Dear young(er) people,
I’ve always wanted to write a commencement speech, but that usually requires being invited to speak at a commencement.
This speech is for you, but also for me because I am not happy unless I am writing — or teaching.
And with this “speech,” I hope to do a little of both.
So, here it goes:
Congratulations! You are embarking on a path in a world embedded in contradiction. A world that is both uncertain and scary, yet endlessly hopeful.
Given what is usually said about Millennials, I have the feeling you haven’t heard the very next thing I’m about to say:
The world is hopeful because you exist in it.
You probably do not have any answers right now, and that is A-okay. Ignore anyone who says otherwise.
If you still have no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life, you’re in good company.
On the other hand, many people think you should know exactly what you’re doing. Ignore those people.
There are many things you should do, moving forward. There are also many things (and people) you should ignore.
Here are some things I wish I was told when I graduated both high school and college many moons ago, and at the same time, not that long ago at all:
People will lie to you to make themselves feel better about their own lives.
You will encounter a number of people who pretend to have it all figured out: bosses, friends, family and strangers.
Recognize their façades for what they are; no one has it all figured out, and those who pretend to are doing so because it is easier to pretend than it is to face life’s ambiguity.
Ignore them, unless you want to experience the emotional turmoil and stress associated with the false belief that you should have it all figured out. This is where the art of smiling and nodding comes in handy.
On the other hand, if unnecessary stress is your jam, then by all means, listen to a bunch of people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
With all that being said, learn what it means to fake it until you make it.
Your degree will set you up, but be open to a career that has nothing to do with your degree.
Take a good, long look at the degree you're graduating with. Admire it; relish in it; be proud of it.
Hug that degree if you’re not afraid of bending it. And, embrace the future, fully accepting that your future-self might not work in a field that has anything (directly) to do with your specific college preparation.
Learning to say “thank you” is not just for 5-year-olds; saying “thank you” will set you apart from those who never learned how.
Say “thank you.” Randy Pausch has said, “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”
Whether someone holds a door open for you, writes a letter on your behalf or simply responds to an email with answers you need, say “thank you.”
If you do not quite yet “get” the power of a simple thank you, make it a habit to hold the door open for random people in random places.
Someone, somewhere, will not thank you and in that moment you’ll get it.
Working a crap job is probably inevitable.
People tend to say finding the job you love means never having to work a day in your life.
What people forget to point out, is that finding the job you love requires sweating over jobs, experiences and even careers that you do not love so much and perhaps, even for years.
You have to toil in life’s myriad of experiences before you have any idea about what it means to love what you do.
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid to think. No one ever died by thinking harder than he or she wanted to.
Do not be afraid to ask the kinds of questions you need to ask in order to succeed.
Some people believe asking questions signifies weakness and vulnerability. Stay away from those people.
Do not be afraid to help people, or to do favors. Do not be afraid to do (some) work for free or for cheap.
Only then can you truly identify the difference between those who take advantage of others and those who do not.
Stay out of debt, I repeat: STAY. OUT. OF. DEBT.
Your degree probably cost you a lot of money that you’ll be paying back for a long time. Try not to fret about this. In the long run, it’s a lot more expensive to remain uneducated and ignorant.
That being said, exorbitant debt might be the “American way” (my dad likes to say this), but that does not mean it is smart to accumulate it.
In fact, that’s the exact opposite of smart, no matter how patriotic you wish to be. You have the rest of your life to buy a house, a new car and that unnecessary state-of-the-art gym membership.
You owe it to yourself to stay out of debt to the greatest extent you possibly can, at least for now.
A car is a utility; not a lifestyle.
You have the right to balance your personal interests with your professional life.
Nothing in the world is more important than friends and family. Still, practice the art of putting yourself first, as necessary. This might mean skipping out on a couple of Sunday dinners or not flying home for the holidays every year.
You are entitled to your work-life balance. No, this does not mean accepting a position and then immediately taking off for a month to backpack across Europe. That move is unprofessional, obnoxious and ill-advised.
