David Foster Wallace Tells TCKs to Chill

Coping with a major identity crisis, having a constant feeling of restlessness, feeling like you’re never going to feel at home.. these are only a couple of issues that plague TCKs.

I know that I struggled to “identify” myself.

I was Korean. Then I was American. Then I was Chinese. Then I was a Korean expat. Then I was an American expat. Then I was a half-donkey, half-bunny alien that struck Earth due to a freak meteorite that hit my spaceship.

The point is, I struggled because I really sought to finalize my identity. I was sick of shifting and redefining, readjusting to new groups and new standards. I wanted to reach the final version of myself ASAP.

Most kids might feel this way. But I’m guessing no one really feels the urgency to resolve this internal conflict more than TCKs. All I wanted to do was to be able to tell my story in one sentence, not a series of buts, ums, and wells.

I’ve, of course, either really learned to embrace my fluid identity.. or maybe I just grew tired and stopped caring. Either way, I don’t obsess about it as much as I used to. I no longer let my lack of a concrete identity define my worth.

This leads me to David Foster Wallace. Random, I know. But stick with me.

An incredibly famous and successful author, Wallace delivered the commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. This now very famous speech later became a book titled This Is Water. To read the full commencement speech, you can read it here.

Overall, this is a powerful message to be sending to newly minted graduates. It’s practically optimistic, cautionary in regards to common pitfalls in life, and provides a unique and refreshing framework to addressing adult life and not the overused cliches of “Don’t settle” and “Follow your dreams!”

However, the part that really struck with the TCK in me is this passage:

…pretty much anything…you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough…Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you..Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious.

How powerful is that to have someone lay out the truth that everybody secretly knows? How powerful is it to be freed from irrelevant constructs we erect in our minds over time that actually chip away our souls instead of feeding it?

The truth is, the more my identity got blurred, the more I desperately worshiped it and its value. I used it as a standard to judge myself and my worth. I let it kill me and I didn’t even know it was happening.

As Wallace goes on to say,

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

Freedom from our unconscious worship can only be freed from actively confronting the truth. The truth about what’s worth real value and how we’re choosing to evaluate ourselves. When you drill into the essence of the ideas you worship, you find a cloud of smokes hiding emptiness and meaninglessness. And when we uncover the facade, we can finally let go.


Leave a Reply