The Next Right Thing

(Courtesy of Josh Meredith)

Dear Graduates,

In these #UncertainTimes, I’ve been reflecting a lot on other moments in my life when I thought I was certain of my path, but was met with waves of questioning and uncertainty.

I keep going back to a song from one of the last movies I saw before quarantine, Frozen 2. In one of the film’s pivotal moments, Princess Anna finds herself in a position where she has to make an incredibly difficult decision. She sings, “It is all that I can to do the next right thing,” even though she can’t see far ahead enough to know the repercussions of her decision. This sentiment of ‘following your heart’ has always been my guide, especially right now.

I distinctly remember each of my commencements. After kindergarten graduation, I knew exactly where I wanted to live and what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to move to New York City (so badly, I even ran around the house dressed in full Statue of Liberty regalia to prove my love), and I wanted to be a performer. When I graduated high school, I still knew both of these things to be true. And when I finally graduated college, I still knew, and I did it. I moved to New York City and was blessed to have a career as a musical theatre performer for over half a decade.

But one day, I was hit with an inexplicable wave of doubt. I suddenly realized that for whatever reason, the auditions, the grind, and everything that comes along with a career in the theatre were not serving me anymore. Something inside kept saying, “Not this. Not right now.” I needed something else to fulfill me. But what? I tried my best to shut out that small questioning voice because until this point, I had only known one passion.  

Enter Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, stage left. I watched her mother lead this nonprofit team right there in her father’s restaurant where I was bartending as a side gig. Their goals? To make kindness cool, to validate the emotions of young people, and to eliminate the stigma around mental health – all in an effort to create a kinder, braver world with young people. Watching them work throughout the years, I felt another passion brewing deep inside me. Then one day, as if by fate, an opportunity to work with their team fell into my lap, and I decided to finally listen to that small voice inside.

 As soon as I took the job, so many questions clouded my brain. What about all those years spent training and working in the theatre? What will my family and the people back home think? What if you’re not good at this? What if? What if? What if?

I didn’t have the answers to any of those questions, but I decided to lean into the uncertainty because deep down, I knew this felt right. As a young person who deeply struggled with their mental health, I would have benefited from their mission. And now, over a year into this position, I’ve seen firsthand how our work at Born This Way Foundation has helped young people to not only survive, but thrive – even more now in the face of this global pandemic.

I can imagine you also have so many questions right now, especially when so much about the future is unknown and answers are few. But I encourage you to be brave and lean into these questions in your life. Lean into the uncertainty, and truly listen to your heart. “Live the questions now,” says one of my favorite authors, Rainer Maria Rilke, “Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I recently saw a post online musing on how perhaps in 80 years, a teacher may inform a class that we often referred to these as “uncertain times,” and a student may reply, “Does that mean we’re now living in ‘certain times?” I found a lot of comfort in this sentiment. We will always be living in uncertain times, but some things will always be certain. We can always be kind, we can always be brave, and we can always do the next right thing. 

Congratulations, my friends. You’re doing the next right thing right now in the face of incredible uncertainty, and I am so incredibly proud of you. I’m so inspired by the resilience, unity, and confidence of the class of 2020, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

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