This column was originally written around the beginning of the Covid-19 response in the spring for our May issue; however, due to the impact of the changes, we were unable to run it at that time. However, we felt the message, although intended for the Class of 2020, who still deserve to hear it, also resonates with the incoming Class of 2021, as they embark on their most unique senior year. Enjoy!
The Class of 2020 holds a special place in my heart, as it’s also my youngest son’s graduation year as well. A lot of advice this time of year relates to achieving future goals, dreams, and more for these well-deserving graduates. I’d like to offer my humble advice in a different area. I want to impart my experience with regard to handling the trials, struggles, obstacles, and speed bumps that are placed in your path along the way. There will be plenty, but you’ll make it through them. Not without some bumps and bruises, threats to your ego and self-esteem, and even your confidence from time to time. But that’s the way life is. It gives you the lows, so you appreciate the highs, and the highs to show you how life’s truly worth living.
There have been times in my own life when I felt like I was on the monkey bars, fingers clinched, hanging on for dear life, because I was too afraid to let go. I didn’t understand at the time that letting go would cause me to fall for sure, but that I would recover from the shortfall and ultimately feel much better as a result. There’ll be times when you are in a job, or situation, that you feel compelled to hang on to, but then eventually realize that life has better plans for you if you’ll just let go of what you know and have faith in what can be.
You’ll have moments when you doubt yourself and your abilities. Others will attempt to climb over you to reach their objectives. In doing so, they may reinforce those doubts and make you lose sight of what you bring to the table. Your ideas will be challenged, your insecure thoughts provoked. As a young person with little life experience, it’ll be easy to fall prey to these aggressive tactics. I implore you not to let that happen and rise above it. When they doubt your ideas, abilities, and perhaps even your value at times, you’ll need to look inside yourself and see your qualities in all the richness they offer. Know that a time will come when they are recognized. Believe it. There’s a line from the Netflix movie The First about the first manned space mission to Mars that says, “People say, I’ll believe it when I see it. But they have it backward, belief comes first, then you see it.” There’s lots of truth in that statement. You have to truly believe in yourself, not just for now, but throughout your lifetime. Keeping that belief strong will give you the resilience and courage you need to see the rewards only your gifts can bring.
Next, what I feel is one of life’s delicate little secrets—opportunity. I’m not talking about “chances” here. “Chances” are those moments life gives you that involve risk, and a reward that may or may not be worth the risk. You’ll get multiple chances in life, but unique opportunities are different because you only get them once. They usually come at the most inconvenient times, when you’re not expecting or perhaps even ready for them.
Nonetheless, you have but one shot at taking advantage of them. Never fear, you’ll most certainly let some pass you by. You won’t always recognize them for what they are at first. Other times, you’ll know as soon as they pass what you missed out on, and you’ll regret your blunder. As the line from the movie The Accountant states, “I spent my whole life only recognizing my lucky breaks after they were gone.”
All is not lost, however, because just as life only gives you a unique opportunity once, it is kind enough to offer another unique opportunity next time to consider. Life doesn’t set out to make you fail; it’s trying to help you. You just have to rise up and take notice. Tracy McMillan, in her Ted Talk, said it best, “Life doesn’t give you what you ask for. It gives you the people, places, and situations that allow you to develop what you asked for.” So, if you pay attention to the signs, being the people and events unfolding before you, the opportunities will become more visible and clear.
Finally, let me leave you with one last piece of very humble advice. Go forward in your life having fun with it. And know not to look for happiness in money, or a job or career, or, most importantly, a life partner. If you go purposefully looking for happiness specifically in those places, you won’t find it. Instead, discover the joy that lives inside you and share it, and let those other things be complementary to your joy. There, you’ll find the happiness you’re looking for.
Congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2020, and may your glass always be half-full.
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