Today, you are receiving a diploma, degree, license, or certificate that represents not only your accomplishments, but also a part of your life that has forever impacted the person you are. Soon, you will be going on to the next step in your education, career, or service, and that will forever impact the person you will become. In a lifetime of turning points, today will always be one of the easiest to look back on and say, “and then my life changed”.
The things I want to say to you are only based on the dubious qualifications of having been where you are now, and having the benefit of being able to look back, rather than ahead, on what followed for me. Ultimately, you will blaze your own path, but as you do, I hope you will consider just a few pieces of advice:
Be careful in your reinvention.
You might be thinking that a new stage of your life is the perfect time to become a new person. I’m certainly not going to tell you that you’re wrong. However, don’t be in a rush to change your style, your interests, or your personality. Here’s a secret: the person you are today is going to change whether or not you set out to make it happen. So take your time in trying new things and in letting go of old ones. Be equally willing to expand your horizons and to decide that you’re ok with what you already have.
Don’t buy into the idea that pain and poor decisions are the only way to be interesting. You will get hurt. You will make mistakes. Then, you will find the strength to work through them and become stronger. Life will give you those experiences; you don’t need to seek them out.
Make sure the person you’re becoming is a person you’re going to like.
Protect your circle.
Look at the people who surround you right now, and understand that not everyone is going to be a part of your life forever. Some people are ok to let go. Some people you need to let go. Others will come along to take their place. But the best people, the ones who shine the brightest, are the ones you should fight to keep, even through the challenges of time and distance and changes. If you aren’t careful, they will slip away while you aren’t paying attention, and it might be too late to get them back.
Some of the new people you’re about to meet are going to be worth letting into your heart. Others will never appreciate or deserve all the wonderful things you have to offer. Move slowly until you know which one you’re dealing with. The people you love most today spent a long time showing you that they are worthy of your trust and affection. There’s nothing wrong with expecting your new acquaintances to do the same.
Remember that there are two sides to growing up.
You are about to face an explosion of new choices and new freedoms. Maybe you’re going to live away from your parents for the very first time. Maybe you’re going to discover that there are classes where no one takes attendance. Maybe your new job will have the kind of paycheck you’ve only dreamed about. Where you go, what you do, who you see, how late you stay out and how late you stay up, how you spend your money…all these and more are about to be more in your control than they ever have before. Enjoy it. Celebrate it. Live it.
But be smart about it. It’s easy to forget that being in control of your decisions also means that you are in control of their consequences. Slow down. Think carefully. Remember that responsibility is another part of becoming an adult. Make today amazing, but don’t forget that tomorrow is coming, and so is next week, next year, and the rest of your life.
Prove to the world, and yourself, that you were ready for this.
Don’t worry about how things are “supposed to be”.
You have a picture of your future, and that picture is guaranteed to be wrong. Maybe it’s just a little bit wrong, or maybe it’s worlds away from what the future really has in store for you. Don’t stress about that. Dreams and goals are wonderful things, but don’t let your imagination cheapen your reality.
Even if you have your dream job, it isn’t going to be like you dreamed, and you aren’t going to love every minute. Your first college party probably won’t be a magical evening where you look perfect, are the center of attention, and meet your one true love. Living on your own costs way more than even your most realistic budget plan.
If you get caught up in how things aren’t living up to your imagination, you’re setting yourself up for frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment at levels that you shouldn’t have to endure. Your dreams should be motivators, not measuring sticks.
The experiences of your parents, siblings, friends, and so on are not a blueprint for what you need to do in order to be happy and successful. Your expectations will play a major role in determining your success and your happiness, so keep them realistic, and keep them yours. Never, ever, evaluate your life based on Hollywood. The world on the screen is so far from reality that it might as well be in another dimension.
Do not try to live someone else’s story. Your own is incredible enough.
I was inspired to write this post by a conversation I had at a recent graduation party, when the graduate made a point of asking for (and listening to) thoughts and advice from the guests. Please feel free to pass it on or reblog, and to add to the discussion in the comments.