I’m not going to do that, because my purpose is different: I’m talking to you new graduates from 21 years in the future, and I can tell you something: your learning isn’t over; it’s just shifted to a different realm. Welcome to the school of hard knocks. Instead of advice, I’m going to give you three things that you really need: a realistic assessment of life, a choice, and a prayer. Buckle in, because this is what you don’t want to hear right now – and probably need to hear most of all.
The assessment: Life is going to kick you in the a**. That’s a fact for every human being on Earth. The nature of the universe is chaos, and it will show itself through people and circumstances frequently. It isn’t personal, and it isn’t karma of any kind (although it does seem that way when the knocks keep coming – hard – and you’d do anything to make them stop). It’s such a fact of life that it’s even in The Bible: “the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) I’m not trying to discourage you. Rather, I’m trying to prepare you for the inevitable. You can do your best, but sometimes things fall apart. Life is unpredictable. Your best preparation and planning go up in flames. Some things can’t be fixed. You just learn to live with them. And herein lies the next part:
A choice: When life kicks you, you can get bitter, or you can get better. In the 21 years since I graduated college, I’ve seen people rise from the ashes and recover from things that were considered irreparable, because they chose the “better” path. I’ve also seen people throw away great careers, homes, marriages, families, and friendships because they chose the “bitter” path. It’s amazing how this simple choice can define not just your perspective, but your entire life. People have told you that your choices will define your success, and the choices you make when you’re down are the best determinates of that. Do you choose to give thanks for what you have left, and gain wisdom from your experiences to build on what’s left to create a better future? Or do you focus on being a victim or revenge, looking to others to set things right, or to “balance the scales.” As you go through life, your definition of success will change, and that definition is largely based on which path you choose: better or bitter. If you aren’t flexible enough to mature and realize the reality of your expectations, then you’re doomed to that bitter path. Sometimes success isn’t about getting the big paycheck and the corner office. Sometimes it’s about washing your coffee mug and lunch dishes in the office kitchen at 4:55 on a Friday afternoon and saying “thank you Lord for bringing me to the end of a crazy week!” Life is better when you choose better, because success isn’t about circumstances: it’s about pursuing what brings you authentic balance, contentment, and joy. That isn’t always in the paycheck and job title! Your life isn’t just your job; it’s a combination of every role you have in life. Are you focused on being at the top, or at having all things in alignment with your full life priorities?
A prayer. The sermon at church this week was on the power of prayer, especially when we pray for other people. I realize this is not the news anybody wants to hear, especially if you’re just starting out on your own; however, I feel it’s important to know these things sooner rather than later so you’re better equipped to deal with them. And you’ve probably already had some experience with life’s hard knocks anyway. In fact, you probably wouldn’t be where you are if you hadn’t stood up to resistance, frustration, and failure. So in closing, I’d like to offer a prayer. This prayer isn’t just for graduates, though. It’s for every human being on the planet, because we all have our challenges, and we all need the power of this prayer to live our best life in this world. In truth, I didn’t come up with this prayer. I got it from, of all people, Stephen King in The Stand. It’s short, it’s simple, it’s easy to remember and call upon anytime you need it, and it’s authentically meant for each and every one of you:
Help us to be true, Lord. Help us to stand.
You know the strength of your faith. You know yourself. You know what’s right. If you really want to conquer this world, then the things you need the most are faith, dedication to wisdom, discernment, and the strength to stand firm against any person or circumstance that tries to knock you down. I pray for that faith, wisdom, discernment, and strength to come to you (and me!). The Lord will help you to stand and make you better, if that’s your true heart’s intention. I believe that it is.