Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

YOUR LIFE begins on a set course, and since you're reading the Portland Mercury (which, great job, by the way), I'm going to assume it went something like this: You went to preschool and then you went to kindergarten. After kindergarten you went to grade school, and then it was middle school, or junior high (it's a mystery why such a dismal place gets two names—it's like if Tigard was also called New White-Dude-in-a-Dropped-Mitsubishi-Ville—also sorry for making fun of Tigard while having grown up in Beaverton). After middle junior high school you went to high school, and you did all of these things because you're legally required to do all of these things. Where the law stops, however, a more powerful force takes over your life. The force of "because it's next."

There are three kinds of people who go to college: people who go because it's next, weirdos who have a favorite and second favorite Ayn Rand book and have their shit together coming out of high school, and moms. I went to college because it was next. I'm sure most of you went because it was next. I've already written about college, but let me say again: As children (BTW, 18-YEAR-OLDS ARE FUCKING CHILDREN. SOMETIMES I GET BOOKED TO PERFORM AT COLLEGES AND THE PEOPLE GOING TO THAT COLLEGE ARE CHILDREN. I'LL FIGHT YOU ON THIS), we're tasked with making decisions about the rest of our lives, and we have to do so with all the momentum of pre-destiny and almost no encouragement of agency. You're allowed to pick what to do next, but only in the context of higher education.

"Because it's next" is comforting, because it means you get to walk a well-worn path, rather than wander into the wilderness. "Because it's next" is comforting, because it means your failure is a communal failure. You didn't squander your time in college... naw, you flailed in a broken system. And yes, by the way, the system is broken. It IS fucked up that we send children off with nothing more than the vague instruction to assume a stance in a paper and the ponderous damnation to acquire thousands of dollars in debt—all because it's easier than breaking out of "because it's next."

This isn't confined to college. Dates turn into relationships into marriages into divorces, because it's next. Internships turn into jobs into careers into burdens, because it's next—because you put a TV on your credit card.

One day I decided not to do what was next, and I PROMISE I'm not just blowing myself rightchere, but my life has been WAY! MORE! DOPER! since then. I almost went to law school! The Fucking Seventh Circle of Because It's Next. I would have been a lawyer! There are so many lawyers already, and I would have been so bad at it. Imagine me as your lawyer! Showing up to court late, covered in marinara sauce, quoting Young Jeezy in your defense. College is great, marriage is beautiful... but do that shit because you really want to do that shit. Own your future and all the regret and spoils that go along with it. The wilderness is scary, but it's beautiful out here.