In the highly unlike event, I’m ever asked to deliver a commencement address, here is what I might say:
Like all big moments, today is an ending and a beginning.
As you travel forward, dump the sour, keep the sweet, and be open about what lies ahead.
Of course, the world has its expectations of you. That you’ll get smarter, get a grown-up job, leave home, and know better than to eat all of your meals at 7-11.
It’s a big world, size yourself to fit, and put your own unique spin on it.
To start, make a plan for yourself, with some breathing room, or you will end up in some strange places with a headache and two dollars to your name. It won’t always turn out the way you thought it would, but be brave enough to point in a direction and maneuver there with grit and grace. If you have larger-than-life goals in mind, you may have to build two worlds simultaneously—one in the clouds of your imagination, one practical—so you don’t make yourself crazy figuring how you’re going to eat or pay rent.
By now, you’ve had one or two well-laid plans go wrong, so if things take a weird or crazy twist, stay calm and either try again or dream up something else with some spunk and spark. At all turns, resist becoming a couch potato on a steady diet of reality shows and cynicism, because, well, that would just suck. Remember that life is like a free-flowing river. Jump in where you can, make a splash, dry yourself off and repeat.
Forget world domination. Master your own mind. It will take a lifetime, but take a good run at it in the coming years. Figure out how you tick, how you get from A to B to Z, what your priorities are, how you behave and treat people, and change what you need to in order to be better than you were the day before.
Natalie Goldberg, author of the best-selling Writing Down the Bones, once said that we should spend it all—the currency being our natural talents and gifts—and I took it to heart and try to leave mine on the page. Where will you leave yours? At some point you would do well to focus your energy and get super serious about your legacy, however, now is the time to explore freely as it will help you answer the question a little more honestly later. Try, though, to avoid experiments that require mug shots and bail money.
Do something BIG every day, though it might seem small to anyone else. You’ll know when you’ve stretched and tried and conquered if it scares you a bit at the onset or makes you feel like puffing your chest out and singing your happy-dance song when it’s done. There really is no point to a lackluster existence unless you are a rock. So, take the steps you can, when you can, to do something memorable, preferring the marathon instead of the sprint, running your own race not anyone else’s.
If you lean into it even when your legs are burning and you’d rather just plop down and wait for your fairy godmother, you’ll get there. If you lose your way, help someone else find theirs. If that effort doesn’t immediately return your swag, it was still a nice thing to do.
It has been said that Einstein and Edison often got their best ideas after a nap, so try your heart out and then rest. A lot of the things you will come to want will either be right in front of you or a few clicks to the left or right, except some of it’s about timing, endurance, patience and luck. If you land somewhere between one or your heroes and a hotdog, with a good band of friends and a happy heart, decide you’ve done all right for yourself.
Try not to regret anything. From a clear headspace and maybe a few swigs of coffee, make the best move you can in any given situation. On the job, in love and friendship, financially, and mostly, inside your own head. Enjoy what shows up and if you need to choose something else later, go right ahead.
On a plane, I once overheard a woman tell her seat mate that she was trying to learn to be comfortable with discomfort, and I wished someone had told me that when I was your age, so I could have relaxed a bit about getting anything right the first time. Soon enough, I hope you see too that awkwardness and uncertainty are gifts on the road to confidence and certainty. Instead of saying “I don’t know,” say “I don’t know yet” and go find out. Embrace joy, fun and a sense of it all being okay as often as possible. One day you’ll be surer about more things. Until then, read, Google, ask questions, make up common-sense answers, or watch people who seem to know, except don’t follow anyone who isn’t going somewhere you really want to go and set up house.
Lastly, wherever you go from here—college, jobs, travel or some other adventure—don’t forget to text home when you get there.