Dear 18-year-old self,
The gymnasium chairs will be hard, and the room will be too warm, and you’ll be readjusting the bobby-pins on your graduation cap. But pay attention, young lady. An older, seasoned version of yourself has the microphone up front right now, and she has a few things she wants you to know before you put that graduation gown back on the hanger.
1 – Make plans, young graduate. Make audacious plans that scare you. But don’t have a freak attack when the world chews up your plans and spits them onto the stained carpet of your first apartment. Because even when you outline your goals on a yellow legal pad, life has a way of making plans of its own.
2 — Develop a spirit of gratitude. Start by thanking your parents. They knew more than you gave them credit for. Mark Twain said it like this: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
3 — Be serious about your work, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Life can be really funny. And so can you, if you’d loosen up a bit. Job interviews and first dates aren’t Irish wakes, for heaven’s sake. Go ahead, laugh at your silly self.
4 — It doesn’t have to be big to be good. Don’t be afraid to be small, or to pay attention to the little things, like you did when you a girl, out by the ladybug tree and the anthills. Tiny moments are proof that God has it all under control. There’s magic in the miniscule.
5 — Success doesn’t always wear a three-piece suit. (It might, but it doesn’t always.) So don’t be shocked when you find out that success wears yoga pants and wakes up for 3 a.m. feedings.
6 – Don’t look over the shoulder of the person in front of you. Yes, I know, there are people in the room with important titles. I know you’ll be itching to get your face in front of them. But don’t get so eager to scratch that itch that you miss the beauty right here. Can you see their faces yet? (Hint: They might look like your very own children.)
7 – Don’t stop learning. Retain your sense of awe. Read poetry that you don’t understand. Pick up books about stars, or gravity, or the germination of seeds. Take a class that scares you. Wonder why. And wander awhile.
8 – Yes, there really is such a thing as a dumb question. Ask it anyway. Spoiler alert — You’re going to be a news reporter, just like you dreamed, and trust me: The best stories will come in those moments when you were brave enough to look stupid.
9 – Failure is a gift. Unwrap it, because there’s a lesson on the inside.
10 – I want to warn you about something. You’ll face intense loneliness in this life. And it will feel like it’s going to last forever, like the world yawned open to swallow you whole. But hold on tight, because God is going to send a friend to you, and she will remind you a lot of Jesus. It will change the way you love others.
11 – Know what your commencement really means. You’ll have a nephew who will graduate in May of 2013, and while he’s zipping up his gown in the front yard, your own dad will be there, watching his grandson. And your dad will tell you how when he was a kid, he thought the word “commencement” meant “the end,” because the commencement ceremony capped thirteen years of schooling. It wasn’t until your dad was a teenager that he learned that the word commencement means “beginning.”
And young lady? This is one in a serious of new beginnings. I don’t want to tell you too much, because that would spoil the adventure of your life, but a few doors will slam shut in your face. And it will look like a sad ending. But be thankful for the closed door, for it will make you turn around and find the one standing open for you. Walk through slowly, though, young lady. You don’t need to run or rush.
Always, always, be all here.
(And I’ll be waiting there.)
(Photo by rkleine. Sourced via Creative Commons on Flickr.)