster: “Haven’t you decided yet? Tick-tock, buddy! Who’re you gonna be? What do you want to do ... FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?”
*cricket cricket*
*blink blink*
Personally, all I ever wanted to do was not work for a living, to not have to work a nine-to-five job that amounted to servitude and a wasted life. Without knowing it, I wanted to be a writer — which turned out to be a lot of work. But then, so did everything else worth having. Money, for example, is totally worth having. But I wasn’t convinced of that when I was a teenager. I could see all the things I wanted, and none of them cost money.
A car. A girlfriend. An apartment. An education.
Er. Wait a minute.
So, I came to a slow reckoning that money was actually important.
The ticking grew louder.
All those people — my teachers, parents, friends and busybodies at the grocery store — wanted to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I didn’t have a freakin’ clue.
Fact is, I had to do something.
Now that I teach at a university, students often say there are too many choices, and it’s hard to know what to pursue. Teenagers enter business school and pharmacy, one after another, like blind sheep over a low fence, sometimes only to tumble headlong into becoming an arts major, while their parents wring their hands and wail.
It’s the same old thing, really — pursuit of money versus the pursuit of happiness. Of course, making money can bring happiness, of a sort. The confused ones are often the more creatively, less financially, motivated. If you know from the get-go you want to be a doctor, lawyer, oil biz executive or Quickie Mart owner, you’ll find money enough. You just won’t have the nagging guilt that you should be doing something more worthy of your artistic side. You’ll also find a spouse, a piece of land, social acceptance, a car and all those other perks of good, moneyed citizenry that people tend to crave. And you can paint portraits or sing in a choir, in your spare time.
But some of us get fooled into thinking that happiness is based on something more abstract — so intangible that nothing material could ever complete us. This philosophy leads to uncertainty and the romantic notion that it’s better to do nothing than to do something that will destroy your soul.
I believed that if I did what I loved, the money would follow. But even then, I didn’t know what I loved. Still, more often than not, young people know what they would love to do if money didn’t matter, but their parents, teachers, peers and society in general tell them not to choose foolishly.
I think that’s where the confusion happens — when you tell a 17-year-old to choose stability over happiness, you are saying that happiness is secondary, or the by-product of being a good bread-winner and consumer, even though, at the same time, we are telling them “Just be happy.”
It would be nice if every day spent taking classes in business or med school would make us happy. It does happen, but it’s not always the case.
Kids can only choose wisely if they’ve been prepared by enlightened parents who know that happiness doesn’t mean the same for everyone. Money can bring freedom to choose, but how one makes that money is a matter of choice.
Free will is paramount to our ability to be happy, rather than slaves to someone else’s ideology, no matter how well intended.
When you’re standing at the crossroads of the long last year of high school, it would be a little less daunting if someone said to you, “It’s okay to be unsure. Find your passion, but get on with your life, first. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Also, maybe someone should say it’s all right to be afraid — sometimes, fear keeps you from making bad choices, but only if you listen to its dire warning.

Thanks for reading! 20% of the proceeds from the sale of Becoming Fierce will go to a youth-oriented charity! Find out more about Becoming Fierce on:

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