There comes a time in every young person’s life when she (or he) is asked: “Are you sure you want that on the Internet?”
And: “Don’t you know your employers can see that?”
And: “Of course it’s obvious. You’re holding a Solo cup.”
And: “You should at least crop out that kid grabbing your —”
And, finally: “I wouldn’t write about that if I were you.”
When did we all become a bunch of wusses?
Look: I’m afraid, OK? I’m afraid, and not just of unemployment; I’m afraid of employment, too. I’m afraid of becoming a preprofessional twit.
Because it’s like a virus: One day you’re a normal, well-adjusted human being, and the next day you’re cleansing your Google results like lice from the head of a feral child. Sure, increase your privacy settings. Untag that photo of you breaking into a graduate student’s apartment. And you’re probably right: I should definitely remove the lyrics to Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” from my Gchat status. Those are all reasonable precautions to take. After all, everyone pretends to be a little more respectable than they actually are. But untagging every single photo of yourself holding a plastic cup? Refusing to leave even a trace of yourself unbleached, save a meager, pictureless LinkedIn profile?
Does being an adult mean anesthetizing your digital trail — the manifestation of your wonderful, fascinating person in cyberspace — into oblivion? And would you do the same to your very self, if it came to it?
And, more importantly, since when were we all terrified of posterity?
From what I’ve learned, posterity is tops. For the very low cost of basically nothing, you too can achieve virtual immortality. I don’t know about you, but when I die, I’ll be happy to know that I’ll live on forever in the cobwebs of the Yale Daily News’ archives.
And yet, despite my consolations, you are still afraid. You are still afraid because BCG might see that you once published an op-ed blog about sleeping naked, and they’ll be mortified. You’re afraid because you’re not sure Merrill-Lynch is going to want an i-banker who enjoys tailgating more than Ivy League football. You’re afraid because you think that who you are, deep down inside, is not the One for Morgan Stanley.
Let me tell you, honey, you don’t want a relationship like that.
If your employer is not going to be cool with how awesome you were in college, they’re probably not going to be cool with any continued awesomeness in the workplace. I’m not saying you should expect to show up to the office 15 minutes late wearing leggings-as-pants every day — alas, those times are soon to be over — but do you really want 40 hours a week dominated by someone who can’t take a joke? Or worse, a stand? If you’re ready to trade in your leggings for a uniform, more power to you — but I don’t think you should have to.
I know diminishingly little, but I still know this: that nobody ever got anywhere by being timid, or by not trying. We all make mistakes, and we all change our minds; it’s having a mind to change that’s crucial.
And, contrary to what you might think, the thinking mind is not born: It is made. Now is the time to acquire that mind; now is the time to explore — to explore our thoughts, our world, our tastes, our hearts. Nor should we be afraid of documenting that journey. Memories are made only partially in the living; to last, they require recollection also. Likewise, the mind is only made when used and applied to the act of creation. We come to know ourselves, and be known, both in the act of doing, and in the hazarding of something left behind.
The things most worthwhile — the things that make us laugh, or cry or see ourselves and the world differently forever — were not constructed according to some time-worn blueprint. They were risked into the world. They were stakes, planted by individuals who wanted to make something resonant, productive, true or beautiful. They are expressions, not diminished by the consumptive opinions of a multitude, but strengthened by the conviction of a few.
And I would rather hold my convictions in my hand — that I like to sleep naked, even, and eat candy in bed — than to toss them away for a paltry fear.
Michelle Taylor is a senior in Davenport College. Her column runs on Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .