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Career guide for new graduates

I was then a young computer programmer and disgruntled with New York City as a “spiritual desert.” So I flew to Europe on an adventure of a lifetime—which I dubbed “eastwind”—drifting through 18 countries and hitchhiking 18,000 kilometers for three long years. I reached the fringes of the Sahara in North Africa, and the icy villages of Sweden. I hiked 80 km for seven days from Lisbon to Fatima as a pilgrim, asking Our Lady to please help me look for myself as I was terribly lost. She granted my prayer. I did “find” myself, but only decades later, abandoning a computer career and shifting to journalism. I also wrote sci-fi Hollywood screenplays, but I could not find a Spielberg or Lucas to review them.

After 20 years, I wrote a book on my travels called “Wings and Wanderlust—The Art of Discovering Your Inner Self.” I wrote from memory, no notes, just pure stream of consciousness a la Dostoyevsky. I wrote the 243-page book in a span of two weeks, hardly sleeping, fearing I would lose momentum. I found myself mixing verses about life with adventure anecdotes. It was not just a travelogue. It began to dawn on me that it was also a philosophy paper on the meaning of life. I asked a classmate at the Ateneo, who had a doctorate in Eastern philosophy, to offer it to his class as complementary reading.

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The comments of his students (which I put on the book’s back cover) awed me. Said one student: “The book serves as an inspiration for people who have lost their way (or, like new graduates, have not found it yet), and are trying to find meaning in their lives.” Another said: “At first, I thought I was doing the author a favor through my review, but found out later he was doing me a favor.” Yet another said: “As I read, I realized that I can renew myself and reinvent myself, that I am full of possibilities.”

I realized then that my book was a kind of career guide for new grads looking for themselves and for a career, as I did decades ago. One verse goes: “The more I did not plan, the better the experience. The more I tried to get lost, the more I discovered. The more I did not care what happened, things happened.”

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In Barcelona, I threw away the tourist map and just drifted through the streets. I later discovered that I saw all the beautiful things by sheer serendipity—Barceloneta, Ramblas, Castell Montjuïc, Sagrada Familia. It was a mind-boggling discovery. Then did I learn that not planning is a form of planning, that chaos is a form of harmony and harmony a form of chaos, that I could see in the darkness if I did not use my eyes, that I could see the light only after I saw the darkness.

My advice to new grads is to DELAY any decisions because these are most probably theoretical. I had an uncle who took dentistry, then nursing, then criminology, then ended up in the US Navy, and worked as a post office clerk when he retired. You have a dream and a vision, but that may not be reality when you get there. You may want to be a doctor to help people and find out later that you can’t stand hospitals. Your idealism is theoretical. You must base your career decisions on experiential wisdom, not the theoretical wisdom you learned in school (with exceptions like on-the-job training and immersions).

The best way to get experiential wisdom is to travel, meet people, immerse yourself in other cultures, or work as a janitor (as I did in Amsterdam) or a construction worker. Then will you realize what you are and who you are and what you want to be. So if your dad says you “should” go to Harvard, don’t refuse. Simply say, “Later, dad. Let me first discover myself, see the world, gain experience not in work, not in another school, but in life.” It is the best graduation gift he can give you, believe me. Wander in Costa del Sol in Spain for three months, the Big Apple for two weeks, the Canary Islands for two months, etc. Travel, not to see places, but to meet people. After six months on the road, I had about 400 addresses of people from all over Europe wanting me to visit them. I met them in hostels, camping grounds, strange places. My itinerary changed from visiting places to visiting people.

If you tell a child not to touch a candle flame, he/she has theoretical wisdom. If he/she does anyway, and feels the heat, he/she has experiential wisdom that will never be forgotten. That is the meaning of learning. Our schools are full of theories and illusions. You must take flight and see the world before it is too late and you are too old. If you have no money, work to get your wings.

One verse in my book goes: “If you look for yourself, you see total darkness. If look for the other, you see blinding light. Love is the essence of all being. Discover yourself by discovering the other. You are a mirror of the other, and the other a mirror of you.”

Realize that if you look inward, you cannot see yourself. If you look outward, you see yourself and the entire universe. Move from selfish to selfless. Gain experiential wisdom. Be brave. Take risks. No guts, no glory.

Bernie V. Lopez ([email protected]) has been writing political commentary for the last 20 years. He is also a radio-TV broadcaster, a documentary producer-director, and a former professor at Ateneo de Manila University. His book is available at the Ateneo philosophy department.

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