Suzan-Lori Parks’s Common Hour Provides Insight into Discovering Yourself

By Stefan Radevic || Contributing Writer

One would think it is difficult to captivate the attention of several hundred college students sitting in an auditorium, either bored out of their minds or worrying about whether or not they’re going to get out of Common Hour in time to get to their next class. But it is difficult to not pay attention when explosive noises, which are used to symbolize moving forward in time, are coming from the mouth of novelist, screenwriter, and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. And how could they not listen, when Parks gave the audience one million suggestions on how to become a better person and lead a happy, successful life? This inspirational seminar, entitled “Repairing the World through Acts of Creation and Art,” transcended all the noise and chatter thrown our way about what we should study, what field we should go into, and what job we should to get in order to make money and be “happy.” The advice Parks gave, if heeded and done right, could lead to attaining what we all seek: health, wealth, love and happiness.

“Don’t spend a lot of energy climbing the ladder of success just to get to the top and find out that you propped your ladder on the wrong wall,” Parks said.

This particularly resonated with me. We emulate people we consider to be great and very quickly associate them as having some X factor that is responsible for their success. What we often forget to consider, however, is that these people became successful because they pursued a dream that was unique to them and their personality, no matter how crazy other people told them it was. They propped their ladder on the right wall and climbed to the top.

What if Michael Jordan had said, “I really love basketball, but my parents are telling me to major in this so I can get that job, have job security, get pay checks, and retire in peace?” Wouldn’t the world be a different place if that had happened? If you look at every person that has been or will be successful, they all pursued that one thing they loved, they followed that small voice in their gut, as Parks explained it, and allocated everything they had towards that passion.

Not only did they listen to their gut, they pursued their passion without fear of failure. Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. He missed more than 9,000 shots in his career in the NBA, including 26 game-winning shots. The amount of failure he experienced is something that is almost incomprehensible. But his passion for the game, for following his dream and sticking to it, made him the legend he is today.

Too many times we think about what we can do to get a job and a paycheck as opposed to analyzing our interests and skill sets. Steve Harvey said that “the two most important days in a person’s life are the day they’re born and the day they find out why.” The difference between successful people and what we deem “unsuccessful” people is that the successful ones were able to find their “why.”

To illustrate her points, Parks discussed her struggles in English classes throughout high school. Even though she loved to write stories throughout her childhood and adolescent years, she mentioned failing almost every school spelling test. When she went to her college advisor and told her she wanted to become an English major, the advisor didn’t know whether to laugh or be concerned that this was what Parks actually wanted to do. In college, Parks took chemistry classes, and even though she was fairly talented in the sciences, she never felt the same spark as she did when studying English. So she decided to follow that little voice in her head and began taking writing courses. Once she did, she found that she had finally discovered her “why,” and came to the conclusion that this was what she wanted to dedicate her life to. Parks’ love for writing and playwriting, along with an immense amount of work and failure, eventually earned her the Pulitzer Prize.

So don’t just listen to me—listen to Parks. Work to find out who you really are and what your passion is. Once you find that and find your spark, live by Parks’ favorite quote: “this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” People may talk, haters may hate, but you keep listening to that little voice.

Junior Stefan Radevic is a contributing writer. His email is sradevic@fandm.edu.

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