Have you seen that comic strip that's been pinging about the internets, claiming eyeballs and hearts left and right, getting shared with all of us yearning twentysomethings? It's an illustration by Gavin Aung Than of a bit of a graduation speech Bill Watterson gave at his alma mater, Kenyon College.
"Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement," it says, over Watterson-style illustrations of a cartoonist who, like Watterson, leaves a crappy ad-agency job to do more fulfilling art full-time. "In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success."
It's not new—the speech was given in 1990, and the comic was posted to Than's website in late August. But if you, like many of us, spend your days striving under fluorescent lights and trying to figure out if it's worth it, and you haven't already seen this comic all over Facebook or whatever, there's a good chance it will be rather meaningful to you, especially if you grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes. Really, check it out.
Think Progress has pointed out the subtle feminism in Than's illustrations, a look at what "having it all" means for men. The comic is sweet and it does make one stop and think. But Watterson's speech itself (full text here) also contains some deep desperation, the kind you feel when you don't have the option of giving up your job to pursue your dreams.
"When it seemed I would be writing about 'Midnite Madness Sale-abrations' for the rest of my life," says Watterson in the speech, "a friend used to console me that cream always rises to the top. I used to think, so do people who throw themselves into the sea." The comic is inspirational, but the speech is pretty dark, actually—he basically tells students they should stay in college forever because life sucks and you never have time to do anything good ever again. Then he quit cartooning and became a hermit. So, inspirational, yes. But it's a little more complicated than just "follow your dreamz!"