It’s May, the end of another academic year, and schools are hosting commencement ceremonies. People of all ages are completing chapters of education and training; graduation season is upon us. Next comes the jolt of the real world, and the first steps toward achieving the goals glimpsed in high school, college, and graduate programs. Graduates, you have a lot to think about. How will you create your best life?
I know now how little I knew then, when I was one of that hopeful group, looking toward the years to come, so sure of a bright future and a happy life.
I know now that life will surprise you, often when you least expect it. Happiness is elusive, but contentment is achievable. Sorrow and joy can, and often do, live side by side. Our greatest success will come through the lives we touch, not through job titles or pay stubs. Good intentions, lived out as much as possible, can save you from the worst regrets and remorse. Everyone makes mistakes, but knowing you’re doing the best you can, with your heart in the right place, will help you forgvie yourself when you get life wrong. Trust me, you’ll need that gift of self-forgiveness. No one gets life right all the time, no matter how we try.
A lifetime away from the commencements of my day, this is what I know and try to live. You’ll make your own list; these are just suggestions. But perhaps this is a place to begin?
These are my standards:
Message before money. This means: Focus on the purpose of your work, rather than working for income. Money will take care of itself if you take care of the rest.
Heal before you grow. This means: As you live, you’ll be wounded by the process. It’s inevitable. You have to do a certain amount of healing your wounds before you can begin to grow again. It’s a cycle, and how we mature. Don’t be afraid of the cycle.
Pain to purpose to power. This means: Take the pain points in your life and look for ways to use them to create something good from those experiences. The knowledge of drawing something good from something difficult will give your words and example power, for yourself, and for others.
Struggle precedes learning. This means: Some things come easily to us, but other things we learn the hard way. Don’t let your struggles go to waste. Make the hard things count!
Serve first. This means: Give value, and it will come back to you. If you’re serving, reward will happen organically. Let your life and work speak for itself.
Look for growth rather than credit. This means: when you accomplish something, don’t be concerned with getting credit for what’s happened. Be concerned with generating growth to the next level, whatever the project or goal.
Be yourself. This means: You are unique, and not a pale imitation of someone else who has found success. We all learn from each other, but learning doesn’t mean copying. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but being youself is best. It’s been said that there is no real new, original thought. Maybe so, but your presentation of thought, or whatever you’re sharing or doing, has its nuances and subtleties. Don’t doubt that your imprint is one-of-a-kind.
Be honest about your life. This means: it’s ok to share your truth. My son died. That loss flows through my life and is with me every day, and most hours of the day. For a time after his death, as writing about him poured out of me, I began to worry that people might think I was trying to gain sympathy. I’m over that thinking now. I’ve learned so much about life from my son’s death, and it comforts me to talk about him, sometimes through my writing. If sharing those insights and my experience of loss is off-putting to anyone, that’s their issue, not mine. While I never write about any subject for gratuitous reasons, I won’t shy away from honest expression.
Truth is not a weapon. This means: being truthful is not license to be hurtful, mean, or inappropriate. I believe in respecting others, privacy, and kindness. Too many people, in this era of social media, hide behind screens and say terrible things. That’s never right. There’s a necessary balance to be found between having a right to your opinion, and using your right to opinion and speech as opportunity to weaponize truth.
Offer value rather than influence: This means: I’m not counting followers. Not that I don’t appreciate being appreciated! I’m happy if someone chooses to follow me, be my friend, or connect through social media. But that’s not my measurement of success.
Don’t overthink! This means: self-doubt, trying to forecast possible events, and fearing the outcomes you project, won’t make your life better. You’ll be paralyzed more often than not. Do the best you can, with the information you have, and be willing to make changes as needed. Let the story write itself.
Live with integrity, and the rest will take care of itself. This means: Integrity sums up everything else. Integrity keeps you honest, grounded, and focused on what’s important.
What is important? To act justly; to love mercy; to walk humbly. This means: treat people right; be kind; and know: you don’t know it all, and never will.
Congratulations, graduates, parents, and everyone launching a new chapter. Life is waiting! Embrace it and enjoy it. And while you’re getting settled in your narrative, your story, you’ll write your standards, and find your truths. And I hope you create your best life.