Graduation, or Findings

JUNE 4, 2013

You don’t have to go to college to find graduation speeches inspiring.

You also don’t have to be 18-25 to get something out of them. Thankfully in the digital age you can watch them on Youtube over and over.

Sometimes they’re so awesome and well-received they get printed into books, like Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts 2012 commencement. Or they are audio-recorded and played on pop radio two years later, like Mary Schmich’s “Advice Like Youth Is Wasted On the Young” from 1997, which became the hit single “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” in 1999.

Other times, context is everything. I think Conan O’Brien’s Dartmouth speech in 2011 was epic for two reasons. One, he’s amazing at what he does, but two, his life’s biggest dream up until that point (The Tonight Show) ended far too soon. It all played out on a very public stage, and he lived to tell the tale. How O’Brien handled it is what it means to not to wait for the storm to pass, but instead, dance in the rain. And everyone of us can expect rain.

Allow me to also point out that you don’t have to be a millionaire or celebrity to try to give counsel to younger people or other people. It’s not an issue of being so wise and wonderful, you ooze brilliance like Texas tea, and never make any mistakes.

Actually, there’s a good chance that if you have any advice to give at all, it’s because the opposite is true–you have experienced failure. You didn’t get what you wanted, or you got what you wanted, and it didn’t last.

You have made the mistakes, you learned, and it’s possible those failures still sting a little upon reflection. It’s not much stinging, just enough so you don’t forget.

So here’s some nuggets from my 30-something life, which is still very much a work in progress. I don’t see it as advice so much as reporting findings, and you can do with them as you like.

  • Stay in touch with your old friends, but try to make new ones all along the way.
  • Respect that the old friends will change, and you will too. The movies would have you believe the people you spent the first 18-25 years with are the same ones you will spend the next 20, 30, 40 years with. This is likely not going to happen. It’s a convenient plot device, saves cash on casting, and viewers can only follow or care about a finite set of characters.
  • If you admire individuals, let them know. Write them a letter. Watch for typos–you will look illiterate, and that’s not the point of the letter. I am not a celebrity, but I think a letter is better than the in-person “scream/gush and ask for a selfie” routine.
  • There is a balance to consumption and creation. Depression usually results from overconsumption, and a lack of creation to balance it out. This isn’t just eating and then failing to burn all those calories. I think it also applies to watching television, scanning the internet, etc. There’s energy there, and it needs to keep moving.
  • Don’t live to work, work to live. Rest and time off are essential to delivering 100%; without them you’re delivering 90%, 80%, 70%, 60%, 50% with each day. All the Red Bull and protein shakes in the world can’t change that (sorry Red Bull and protein shakes.)
  • If you’re an employee, don’t hide in your office or cube and expect to get noticed for working hard, or being the good little worker just like you were a good little student. Be visible, talk to your superiors at least once a week–even if it’s terrifying, tedious, or seems like highly conspicuous slacking off. People who aren’t seen, aren’t remembered, and those who aren’t remembered are easily forgotten and dismissed.
  • Don’t expect to make lots of lasting friends at jobs. If you do, good for you, but it hasn’t been my experience.  Once you leave that job, it’s often a case of “out of sight, out of mind” for both parties.
  • You will probably fall in love, or think you’ve found the ONE multiple times before you really have. As sweet as the idea of committing to your first love sounds, it’s tragic to think you could outgrow the other person because you both still had so much changing and finding yourselves to do between the ages 15-30. We live so much longer than our great grandparents did. At least if you commit later in life, you’ve found someone who knows themselves better, understands life better, and is more confident about adapting to change and disappointment than say, an American 15-year-old suburbanite is capable of.
  • If you are an employee, expect to change jobs a lot. If you work for yourself, expect every social encounter to be somewhat of a marketing opportunity. This has been hard for me, because who wants a used car salesman stereotype for a friend? It goes against my nature to boast. But it is worthwhile to tell people what you do, find out what other people do, and offer to be of help. No evangelizing, no pressure. Just sharing to be memorable and be of help later.
  • If you feel life has lost its meaning, the solution is not ending it. It’s finding new people, experiences, and ways to be useful to new sets of people. Adopt a shelter cat or dog if you don’t already have one. Volunteer to help at an athletic event or if you’re physically up to it, participate in an athletic benefit event. Volunteer to help rebuild a community after a natural disaster. Take a class in a subject out of character for you. Take CPR/CCR classes. Get training in emergency preparedness. Volunteer with an animal shelter or another cause that means a lot to you. Get involved in community theater. Teach English in your community. Help people with their reading, secondary language, or math literacy. Get involved in voter registration. Work for a political candidate or other positive social activist “change-maker” that you really admire.
  • Make a list of things you must do in life, for you. Start working on them immediately. There’s no sense in saving them for retirement. The 20th century idea of retirement doesn’t exist for the 50 and under crowd. For the 50 and over crowd, if they have the income to retire from a lifelong career, they’re not done with life’s obligations, they have other goals.
  • Pick up a copy of the Book of Me and answer the questions.
  • Travel. Whether it’s your own country (ours is enviably big, and it’s worth seeing up close) or a foreign one.
  • Ancaro Imparo were allegedly Michelangelo’s last words. Know that, you too, are just a beginner and will never stop learning.

 I know I will think of others, but I need to close this post for now. What would your “graduation/findings speech” have to say?