Work-life balance means knowing that you are entitled to read for pleasure, go for a run or do any of the day-to-day or week-to-week activities that allow you to feel like a whole person.
Someone who requires you to live, eat, breathe and sleep his or her ambitions or goals is not someone who understands much of anything.
I’m not talking about the occasional project that has you working overtime, or the boss who wears cranky-pants every now and again.
I’m talking about the ceaseless, Monday through Friday — and even weekends — kind of of gig. Those gigs are not worth your physical health or your sanity. Find another way to “pay your dues.”
(Do not spend too much time around people who use the term “pay your dues” regularly. It is an obnoxious term often wielded by the self-interested. You will never, ever be able to please such people in any real way.)
Perfection is the enemy.
In the workplace, no one is watching your every move as closely as you are. Perfection is your enemy. Do not be afraid of failure.
See what JK Rowling has to say about failure and the dangers of living too cautiously.
If it so happens that someone in the workplace is watching your every move as closely (or more closely) than you are, he or she is a micromanager.
You cannot often choose whom you work with, but you usually have control over whom you work for. Do not work for a micromanager if you can possibly help it. It’s not worth the aggravation.
A good boss wants you to do well and sets you up to succeed. He or she also wants to hear that you’ve gone for a run (or read a book or cooked an amazing meal), if that’s what you need to do for your sanity.
A bad boss might say he or she want you to do well, but instead place a series of flaming hoops in your path.
A bad boss is cognitively dissonant on a regular basis.
The planet needs you. A lot of you.
You are valuable and yet, people will suggest to you that you’re a dime a dozen. Don’t listen to those people. Perhaps they’re bitter. Or maybe, they just like to hear themselves speak.
I believe you are quite special. The power of change rests in your hands much more so than in older generations. Think about that; you have the power to make change.
You have the power to do the world some good. Do not ever listen to someone say you’re a dime a dozen when, in fact, we need you by the dozens if we’re going to see this planet shape up for the better.
Take care of yourself.
Get an excellent ergonomic backpack. Your back, shoulders and virtually your entire upper body will thank you in about 10 years. Trust me.
On the other hand, your body will eventually give up on you if you continue to betray it.
The fun is (not) over.
People might try to convince you that the “fun is over,” particularly if you are graduating college. The fun is not over. Here is what I’ve done since college:
- Attended three study abroad trips, one of which was three months long.
- Worked in a variety of jobs and positions and figured out exactly what it took to make me miserable.
- Found a career (and hobbies) I couldn’t live without.
- Dabbled in more foreign language learning.
- Lived in four different states (and one other country).
- Met amazing people along the way.
(In other words, the fun is not over unless you really, really want it to be.)
Save and invest your hard-earned money.
Save some part of your money so you can be sure the fun is not over. Many of you are 22 years old and have officially entered what Suze Orman calls “the compounding years.”
Look up the term “compounding,” and understand why it’s important. I wish I would have listened to Dave Ramsey and others who know a thing or two about money.
Now I’m making up for 12 years of not listening to anyone, and let me tell you, that’s a hard catch up game to play.
Look up the term “investing,” understand why and how it differs from “saving,” and learn why they are both important.
To that end, both invest and save your money; your retired self has the right to a good life, much like your 20-something-year-old self.
The difference between the first 18 years of your life and the next 60 plus is that you and you alone are responsible for the next 60 plus. No one else.
Live at home.
Live with your parents for as long as they’ll allow you to. Respect them and thank them.
To that end, trust that your parents are not always right. But, you better pretend they are if you are still in a position to have to play by their rules.
Learn how to play the game.
Are you a stereotypical Millennial?
You might hear the term “Millennial” thrown at you in a condescending way, if you have not already.
Investigate what it means to be a Millennial and decide whether you want to embody the stereotype.
(You do not want to embody the stereotype. It’s a misguided stereotype, anyway. I, for one, cannot wait until Millennials are in charge.)
And finally, if you want to hear the universe laugh, share your “plans.”
Forge ahead with courage. Forge ahead with kindness. And for the love of everything holy, don’t apologize for it.