Hello! My name is Benjamin Solak, and I’m a senior in high school. I think I can have a positive effect on the world, and I think waiting until I’m older is a waste of time, so I’m starting now. This blog–The Next Level–focuses on the concepts that motivate me to work harder, work longer, and work better to eternally achieve that basic idea–achieve the next level.

So welcome to The Next Level: I hope you have a lovely time about it, and that you learn something too.  You are whole-heartedly encouraged to leave any thoughts, criticisms, interpretations, support, or expoundings in the comments–united we stand, and divided we fall. So again, welcome–this is The Next Level.


Make Yourself A Promise

Nobody has ever accomplished a darn thing without bravery, and that’s just a fact. Nothing is accomplished by the man who sits in the same seat, eats the same meals, follows the same schedule, and spins the same fables of potential and glory; nothing is done when nothing changes. Now, change is scary, change is tough, and change requires effort; you’ll need to be brave to affect change in the world—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Now, being brave isn’t easy, and it’s okay for things to be not easy, but because it is not easy, you’re gonna need to prepare for it—you’re gonna need to be ready to be brave, ready to affect change in the world. You’re gonna need barracks into which you can dive when being brave begins to overwhelm you, need a foundation upon which you can stand when being brave begins to crumple you.

You’re gonna need to make yourself a promise.

Admittedly, it sounds rather juvenile, but buy into this for me—take a leap of faith, be brave, and buy into this. You need to make yourself a promise that—no matter how difficult things become on your journey, how steep your climb and treacherous your path—you will soldier on. You will be brave, and you will soldier on. You need to promise yourself that you will never—you will never­­—give in to your own weakness, you will never allow your cowardice to overcome your heart, you will never allow your spirit to be broken.

Now, that’s all well and good and fiery, but it is not nearly so abstract. When I tell you to make yourself a promise, I’m not telling you to just say ‘I promise to be brave and blah’, I’m telling you to find that person about whom you care most fervently, that person who is invested in your potential and future the same way you are in theirs—your spouse, your mentor, your own mother—I’m telling you to walk up to the woman who raised you, I’m telling you to look her in the eyes, and I’m telling you to promise her that you’re gonna buy her a new car.

Have you ever seen those videos? The ones in which pro athletes surprise their mother, their aunt, their grandmother, whomever, with a brand new car? It’s an awesome moment, it really is:

Now, you don’t have to promise your mother a new car, but that purchase shows something. It’s a demonstration, a manifestation: a glamorous side-effect of the true, hard-earned result of years of bravery. The new car exemplifies the victory won: the level of monumental success that the athlete has achieved. This new car, this glamorous side-effect? This is the promise you make, unto yourself and unto the people about whom you care so deeply. You promise them this visual, idealized, so-perfect-it’s-almost-tangible image of triumph and glory—a picture so strong, so potent, so vibrant and real and alive, it will withstand every wear and woe that may befall you on the steep climb and treacherous path of bravery.

For myself, and for my goal, it is as simple as an empty auditorium stage, several hundred high-school students’ dark faces peering up from the seats, murmuring to one another in questioning and apprehension as their principal or guidance counselor announces my name and my goal: to help them become better, more effective people. I have it written on a sticky note: ‘High School Auditorium’ and plastered to my bedroom door, so that I can’t leave my room every morning without seeing it, without reciting it to myself before I even set foot in the world. I made myself a promise, to stand on that specific stage at least once, if not a hundred, if not a thousand times; I want to be the man on that stage, so I promised myself that stage—that vibrant image that transcends my sloth, my weakness, my cowardice.

So make yourself a promise: a panacea for your demons, your weaknesses. Synthesize a viable, but glamorous side-effect of your goal and idealize it, cleave to it, hold yourself accountable to it for dear life. The waters of bravery are swift and strong: they will take you where you need to go, but they will also run you through rapids, down falls, and into dams. Your promise is your life vest, that will keep you afloat when you feel you can only sink—hold you up when there is nothing onto which you can hold. Make yourself a promise that you will find it, one day: the tranquil pool at the end of the river, where man can rest, for he has done good in the world.


The Girl In The Picture

She was to them a girl in a picture–an unwavering beacon of light at the end of their wretched tunnel, their reminder of a grass far greener, far more luscious, just over on the other side, their reason for living in a world full of…dying.  She was a girl in a faded, scarred picture–a slice of humanity that could not have possibly been more vibrant and whole.

But to him, she was more than a girl in a picture–blond hair rippling down her shoulders in light waves, the lazy waves that lap at the shore on a foggy morning; cheeks rosy and rounded by the radiant smile that leapt from her lips and fearlessly bounded off the glossy photograph, tugging resiliently at the corners of mouths long drawn in fear, earnestly igniting twinkles in eyes eternally dulled.  Creases ran across her countenance, from the countless times she had been folded over and tucked into his inside pocket–inexplicably, they failed to mar her picturesque cheer; cracks spread like cobwebs from the frayed corners to the beveled center, yet the wrinkles of age could not touch her frozen façade.  A white border circumscribed the photograph–not a moment of precious time had been wasted examining it; her fingers rested lightly under her rounded chin–when he finally tucked the picture away, he could feel them, ever so gently grazing the small of his back.  They were the softest thing he had ever known.

But to him, she was more than a girl in a picture–she was the girl in the picture.  While the other men saw the light at the end of his tunnel, he saw only light, only heavenly brightness, and no tunnel at all; while the others dreamt of a greener grass, he needn’t but inhale, and in the desert dust and gunpowder, the fresh, flowery scent of those blond waves drifted through his nose; where they saw his reason for living, he saw his command, his obligation, his responsibility to live now, to live still, and to live again–to survive, to endure, to claw desperately for every scrap of life he could possibly obtain.  She spoke in a language that every man understood, with kind eyes and coy smile, with a visage like a beating heart–but she whispered to him in a tongue only he knew, with pleading eyes and beseeching smile, an expression of desperation concealed under her mask of certainty.  She yearned, the girl in the picture–she yearned for a world without girls in pictures, without a need to tuck her away, to crease her over and conceal her in that inner pocket, where she could not be harmed, where she could not be taken away from him.  She yearned for him to feel what he had once felt, just as he yearned–oh, he yearned–to somehow show her that feeling again…if only one more time.

He creased her over and tucked her away, straightening his back.  The corners of his mouths pulled resiliently upwards; his eyes flashed with a spark of belief.  He took a step forward, readjusting his grip, inhaling through his nose–there it was:  lilacs and happiness.  The soft fingertips skated over his skin effortlessly, sending chills up his bent and broken spine.