‘Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard.’

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” –Kurt Vonnegut

This quote has always been a favorite of mine. Throughout my life, I’ve always had a romanticized view of the world. I’ve been an incredibly positive and happy person, albeit a bit naïve. I’ve always believed that every single thing happened for a reason and that love truly could conquer all.

By all means, I am incredibly fortunate. I have a loving family, supportive friends, a college degree, a full-time job and more blessings than I can count. I am clothed and I am fed and I have a warm bed to sleep in every night. 

But still I’ve become a bit disenchanted with the world. Chalk it up to post-grad depression or a quarter-life crisis, but I’ve had a rough few months. I’ve questioned my past, my future, my religion, my career, my political views, my relationships. I’ve questioned who I am and why I’m here and what kind of difference I can make in the world. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to accomplish in my life and what will make me happy, and I’ve stressed endlessly about how to make those things happen.

I’ve always had big plans for my future – my career, my home, the type of family I want to have. But lately it’s all seemed a bit pointless. I’m already tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree that I earned just so I could get a job that would allow me to pay off that degree. It’s inevitable that I’ll get further into debt with a car and a house and other “necessities.”

Money is the driving factor in this world. We’re all under so much pressure to work hard and earn a certain status with our careers. And for the first time, that makes me angry. I don’t want to be defined by my career or the things it has earned me. I don’t want a big, fancy house and it breaks my heart that people who have more money than they know what to do with don’t use it to help others who can’t even afford a warm meal.

I’ve had a cloud over my head for the past few months that has only grown darker. I have days when I think I can’t get out of bed. I have days when I don’t want to talk to a single person. I have days when my future scares the hell out of me and I don’t want any part of it. I have days when I wonder if I still want to settle down someday with a husband and children and all of the things I always imagined would be in my future.

I’ve struggled with my sense of purpose and what it means to live a meaningful life. My idea of success has changed. More than a fulfilling career and financial security, people are what matter to me. With so much bad in the world, it’s become important to me that I do good. If I can make a positive impact on other people’s lives and dedicate as much time as I’m able to helping others, then I will consider myself successful.

At 21 years old, I am overwhelmed. I’m afraid of my future and anxious about making the right decisions that will get me there. The stress of living up to the world’s expectations is nothing compared to the stress of living up to my own expectations. I’m an over-thinker and a worrier by nature, and at this time in my life – deciding my education and career and where to live and so on – I am overwhelmed.

And in the midst of it all, tragedy has struck more than 3,000 miles away that is being felt and mourned all around the world. It seems like the world becomes a worse place to live in every day, but I might just be becoming more aware of it. 

This terrorist attack, more than all of the others, has hit me hard. Once the horror of it sunk in, all I could think was, See, this is exactly what I mean – this world is a bad place.

Hundreds of innocent people were killed and wounded in Paris. And this is only one very publicized attack; these things are happening every day around the world. We have so much war and terrorism and murder and crime and suffering.

But we also have a whole lot of love.

As I struggled to comprehend the horrors happening in our world last night, I realized I had two options. I could use this new act of terror to reinforce my thinking of, “well, the world sucks anyway, so why bother? What’s the point?”

Or I could look at it as the meaning I’ve been trying to find lately. Yes, there is pain and suffering and evil in our world – but there are even more good, well-meaning people sending prayers and well wishes and a helping hand to those who need it. An entire world has rallied together to fight for the good in the midst of evil. 

I believe in good people and I believe in kindness. I believe in lending a helping hand. I believe in the ability to love even when the world gives us so many reasons to hate.

There’s a lot of bad in the world, but there is so much good. And I’m incredibly fortunate to experience so much of it. 

I don’t know where my future will take me. I have so many decisions to make and so much to figure out, but I know that each step I take will be done with kindness and love and a helping hand to those who need it – including myself. I will take care of myself just as much as I want to take care of others, and I will not continue to put so much pressure on myself that I become overwhelmed and lose the positive, happy person I’ve always been and have struggled to be again.

Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard.”

Love may not conquer all, but it can accomplish a whole lot. Love yourself, love your family, love your neighbors, love those who are suffering, love those who need it. Focusing on all that is wrong in the world will only make me, and has only made me, crazy and overwhelmed. 

But even now, my love for life and for other people isn’t something I’m willing to let go of.

“Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

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