You Graduated: Now Your Education Begins

You wait too long to write your post and then everyone and their mother is opining about graduation. Most notably David McCullough, Jr. who told the dewy-eyed graduates at Wellesley High School they ain’t nuthin special.  Well, that wasn’t all he said, but I do agree with the overall sentiment.  Life’s not about how special you are or how much passion you have.  Hey, I have been around the proverbial block at least 30 times since graduation, and it’s nothing to brag about.  My last two posts have been musings.  Now it’s time to meddle. Listen up you wanna-be adults on the verge of dubious adulthood: your real education is about to begin.

You can’t have it all
Nope. Sorry. Contrary to what you have heard growing up, it is impossible to have it all so save yourself years of frustration and realize this now!  Life is about choices and priorities. Paper or plastic? Chocolate or vanilla? Veronica or Betty?  You can have many things, but you just can’t have them all. And certainly not all at once!  And why would you want to? Life is about enjoying the ride, not cramming it all into one big loop-to-loop twist. You’ll just barf doing that. You will have many wonderful things as life unfolds. Sometimes they come simultaneously, but most times, sequentially. There are seasons in life. Seasons to be a student, a newlywed, seasons to work, retire, seasons to be a parent, blah, blah, blah.  Obviously seasons overlap and intertwine. But the idea that you can have it all seems to imply that none of your choices affect each other. Wrong. Each choice we make impacts others. If you want to be a doctor, great! Just realize you will have years of schooling while your peers are fast tracking their careers. If you want to be a teacher, then embrace poverty.  Every set of choices brings benefits and challenges. So choose wisely the things you want to have.

Life is not fair so get over it.
My husband had a conversation with a friend years ago. “Greg, nobody ever said life was going to be fair.” “Yeah,” Greg replied, “But they sure hinted.”  We have grown up with the entitlement that life should be fair.  But it is not, so just get over it already and save us all from your disillusioned whining. There will always be some injustice you will suffer. You will be passed over for a less qualified candidate who has connections you don’t. Grrrr! Maybe your spouse will run off with your best friend or ditch you because they can’t handle your muffin-top when you hit 40. Ouch!  Who is to say what is fair? And let’s admit it, fair is usually according to our own standard of fairness. But remember, you will always have less than some people and more than others. You will have opportunities others don’t, and others will have opportunities you would kill for (please don’t). Make the most of the life you have been given and leave the fairness to God.

Get off Facebook and get to work
Unless, of course, you are Mark Zuckerberg then you are at work.  Nobody cares  what you ate for dinner, much less the photos you post of what you ate.  But if you want to eat, then get to work. We all want to go out in a blaze of glory as the CEO when we retire. If you aren’t Paris Hilton, then the entry-level salt mines are where most of us start. Pick up your pickaxe now. Every job has mind-numbing tasks that the rookies cut their teeth on. Do your job, do it well and keep working hard. It’s called paying your dues. Some day your dues will be paid. If you should find yourself at mid-life still paying dues, well, then, you can always start a blog.

Keep reading and meeting
Charlie Jones said, “You will be the same in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  Life-changing tragedies and circumstances notwithstanding, good old Chuck was on to something here. Keep educating yourself by what you put in your mind and by the relationships you form.  Now, if you read only comic books and meet only thugs and perverts, you may not be invited back to your class reunion.

Balance passion with practicality
Passion is overrated. It’s ethereal. Most of us traffic in the pedestrian. It is the rare 20-something that knows what their passion is and how to make it a reality.  But since I am trying to hide the fact that I am a bitter, old curmudgeon, I will concede that the upside of passion is that it keeps life interesting and worth living. It nudges us to take risks that can lead to great opportunities. The down side is that it needs to be tempered with life experience, of which you have very little. So, be exuberant, but don’t be stupid.

Pursue purpose, not position
Okay, I know this sounds like a complete contradiction of the above statement, so just choose the one you prefer and go on. (Remember, I said you can’t have it all!) I am not advocating poverty as noble. Been there, done that, and so over that!  Purpose and position are not mutually exclusive. King David of ancient Israel was immensely wealthy and was a man after God’s own heart. Wow, talk about having a reason to live! Sometimes a powerful position is full of purpose. You can use power and position for great good. Just don’t go for an empty title and end up hating your life because you can’t quit that job cuz the kids need braces, and the executive home is high maintenance. The common worker is just that, common. But if you are doing what you love and not totally starving, then you are uncommon. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be one of those.

That’s it, my dear little, educated know-it-alls. Now go forth and conqueror, chase your dreams, reach for the mountain tops, and follow your passions, you are the future, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

9 thoughts on “You Graduated: Now Your Education Begins

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I’m sure you said it to underline your point, but I have one tiny complaint. A family member once said the same thing to me, that picking teaching meant a life of poverty. I think this unfairly turns young people off to becoming a teacher, (it turned me off until I worked a few years and realized that I did not mind the modest paycheck in exchange for a job I loved).

    Teacher pay is modest, not poverty. I think that people with means often confuse being middle class with being poor. I fell into this trap myself, (thus my avoidance), but I now teach kids that live in true poverty, and it’s definitely not the same. I know that you weren’t discouraging young people from becoming teachers, it’s just surprising how powerful that sentiment can be. In reality, many teachers live quite well on their modest paychecks, (especially those in dual income households…).

    Thank you for your honest spin on the classic graduation words. I admire your voice as a writer and found myself nodding along as I read.

    • Thanks, Olivia, for your insight as a teacher. As a fellow teacher (formerly taught HS journalism and now teach one section of middle school) and a marketer at a non-profit school, I understand the modest paycheck that comes with this vocation. You are right: it is not true poverty as experienced by the majority of the world, and many in America. I only say it tongue in cheek and not at all to discourage aspiring educators. We need young people who are passionate and excited about teaching. Yes, one can make a decent living from teaching, but few educators get rich (at least by Western standards) from being in the classroom. However it’s not money that makes one rich. Regardless of compensation, a true teacher will always do what they love, which is what I encourged at the end of the post. As long as you aren’t starving and doing something with purpose, then you are an uncommon person. Thanks for reading and your kind words.

      • I appreciate your insight, and I think you’re very right. I just hate that I let money (and that word poverty) discourage me from becoming a teacher when I was fresh out of school. In my family, the word poverty felt like it carrier a judgment, so that’s probably why it gives me such a strong reaction.

        Happy to hear you’re a fellow teacher!

  2. Thanks for combining insight, truth, inspiration and humor. This is going to be required reading by the offspring at my house (their failure to read means no lunch, because, another truth, “There’s no free lunch.”! I just wish I’d read this, oh, 30 years ago (yikes!).

  3. Wow! There must be some blogging karma going on here because I just visited your blog after finding you on Truth and Cake and really like what you have to say. I read the post on the article regarding women, life and work balance. I will check out the giving kids permission post, too. Following your blog now and looking forward to some more reading. Thanks for commenting and following. 🙂

  4. All of it is so 100% true – this is the kind of stuff we need to actually tell new graduates because it’s tough out there…and not everyone gives you a “like” every time you walk across the street or tie your shoelace! (Sorry to say!)

    Great post!

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