Dear Graduate…

Dear Graduate,

Well, you’re finished with school – at this level. You should be proud of what you have accomplished.  Like many, you’ll now be busy clearing the path ahead of you.  Also like many, you’ll be clearing it before you ever begin defining it.  Think about that.

Of course, your path will be largely defined by the influence of others, whether you are aware of this or not.  Ultimately, it is you who decides in what direction(s) your path will extend, and when it’s time to change directions, though you may not realize this until it’s too late. A good rule of thumb for marching through life – don’t just look at the feet in front of you as you step, but occasionally stop and scan the horizon.  The feet you are following may veer off the path without you realizing it.  This concludes my use of the term path.

On the occasion of your graduation, some pretentious asshole will stand up and speak before your entire graduating class. She will offer words of caution, of optimism and of inspiration. Because your parents and school faculty will be present, those words are likely to be tempered and sugar coated. I might use this platform to offer you some thoughts less sweet, which may help illuminate the roads you are about merge onto, which are certain to include many forks…

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Work, Bosses, And Co-workers…

The best job you will ever have is the one you just left, or the one you are going to next. Rarely will it be the one you are in. You may find yourself in some employment situations where you work for assholes, but love your co-workers. You may be in situations where you love your boss, and loathe your co-workers.  At some point, these may intersect and you will despise everyone in your workplace. However, the winds may blow just right one day and you may find, if only for a moment, that you love everyone you work with. Enjoy those times, for they are as magical as they are rare.

Through it all, there will be times when you thoroughly enjoy the work that you do.  Some of your time though, in the adult workplace, will haunt you far beyond quitting time and will disrupt your sleep on a regular basis. The older I get, the more I see this as being evenly balanced. Please remember though, that at the end of the day work is what we are here for, not retirement.

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Ultimately, if you can’t find a job that you love, or can’t learn to love the job you’re in, you may wish to create your own job and your own.  Of course, even when one is self-employed, a job is still a job. Self-employment is no guarantee for happiness, but it can put you in better field position.

Relationships…

Above all things, life is about relationships. Little else in your life will matter more than the relationships you experience along the way.  Appreciating the value of the relationships you maintain, and possessing the ability to understand why relationships so often change or deteriorate will be useful in finding your way in dark times.

People, you will learn, can be beautiful.  They can also be complicated, confusing, messy and tiresome.   At some point everyone gets dirty, bruised and ignored, and they will let you know it.  That they will let this bleed into their relationship with you only makes them human, not disposable.

You may be married someday.  If you are, that marriage may be wonderful, tolerable or tragic. If it’s like many, it will hold elements of all of those. It may also include divorce. Divorce, I have learned, is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the marriage. Conversely, a sustained marriage does not necessarily state quality in a relationship.

Before marriage and beyond, there will be other relationships. Many of these will start off with promise, but will quickly dull. Others may end with you never really knowing why they ended, and wanting for more. You may ask yourself at some point; how many soul mates does one get…? At best, that question can create knots in one’s stomach. At its worst, it can paralyze you to a point of emotional stagnation.

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Marriage or partnership, if you are fortunate to find the right one, and able to ride it out for the very long term, it will not be without your share of sacrifice and second guessing. In relationships, it is best to wake up each day and do what you believe is correct that you win the day, even if it contradicts what you did the day before. That ideal by the way, can be superimposed over just about any situation or dynamic in life.

Loss…

You will have friends and loved ones who will get ill and recover. You will also have will have friends and loved ones who get ill and die. Nothing can prepare you for the shock you feel when a friend or loved one dies unexpectedly.  There isn’t anything you can do to prepare for how to handle this when it happens, but it will happen.

When it does happen, use these instances as perspective to better appreciate your own life, and those relationships that remain in it. Disease and loss never make sense, but they can make you appreciative anything and everything else, that much more.

Money And Freedom…

There will be times when you have money, and you will feel an overwhelming sense of security that fits you like a warm cocoon – don’t get used to it because it’s not likely to last. Other times you will be broke, question many of your spending choices and it will seem like the end of the world.  It won’t be the end of the world, though it should be the start of a new behavior.

At best, money is a useful tool, necessary to experience the freedoms and fulfillments that make life worthwhile.  That term, freedom, as most people know it, is an illusion destined to distort and disappoint. Ultimately, freedom means not doing the goose step down Main Street, and the proper use of money can help you avoid Main Street altogether – the road less traveled.

Lessons Learned…

There are lessons to be learned in every moment, every circumstance and every conversation you will ever have. Of course, you won’t find those lessons if you are not looking, listening and receptive to them.

Perhaps the most fruitful lessons you can hope to learn are those you will learn from watching others. Being a conscious witness to the joys, tragedies, triumphs and misfortunes of others is often the best way to assure your proximity to them.

Creativity…

If you can incorporate some level of creativity into your daily work, your life will surely be warmer. If there is no room for creativity in your workplace, finding a creative outlet beyond he workplace will help keep you whole, if not sane. Creativity is a gift we all possess, but very few take the time to explore it.  Exploring your creative side is just behind work and relationships in in the triage of what really matters.

I am reminded of the most formative movie line I know, written by John Hughes for the movie, She’s Having A Baby…

“In the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, that I was loved more than I loved, and in the end, I realized that what I was looking for was not be found, but to be created.”

That this was recited by Kevin Bacon, makes it that much sweeter.

You will be the creator of every single one of your days. I ask you rhetorically, what kind of day will you create today, that will be acceptable to you tomorrow…?

Taking 15 minutes every morning to build the day ahead of you, is an important exercise worthy of consideration.

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On Children…

I’ll suggest only one hard rule in all of this:  If you go on to have children, please don’t shelter them from the realities of life. Expose them to the beauty in life, but don’t screen them from the harshness and messiness of it all. Expose your children to life as it comes and teach them, as best you can, how to accept it. Be honest with them – all the time. Dishonesty with our children is the cause of more social decay than heroin and alcohol combined.

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Expose your children to who you really are without fear – regardless of how it may make you look in their eyes. Be humble when you are wrong, don’t gloat when you are correct, and when their names show up on caller ID, don’t ever let the call go to voicemail.

I wish you luck, graduate. Now get off my lawn!

Sincerely,

Still Learning

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