June 28, 2006
With graduations upon us, everyone is buzzing about the various commencement speakers and their words of wisdom. It made me stop and think what advice I would give to graduating seniors, and since no one has asked me to speak, in true parental style, I'll just go ahead and give my advice anyway.
Youth and beauty are both fleeting, so start working on building wisdom. Speak to your elders. They are a vastly under-utilized source of life experience, and they have the time to talk. Find an intellectual pursuit (the Discovery Channel doesn't count), be it an interest in learning other languages, understanding history, or comparing different psychological theories. "Wow you're really smart," is one of the best compliments you can receive. Learn to question sources — don't just read one paper or listen to one news channel. There is no such thing as objectivity — everything is filtered through the agenda of the presenting entity.
Vote. Noble people have fought long and hard for your right to do so. Many politicians are nearsighted with only their term in mind. Your generation will face the consequences of those decisions on our economy and environment. You may have to wait until 21 to be able to legally walk into a bar, but you can walk into a voting booth at 18.
Take risks. Corporate America is no longer a benevolent parent so you might as well start thinking of your own business plan. Many mighty companies have been started with just one good idea by a young person, and being your own boss is a huge motivation. Support the small businesses that care about the quality of their products — that could be you some day.
Spend money wisely. I wish I'd bought half as many shoes and twice as many shares of Microsoft. Where money will be most useful to you is as security which will give you the independence and the ability to say no to a job you hate, or a love partner who doesn't value you, or an apartment with a rat problem. And remember that credit cards are like bad boyfriends, they're great when you're playing with them but you end up paying a high price in the end.
Life is about experiences. Yes is more fun than no as long as it's not illegal or immoral. You will always remember the cross-country road trip for the Santana concert and not the extra night in the library. It is a balance, however, as too many yes's may lead to Dead Heads who now sell patchouli on the streets of San Francisco. (You may not know what either a Dead Head or patchouli is, that's okay.) There is a vast world to explore, and when you are young and not tied down with various responsibilities, it is the time to travel and add it to your educational arsenal.
Read labels — it's an increasingly toxic world you live in so try to be as organic and all natural as possible, from the food you ingest to the skin products you use, to your recycled toilet paper. Many companies are more interested in making a profit than in your health, so be sure to look at the fine print of what's in it and who makes it.
Believe in something. Spirituality may or may not include traditional religion, but find a space that is sacred and a ritual which turns off the outside world and brings you back to the core center of who you are and all that you value. Deciding who you want to be is up to you but how you operate in the world affects everyone else. Don't become the jerk or jerkette who would screw anyone to get ahead. Business ethics are not an oxymoron, and personal integrity is everything.
Embrace forgiveness — life is a work in progress and we rarely get it right all the time. So find your joy and hold onto it tenaciously.
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