Every year at this time, I’m reminded of my own college graduation; thanks to Facebook Memories and the lovely pictures of happy graduates in caps and gowns brightening up my newsfeed. This year is particularly special though since I recently got to attend my sister’s graduation and listen to two great commencement speeches by Grayson Perry and Clive Baillie.
And while no one has asked me - yet - to deliver a commencement address, I’ve been deeply inspired to share somethings. So here goes, as per graduation speech convention, if I could go back in time, here’s what I would say to my graduating self.
LET GO OF THE FEAR
Graduating college is one of the most liberating, empowering and terrifying things that will ever happen to you. Terrifying because up to this point in your life, you’ve followed the conventional path laid out clearly for you by society. But now, it’s up to you to lay the rest of the track for your journey, wherever the hell that may lead.
Thoughts like “I have to figure out my whole life now” or “What if I take the wrong job?” or “What if I can’t find a job that I like?” can be quite paralyzing.
But here’s the one truth that will help you kick fear in the ass and move forward: nothing is permanent! No matter what they tell you, your first job out of college will not determine the rest of your life. Here’s an even more startling truth: that degree you spent so much time choosing and slaying for in the library, it will not determine the rest of your life either!
Your journey will not be a straight line. Your destination may change several times along the way. You will take many wrong turns and detours. But guess what? Life will work its magic for you in unusual and exciting ways. The only thing that matters is that you show up, take some risks and maintain a huge appetite for learning.
LISTEN TO YOUR GUT
Get ready to receive tons of unsolicited advice on what you should do next, including some from the people you love the most.
“You should get a post-grad degree now”... “Wait until you get some experience first, then apply for a postgrad degree”... “Look for jobs in city x” … “Go back and join the family business”... the list goes on.
Mute all of these voices and learn to listen to your inner voice. You probably already know what you want to do next, do it! Even if that turns out to be the worst decision ever, that’s the only way you’ll learn what YOU WANT and who YOU ARE.
In this age of self-made fame and Insta-influence, the happiest people and the ones who end up creating real change are the ones who learn to be authentically and unapologetically themselves.
FIND A GREAT BOSS
Even more important than finding a well-paying job, is finding a great boss that creates a culture that fosters collaboration, creativity, and growth.
Work “with” someone you admire and who is willing to share their knowledge. Someone who values your development and gives you credit for your ideas. Someone who leads from their heart and not their PowerPoint slides. Someone who celebrates your achievements and is not threatened by your growth.
And if you ever find yourself undervalued, stick it out until you learn what you came to learn. But don’t ever settle… look for your next challenge, take your next leap, know your own worth.
This last nugget of ‘wisdom’ is a quote from Grayson Perry’s commencement address at my sister’s graduation from UAL last July, “Life is meaningless, it’s your job to give it meaning.”
You have the potential to change this world for the better. Change sometimes means living your own truth and defending other people's right to live theirs. Seek inspiration wherever you can. Create the things you wish existed. Indulge in pondering other people’s meaning-making methods, but don’t get carried away… leave your own mark for other people to get attached to and make meaning from.
If you graduated this summer, congratulations, your future starts now! I know you didn’t ask me for a commencement speech, but if you found this uplifting or useful, share it with someone who you think might enjoy reading it.
If you graduated a while ago, I’m curious, what advice would you share with your younger yourself or fresh grads today? Tell me in the comments section below.