Maggie: What are we talking about today?
John: Well… You are about to graduate, right?
Maggie: Sure am. Why?
John: You are entering an exciting time in your life. But it is also a paradigm shifting moment where you are moving from dependence to independence.
Maggie: I like the way you put that: paradigm shifting. It is very exciting, but also a little bit scary.
John: Oh, I know. All paradigm shifting moments are a little scary. But life cannot continue without them. So we need to face them with courage and good judgment.
But there are things to help us along the way. I would like to leave you with some thoughts to ponder as you continue your journey. Okay?
First, I will let you in on a secret: you are not perfect. Just like every other person under the sun, you have some good qualities and some imperfections that you need to improve. But I will let you in on another secret. It is not important that you be perfect; it never has been, and it never will be. What is important is that you engage in self-appropriation, that you become aware of your good and bad qualities, and that you work hard to improve the latter. But do not try to improve in leaps and bounds; no one can do that. Choose one imperfection each year and try to improve that feature just a little. By doing so, you will improve your character on a continual basis, slowly becoming the person you want to be.
Second, define yourself and who you want to be. Do not let men define you, tell you how to act, tell you how to dress, or tell you what to believe. And do not let women do so either. Both will try, and try hard, but do not let them! Moreover, do not let theologians or philosophers or priests or scientists or psychologists or doctors or lawyers or whoever tell you what to think. Let them help you raise the right questions, but come up with the answers by yourself, come to your own conclusions, and make your own decisions. It is easy to go along with others and follow the crowd, but don’t do it. Take the harder path. You will be the better for it.
Third, while you are becoming that person, accept the person that you currently are. Accept the body god has given you and accept the mind god has given you. Celebrate your differences and be proud of them. They are what make you unique and valuable to the world.
Fourth, don’t compare yourself with others, because that leads to the evil of ressentiment. People suffering from ressentiment feel good about themselves when they judge others to be less than themselves, and they feel bad about themselves when they judge others to be greater than themselves. In the former, they devalue others; in the latter they devalue themselves. Don’t do either.
Fifth, don’t be afraid to fail. Yes, it is embarrassing; yes, it is a little humiliating; yes, your friends will talk about you and your enemies will laugh. Let them. Failing at something and still having the strength to get back up and try again simply means you are moving forward in your life. And that, my dear, is the true measure of success.
Sixth, live simply. Like yourself, have a few friends, find a great love, and own a few things that make your life interesting: that is all you need to be happy.
Seventh, collect adventures, not things. Climb a mountain, walk in nature, visit the Louvre, bike the John Wayne trail, stand in awe before Lincoln at his memorial, watch Serena play before she retires, join the Taylor Nation (old person clue: Taylor Swift’s fan club), and listen to Joshua Bell live. These are the things that you will remember as you go through life; these are the things that you will value as you age.
Eighth, live your life with your head up, observing the world around you, not down, looking only at yourself. And when you see need, help: feed those who are hungry; clothe those who are cold; and, visit those who are lonely. Pay special attention to the children and the elderly, and lend a hand where you can. (Here is a secret to happiness: when you help others, you increase your own happiness.)
Ninth, always seek to achieve great heights, but when pursuing greatness never sacrifice love and friendship. People are more important than societal status and monetary rewards. T.S. Eliot said it best when he wrote:
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.’
Tenth, never be scared to take a risk. You never know what wonderful and delightful roads you may end up treading down if you do so.
Eleventh, walk in nature as much as you can; it will refresh your soul. Read poetry whenever you can; it will refresh your mind. And practice random acts of kindness; doing so will refresh your heart.
Twelfth, always remember that you are loved. No matter what life throws your way, your dad loves you. No matter what struggles you are going through, your mom loves you. When you are trudging through life, they will trudge beside you; when you are sailing through life, they will sail beside you; when you are teetering on a precipice, they will be there to catch you; when you are walking those long, last yards to the mountaintop, they will be there to celebrate. When life pushes down on you, you can always go home to a warm meal, a soft bed, and a strong hug; and when victory lifts you up, they will stand on their toes and shout their barbaric YAWPs from the rooftops of the world. In short, my dear, you have love and you will always have love. Never forget that!
Maggie: I am going to treasure these thoughts the rest of my life. I am so glad that we are friends. I feel lucky to have you in my life.
John: I feel the same way my young friend. And congratulations on being a 2020 graduate. This will be a year you will never forget. Now go celebrate!