Congratulations on this crazy awesome milestone and having the guts to jump blindly off this cliff of adolescence into the abyss of adulthood.
Y’all are so brave, and I mean that.
I remember not feeling a smidge of bravery when I was a high school (and college, for the matter) graduate, ducking into abandoned hallways or taking the long way to my car, so I could avoid people asking me the question all graduates hear:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It was always followed by a sardonic laugh, like the person who asked it created the question for the pure joy of seeing me squirm and fish for my words.
Ha, haa, huhhh…
Back then, I didn’t know what I wanted my career to be. I didn’t have a lot of talents, or so I thought. I never internalized what my “dream job” would be. Truthfully, the only career options I considered was what I could do that wouldn’t kill me and provide, you know, food.
It never occurred to me to follow a cliché like “dream big”, “search deep”, to “reach for the stars”. It didn’t occur to me to care about what I should be. The question was so monstrous, so intimidating, I decided that I just wouldn’t be anything. That what I would be inevitably would pale to whatever dream I could conjure, so I might as well not conjure one at all. Ignorance is bliss and all that.
I was not a confident teen. I was driven by fear-fear lead to procrastination-procrastination to denial. Denial that I even wanted more than what I had allowed myself.
I’ve heard a lot of people blame the world for failures, but I was the worst kind of hypocrite. The world wasn’t my problem. I was my problem. And I had convinced myself that I didn’t need to know myself, that I didn’t need to believe I could be more.
I had been telling myself “NO” long before I donned a cap and gown.
For example, I was waiting tables my senior year of high school, and met a news anchor for the local television station. When the check was delivered, she put her card in the small, black folder and asked me to contact her if I wanted an internship with her.
I was elated. My heart burst forth lighting my path with glowy rainbow dust. The opportunity of interning with her hung before me, a colorful piñata ripe with sweet possibilities. I held the stick. All I had to do was whack the thing open.
I lived off the good feeling the offer gave me for a year before I realized I’d wasted it.
The phrase “my life will do” took the place of “I love my life” and, my young friends, “doing” might make you feel good for a moment, but long-term, you want the “loving”.
I settled on a path in college, and didn’t dare question it until my senior year, and by then, I was so close to a degree, I just sucked it up and finished it.
Why did I do this? Why was I so self-destructive?
I’m not a thousand percent sure, but I have an idea that this is part of the reason:
I was asking the wrong question.
It shouldn’t be “WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?”.
It should be “WHO do you want to be?”
To get to that answer, maybe the answer to a few of these questions could help.
- What kind of person do you want to be, inside and out?
- What characteristics do you want to embody?
- How do you want to affect others?
- What about you do you want others to admire?
- How do you want to feel at the end of the day?
I don’t want to give you the impression that answering these questions are easy. In fact, my answer two years ago is different from the answer I hold in my mind today. It’s an evolving answer as we grow, observe, learn, and change.
BUT the hard work will be worth it.
In my heart of hearts I know if I would have ventured onto this path of self-discovery, my career choice would have been chosen to compliment me, rather than an obstacle to overcome. And if I would have stumbled into a career choice that didn’t match my expectations, it would have been okay because at the end of the day, I would have known who I was. I could have recognized when I was in a situation that didn’t honor WHO I wanted to be, and I could have made the necessary career changes earlier.
So, WHO do you want to be? WHO do you want your future spouse to fall in love with? WHO do you want your parents or guardians to be proud of? WHO do you want to face in the mirror every morning? WHO do you want your future kids to look up to?
Find that person, BE that person, and the WHAT, WHY, WHERE, and HOW will fall into place.
Cheers, class of 2018! Don’t be afraid to show my generation up!
(Edited from original post, “A Word to You, Graduates”, May 16, 2017)