Roaming through the library, I stumbled upon “An Abundance of Katherines,” by John Green and decided to pick it up. It is a fantastic book, one that I really resonated with and within a two days I had finished it.
Colin, the main character, is a child prodigy but he feels like everyone is catching up with him, that he is no longer significant. More than anything else he wants to matter, both in terms of being famous and of being loved. After graduating high school, he has yet to accomplish anything extraordinary that would make him famous, and his girlfriend had just broken up with him. In order to shake him out of his misery, Hassan, his best friend, takes him on a road trip. Ending up in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee, the two get a job interview people with new friend Lindsay about the history of the town. Throughout the course of the summer, like any good coming of age story, the three friends change and grow, overcoming their insecurities to come a little more mature and a bit wiser.
Lindsay is a social chameleon, changing to suit those around here, Hassan is afraid to do much of anything in fear of failing, and Colin is obsessed with fame and matter to others to the point that when he fails at that he becomes physically sick. It is him I relate to most, the child prodigy concerned almost exclusively by living up to his potential and becoming an adult genius. He wants more than anything to invent, discover, or create something, anything,to get him recognition. He wants to be in the history books, otherwise he feels he will have wasted his potential.
While no where near as smart as Colin, who at some point mentions his IQ is around 200, I was always smart as a child. Teachers would tell my parents I was special in the way that is a compliment (not a euphemism), questioning, and heading towards success. By the end of high school especially, I stressed about living up to my potential. The average Disney star, I reasoned, was my age or younger. If they had already achieved fame and significance, why couldn’t I when I, I was sure, was much smarter.
This I think is an issue many my age struggle with. Zuckerberg was in college when he created Facebook, Veronica Roth wrote Divergent when she was twenty-one, and Malala Yousafzai is only sixteen and has already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In comparison, I am old, wasted potential; a failure.
That is of course, a self-defeating attitude; as soon as you decide you are failure you become one. There is a popular meme of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting an award show with “They didn’t have it all figured out when they were twenty either” written over it. Fewer words have been so comforting. Recently I read “Things a Little Bird Told Me,” by Biz Stone. He spent most of his life in debt and was in his thirties before he created Twitter. Success takes hard work, and doesn’t always come at the age of the twenty.
Colin, throughout the novel, learns it is more important to matter to himself than it is to matter to others. Only as he becomes more confident in his abilities and in his future that he starts achieving his goals. He creates a formula that calculates the length of his relationships with each Katherine based on a number of variables, he moves on from his last break-up, and he falls in love with Lindsay. Instead of trying to prove he is a genius, he tries to become a better person.
That is an important lesson for all of us to learn: panicking about being successful young prevents being successful young or at all. Work towards your goals, but also accept the ambiguity of being in your teens or early twenties. You don’t have to to have everything figured out, and trust yourself enough to know you will eventually get where you are supposed to be.