Monday, May 18, 2020

A Message to the Class of 2020

When I was having dinner with my pastor and a couple friends a few years, my pastor suddenly turned to me and said, "Do you realize you are one of those rare people who's doing exactly what they wanted to do?"

I was stunned. I had not.

Nor had I ever really thought about if I had. At the time, work was hard, and life was hard, but I also loved my work and my life and never considered if it was supposed to be any easier.

Last week, various great commencement speeches showed up in my news feed. I had never read the one by Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes," which my my kids and I have thoroughly enjoyed.

It reminded me a little of the famous "What if money didn't matter?" And I have referenced this whenever I'm asked to talk to high school students for career days.

But it did inspire me to offer, not words of advice (who needs more of that?) but words of encouragement to a class whose end to an educational milestone and the beginning to another fell quite a bit flatter than it had imagined it at the outset.

I'm not going to say, "Don't give up," because you didn't.

I'm not going to say, "Make the best of the present opportunity," because you did.

I'm not going to say, "Follow your dreams," because unless you, at eighteen or twenty-two, have had those dreams already snuffed out by smart people or life experiences, you are.

But I will say this: Stay true to yourself. And pursue those paths that bring love, joy, and peace to your life.

Note: I didn't say "pursue happiness."

Happiness is transitory, fleeting, and some days (months, years) elusive to the point of frustration and despair.

I can be happy one minute and then receive a call from an upset client and happiness goes out the window.

But joy is like a tiny hidden flame that never goes out. It has the potential to warm not only you but those around you.

Some say love is more about giving than receiving. I disagree. For love to be truly love, it must be both.

A person who loves recognizes love in its many forms - and then knows how to receive it well. A person who doesn't understand love doesn't understand it when it shows up.

Many people can recognize the big expressions of love - and yet, sometimes those big expressions are more about the other person and not you. But even more people fail to recognize the subtle expressions. Be the person who does.

Learn to give love to yourself and receive even that love well. Real love starts there, but it doesn't end there. If it ends there, it's not love.

Peace doesn't mean an absence of trouble in your life. In fact, expect more of it by staying true to yourself. 

Cultivating peace doesn't mean it will show up right away. But you'll recognize it when it buds. Peace is not the same as serenity.

Minor irritations and catastrophes can stamp out serenity. Real peace never goes away. A hint of it always remains even when the rest of your world is chaotic and in flux.

Staying true to yourself doesn't mean trampling on the rights of others. It means respecting yourself enough not to be swayed by another's vision for your life - and respecting the other enough that you'll give that person a respectful listen, and it means knowing where you will draw in and where you will boundary lines.

People (significant others, family members, employers, fellow employees) cannot give you love, joy, and peace. But neither can they take them away, so take comfort in that.

So how do you arrive at those qualities?

Time. And I don't mean, "Wait eight decades."

We may feel as if we live in a time-crunched world, but we really have the same amount of time all people have.

Take time to spend time with yourself.

Take time to listen to yourself.

Take time to pray and meditate.

Take time to play.

Take time to take a breath and give yourself five minutes whenever you feel pressed.

If you feel rushed, slow down.

When deadlines are extremely tight, I find I make more mistakes the faster I try to meet them. By slowing down, I think and act clearly.

People talk about enjoying the journey to the extent it sounds cliche. But it's all really a journey and the next step isn't guaranteed.

Definitely enjoy the exhilaration of the top. Nothing beats the thrill of a free night after a tough work week or a cold glass of water after a rigorous workout or holding the baby and finally seeing the face of that baby after the nth C/section or holding the proof copy to your first book, or making your first million (still waiting to feel this last one; how about you?).

Yet few people give advice for after you make that goal (And they lived happily ever after -riiiiiight).

But if you stay true to yourself and pursue those paths that bring love, joy, and peace to your life, you'll find you've not only enriched your life but you've also enriched the lives of others.

You'll feel few regrets at any stage of your life.

And you'll live a very full life, no matter how or long or short in years that actual life will be.

Class of 2020: Congratulations on your achievements! Happy traveling!

Illustration by Matt Coundiff for "Visage."

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