A message to graduates

graduateThere’s a lot of noise out there.

No doubt you’ve heard it by now. The advice. The questions. The expectations. The clichés about graduating, moving on, transitions, working hard, the value of education, perseverance, wearing sunscreen. . .

So tell me, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? What do you mean, you’re not sure? Shouldn’t you know by now? I mean, how much time do you need?

Oh, you have it all under control? Great. Did you know that most of you are going to have at least fourteen jobs–many of which don’t currently exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet, to solve problems that we can’t even conceive of today–before you turn thirty-four? Please, tell me more about how you have this all figured out.

Don’t get me wrong. Aspirations are good. Plans are good. A direction is good. Not sure what you want to be when you grow up yet? That’s just fine too. Because the fact of the matter is that according to Daniel Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” humans are notoriously terrible at predicting what will make their future selves happy anyway.

Want proof? Write your future self a letter detailing your current expectations for the next four or five years—your investments of time, money and energy—all the things you will do so that your future self is happy. Don’t open it for ten years. Try not to think, “Oh, how cute,” when you read it. Cut this column out and put it in the envelope for good measure. Hello future self. Hate to say I told you so.

Okay, back to the present. What to do then? Step into the unknown and don’t be afraid to fail.

There is an old story about the Knights of the Round Table in which they set out on a quest to find the Holy Grail. It was a serious undertaking, but when they set out, instead of taking well-worn roads or trails, each knight began his quest by entering into the forest at the place where it was thickest. Why? Each knew that if he were to follow an established path, it was someone else’s path–following it would never lead him to his ultimate goal.

It’s a good lesson. So, dear graduate, create your own path. Enter the forest at the darkest point. Blaze a fresh trail into the great unknown. For if you find and follow a path, it may seem like easier going for awhile, but in the end it will always be someone else’s path, and you will never reach your full potential.

And as far as failure goes, mythology teaches us time and again that where we stumble is where our greatest treasures are hidden. In “The Arabian Nights,” for example, there is a story of a man plowing a field when his plow gets stuck. He digs down to see what it’s caught on and discovers a ring. After more digging he finds the ring attached to a door . . . which opens to an underground cave loaded with jewels.

So go forth into your wilderness; stumble into the darkness of your unknown with faith and courage. You will find your way.

On stumbling, Joseph Campbell writes, “If you bring love to that moment—not discouragement—you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege!

“Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.”

Life. It’s a ride. It’s a journey. It’s a privilege. And it’s noisy. Now, more than ever, we need you to be true to yourself. Be who you are. Don’t be bullied or frightened into holding back your true self. You have brilliance within you. Only you can bring your unique light into the world. And you must.

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