We had another high school graduation this past week. Our daughter, Tereza hit that meaningful milestone on Wednesday. The commencement speeches were the usual sort, the same kind I’ve written myself, in fact: look forward to the future, your life is just beginning, advice for next steps, that sort of thing. Of course, there’s the ubiquitous Dr. Seuss quote: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”
But I’ve been thinking about a different approach this year, one that acknowledges the bittersweet part of change and the twinge of loss that often accompanies that change. Even when the change is “good” (graduation, wedding, new baby, move to a new locale), change involves loss.
My advice for my previous graduates also included telling them that things change after graduation, that their friend group will not remain the same as everyone leaves to do their next thing: college, missions, work and more. The advice was all forward-looking.
Now, though, I think it’s best to both talk about the excitement of the future, and the bittersweetness of change. It’s ok to talk about schedules changing, relationships changing, even responsibilities changing. It’s ok to say “I don’t know” when people ask “What’s next?!”
I think one of the reasons it hits differently this year is that I just graduated myself. There is no more formal schooling in my future. Eight years ago this month, 30-years after I earned an Associate’s degree, I decided to get a bachelor’s degree and went back to school. And then I kept going and earned a Master’s degree. And then a PhD. And now it’s done. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t have any big goals right now because I have been so focused on school. Ahh. Now I see my teens’ emotions around high school graduations with different eyes.
Here’s my revised advice to my young adult children (and to myself).
- It’s ok to spend some time in the “not knowing.” It’s ok to not know what your life will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years. Or next year.
- However, you can’t stay there. At some point, you need to take action. Pick a path and start down it. Sounds cliché, I know, but you don’t have to know what’s at the end of the path to get started. When I went back to school, it was to finish a bachelor’s degree and that’s it. I didn’t decide to pursue a PhD until literally the week before applications were due.
- It’s ok to head down a path, decide it’s not the right one for you and pivot. I took a job once that I thought I would love but I hated it. It just wasn’t the right fit for me and now I know.
- Expect to “do it scared.” If you wait until you are totally comfortable with something, you’ll never do it.
- Say yes to as many opportunities as possible. Daniel Pink has a great new book out this year called “The Power of Regret.” One of the things he found in his research was that over time, people regret what they didn’t do far more often than what they did do – as long as they are not crossing moral boundaries.
- Don’t wait to be asked. Be bold in creating your own opportunities.
- Ask for help. Teenagers and toddlers have a lot in common sometimes. “I do it myself” is one of those things. But we all need help and it’s ok to ask for it.
- Everyone is going to make mistakes. We all do. Give yourself and others grace and space to learn, heal and grow.
- Relationships are essential – and they change over time. Sometimes they deepen, sometimes they fracture and sometimes they fade away. Work on keeping the most important ones strong.
- If you don’t already, learn to love work. You’ll do a lot of it. 🙂
- Always remember your mama loves you to the moon and back.