No doubt, your head is about to explode from all of the advice you’re getting upon your commencement. Whether it’s high school or college, you’re entering a new world. Today, I’d like to offer you advice that you won’t hear in those commencement speeches. It might not be popular or even what you want to hear, but these things are some of the best, most relevant things I’ve discovered about life in the “grown up” world, plus a few reminders from what I learned in school, but was lost in the chaos of worldly voices until I rediscovered it:
- You aren’t ready for this. You have the foundation of your education, and now the construction of your life is in your hands. Unfortunately, there’s no manual to this because no two roads are alike. No matter how well prepared you are, there’s no way to prepare for every eventuality, because reality is unpredictable. There will always be surprises because the nature of the universe is chaos. A simple fact of existence is that the Lord doesn’t let us see what lies ahead, because most of us would say “no thank you” if we realized how much work and struggle were between us and our goals. But you know what? That’s life and it’s ok, because we learn from every experience. Gain wisdom from every experience, admit when you’re wrong and commit yourself to improving, and you’ll find those surprises easier to manage. And don’t be afraid, because none of us really know what we’re doing! Remember, the goal is to do your best and to keep learning. If you stay committed to that, you’ll be alright.
- Be careful who you befriend. My first boss out of college gave me the invaluable advice to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut until I got the lay of the land. Boy, am I glad I did. If you think you’re leaving the popularity contests and cliques behind, you’re wrong. I’m sorry if I’m the first person to tell you this, but people don’t evolve much from the playground to the board room. Not only that, but it can get more complicated when you have to deal with bullies that have “connections” with powerful people, and aren’t afraid to let you know it. The good news is that school did teach you how to deal with this. Be mature and use your brain, because what you know eventually matters more than who you know. And that counts for who you ally yourself with as well. Be sure your friends truly are aligned with your interests and values. Or better yet, just be a decent human being who respects others. It’s weird, yes, but it’s also hard to find fault with.
- Most of life is boring. I know your life has been a whirlwind of celebration, and I encourage you enjoy your achievements. I also encourage you to enjoy the process of getting yourself established in the world (responsibly, of course), because it can be fun to have freedom and find yourself and where you fit into the world without people telling you how it has to be. Everything is new and a process of discovery, so enjoy it before it becomes the routine of daily life and you wonder where the magic went. Sure, there will be friends graduating, new jobs, weddings, and babies to celebrate, but eventually life settles into a rut where things move so slowly that they seem not to be moving at all. In fact, most of adult life is getting up, going to work, coming home, taking care of family/chores/errands, maybe watch a little TV, go to bed, and repeat the next day, with the occasional break of weekends and holidays. You no doubt saw some of this during your school days, but they were usually broken up in ways that don’t happen in adulthood. There are no summers off, Christmas or Spring breaks, proms, graduations, senior trips, or parties in day to day life, but that’s not bad, because you couldn’t keep up that pace anyway. It would exhaust you to be in the spotlight all the time, and you’d yearn for a rut. And then there’s the inevitable flip side of that with the tragedies of life: deaths, illness or injury, financial problems, job stress, home and car breakdowns, divorce, arguments and fights. Believe me, the ruts can be a blessing. Sure, there are days when it can be wearisome, but overall you should be mindful for the lessons of day to day life, and what you can learn and accomplish through it, even if it’s a simple appreciation for today.
But that’s not all! I’d like to close with four more reminders that will help you get along in your adult life and will make things easier. I’m sure you’ve heard this, but it’s worth repeating that:
- Relationships are the most important thing in life. We were created to live in community with one another. Too often, this is forgotten and people are treated as tools to greater goals, but the truth is that good relationships are the greatest goals to attain. You never know who may come back into your life later, so don’t burn bridges on the way to the top. Remember that you can’t get there alone, and be willing to help and support others as they help and support you.
- You reap what you sow. I’m not just talking about don’t be a jerk. What you get out of things depends on what you put into them, so if you do the bare minimum, then that’s what you’ll get back. If you want more, you have to learn more, do more, and work more. It takes time, but it’s a universal concept that make no exceptions. I’ve seen this one come around too many times in too many ways. Do yourself a favor and don’t test it, because those lessons hurt like hell. Just believe it and act it in the best way possible.
- Changing the world is an inside job. (A positive attitude will create a better life.) No, life isn’t unicorns and rainbows, but we have a choice on how we think and act, and too often we’re creating self-fulfilling prophesies that we don’t mean to create with a wrong thought, attitude, or action. The world is addicted to fault finding, which is why it’s so miserable. You have the power to break that cycle by choosing to focus on the good and on what you want, instead of what you don’t want or what pisses you off. Act, don’t react, and do it with good intentions and purity of heart. That’s frequently the difference between success and failure.
- Your actions prove your priorities, so be sure your life reflects what you say is important. The best advice I ever got was from a therapist who told me “people lie with their words, and live truth through their actions.” That’s advice a lot of people wish I’d never gotten for a good reason – too often, people say one thing and do another. Be sure your actions reflect what you say is important. And if in doubt, watch to see if others are living their words, too. This is a subtle thing that’s a huge character clue that will serve you well.
No, it’s not your average commencement speech, but this is real stuff for the real world. Now go forth, and conquer.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great week.