Graduation weekend is upon us, and while I am probably never going to be famous or influential enough to be invited to give a commencement address, I have a few things I would like to share with my students.
If you did it right, college was, for you, an amazing transformative experience. I see eighteen-year-old freshmen enter college, at once cocky and naive, begin to discover a new perspective on life. Over the next four (or more) years, I see you navigate a system with varying degrees of success as you take classes, have new experiences, change your major a few times, fall in and out of love, make and lose friends, and truly confront the concept of freedom and adulthood.
College is a challenging adventure, but it is only one of life’s many adventures. Having done my share of adulting - here are things that may make that road ahead a little easier. It’s time to fly, little birds! Fly!
1. Take your work seriously. Take your relationships seriously. Take your goals and your life seriously. But don’t take yourself seriously. If you can’t laugh at yourself … you’re kind of an asshole.
2. Life is about choices. You always have a choice. Consider the consequences to your actions, even the little things.
3. Your life will take unexpected turns and you are capable of doing things you couldn’t imagine when you are 18 or 22 or even 25. Make plans, work towards goals, and expect the unexpected - the good and the bad. Both types of experiences and surprises will challenge you and ultimately make you better.
4. Start saving money today. Even if it’s just deciding to put away $5 per week. The best advice I ever received about money was, “Pay yourself first.” I was in the habit of “putting away whatever was left over at the end of the month.” But if you do that, there’s never anything left over. Savings starts small, but before your know it you have a cushion, breathing room in case of emergencies or unemployment, money for a down payment on a house, a retirement account. Really. Life keeps moving forward and you need to take responsibility for your own financial future, because it will come faster than you think.
5. You never stop loving the people you truly love. That doesn’t mean that all relationships are meant to last forever. Some do. Some don’t. Sometimes loving someone means letting them go. Sometimes it means holding on.
6. The older you get, the less you give a shit about things that don’t matter. And that’s awesome.
7. The world owes you nothing. You are no more or less special than any one of the billions of other people on this planet. If you are finding yourself “unlucky” in relationships or professionally or in any other area of your life … change what you’re doing. Work harder. Find a way to make yourself better, more valuable, more interesting, or whatever because waiting around for someone to save you won’t change your situation for the better.
8. Live your life in a way that you are not ashamed of anything you do.
9. Don’t spend your life doing things that make you unhappy. We have a finite amount of heartbeats - don’t waste one single moment. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever experience fear or unhappiness or disappointment, but you should be working toward what you want. Figure it out and go for it. Will you have to make compromises? Choices? Will it be difficult sometimes? Yes. But a life worth living is one worth fighting for.
10. Always mind your manners. Say “please” and “thank you.” Tip well. Treat the people you encounter with kindness and respect. Don’t assume things about other people because of their job, the way they dress, or anything else they “wear” on the outside. You don’t know their circumstances. Give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove you otherwise.
11. Love, commitment, partnership … all of these things take time to build. Be patient. Love will happen for you if you really want that in life. But for any relationship in life to ever really work, you have to be comfortable with who you are first.
12. Everyone should know how to cook for themselves, hem a pair of pants, sew on a button, unclog a toilet, manage their money, change a tire, do their own laundry, and basic first aid. Total helplessness in these matters is extremely off-putting.
13. Trust takes a lifetime to build and a moment to destroy.
14. At some point you will fuck up. Irrevocably. You will do something you regret. You will hurt someone. Own up to your errors. Seek forgiveness. Learn from your mistakes. Move on.
15. Learn how to dress appropriately for whatever situation you find yourself in (work, date night, play). Dress in a way that makes you feel good and confident. First impressions do make a difference.
16. If someone offers you gum, accept it.
17. In life, people generally react to situations out of fear or out of love. Sometimes they confuse the two and assume a fear-based reaction is really “love” - learn the difference between the two and do your best to respond with love.
18. Learn to say “no.” And learn that loving someone isn’t always giving them everything they want.
19. Write thank-you notes.
20. While there is no un-doing your genetics, your health is your responsibility. The things you do in your early twenties (good and bad) will catch up to you eventually and you will wear them on your face and body for the rest of your life - binge drinking, drugs, smoking, tanning, lack of sleep, stress, unprotected sex, and any other number of vices will damage your body and brain over time. Know when enough is enough. Take care of your body, it’s the only one you get.
21. Before getting a tattoo … decide what you want but wait at least a year to commit. Placement is key. Consider your job, lifestyle, goals, etc. before getting inked. Sit down with the artist before putting needle to skin, share ideas about what you really want. You are commissioning an artist and any reputable tattoo artist cares about his or her work. Never get a tattoo on impulse.
22. You are the author of your own narrative. Own that. When something bad happens to you (and it will), don’t waste time asking “why me?” Why not you? Accidents, failures, “bad luck,” and tragedies are only a part of your story. (And they are a part of everyone’s story.) You determine how those misfortunes will shape you.
23. Honest conversations can be difficult to have, but they are necessary. Honesty, above all else, is the key to building trust. No one likes a liar.
24. Do things that will make Future You happy that Past You did them. Whether it’s drinking enough water during a night of drinking or making sure you contribute to your 401K - be good to Future You.
25. The older you get … the worse your hangovers WILL get. You have been warned.
Congratulations! Go out and have an adventure!