It’s that time of year again. The graduation announcements are starting to roll in which caused me to reminisce a bit about my own life a little. How can anyone at seventeen or eighteen years of age possibly be expected to make life-altering decisions without having some confusion and stress? So, with our recent graduates in mind, I’ve come up with ten things I wish I understood when I graduated high school.
1. It’s completely alright to have no idea what career to pursue.
We’re all doing the best we can to figure out life as we go. Nothing says you have to know what you want to be when you grow up as a graduating senior. Heck, I’m 42 and I’m just now starting to get an idea of what I want to be when I grow up (if I ever grow up).
2. The most important learning has only just begun.
When you’re in high school, almost all your learning was based on passing standardized tests. Now that you’re moving on from your cookie-cutter education you will realize your learning has just begun. I don’t mean to piss in your Cheerios but life will teach you lessons whether you’re ready for them or not.
3. You are a creative genius!
You were born with natural talent. Your parents, teachers, and friends have been telling you for years what you’re gifted to do. Choose a profession that allows you to use, cultivate, and grow your creative genius and you won’t be disappointed. Choose a profession that has nothing to do with your creative genius and you’ll be miserable before you’re thirty.
4. There’s a million ways to live.
Don’t assume the way your family or hometown lives is the way everyone else in the world lives. Explore! Go see different cultures. Talk to people with different backgrounds. Take a comparative religions class. Keep in mind that real life begins right outside your comfort zone.
5. Choosing a partner is more about science and less about soul mates.
I’m sorry to be the one to burst your bubble. I really am. But your relationship won’t always be rainbows and butterflies. Relationships take work. Period. If you haven’t found “the one” yet, remember that you are scientifically choosing a partner based on attempting to heal your wounds given to you by caregivers during your childhood. (Phew, that’s a mouthful) Yes, there are a few couples you know who suggest they are soul mates and life began the minute they “found” one another; but even soul mates have to work at their relationship after reality sets in.
6. Question everything! Follow your curiosity.
You may think you’re right. How can you be so sure? It’s human nature to assume your parents, teachers, and friends are all geniuses who have all the mysteries of the universe figured out. But for the rest of us we can’t safely make those same assumptions. Remember just a few hundred years ago the entire human race believed the earth was flat and we were the center of the universe. The absolute best defense against ignorance is your curiosity.
7. You will become just like the 5 people you spend the most time with.
There’s a reason your parents have been hounding you about your friends. Whoever you hang around is who you become. We can’t help it. We’re creatures of habit and we’re easily influenced. So if you want to be rich and a successful businessman, you have to spend most your time around rich and successful businessmen. If you want to be a drug addict and an alcoholic ….. well, you know what I’m getting at.
8. Your life (and your problems) will be right here waiting for you when you’re done partying.
Some people you may know who went off to college came home at Christmas break and told epic tales of party after party (Who am I kidding, you saw all the pictures on Facebook and Instagram long before Christmas break). No matter how long you attempt to escape from your life with partying (Yes, partying is an escape), it will still be waiting for you when you decide to grow up. Your first stab at living independently without your parents breathing down your neck will allow you some freedoms you might not have experienced before. But whether it takes you a couple semesters, a couple years, or a couple decades, your life will be happy when you finally decide to give it the attention it deserves.
9. You are the hero of your own life story.
When I think about being the hero of my own life story, I think about some of my favorite movie characters. Most days in my mind I feel like the newest Brad-Pitt-box-office-smash (even though when you look at me the only character you can think of is Shrek). The best movies usually have strong characters who go through some inner or outer turmoil. And the best lives have strong heroes who are determined to fight for a mission they’re dying to accomplish.
10. Your heart will be broken, your ego bruised, and your feelings hurt; but you’ll never regret being authentic and vulnerable.
We have all stuck our heart out there and got burned before. Pain and heartache are a part of life we all have to accept. It’s easy (and understandable) to get bitter and build a brick wall around our hearts. We tell ourselves we will never hurt like that again so we become jaded and isolated. We play games with hearts, swear off love, and resist any attempt at genuineness. The problem is, being human means we long for love and connection. Sooner or later you will come to realize being vulnerable and authentic is a remarkable way to meet other people who are also vulnerable and authentic. Try it. It’s worth the risk.
OK friends, here’s my simple list of what I wish I understood when I graduated. If you’re old like me (well, I guess the only prerequisite is that you must have graduated), I’m curious what other things you would add to the list. Just to help get you started (and because I’m an overachiever), I’ll add another one right now:
11. There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to therapy.
Some of the biggest Aha moments of my life were in a counselor’s office. My only regret about counseling is not starting it sooner. Why wait until your life is completely ruined? Start learning about yourself as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.
Your turn. Now that you’re a little older and a little wiser, what do you wish you understood when you graduated high school?
Peace my Friends!