Every June, there are thousands of high school commencement speeches offering advice to new graduates. And during this time of year, I often think about what I might say if asked to speak. Over time, I’ve found that this exercise is an excellent way to regain my perspective on what matters most.
Before sharing my ten “advice I’d give today’s high school seniors” bullet points, I challenge you: Think about what you would say. What advice would you give? What matters most to you?
And now, with no further ado, here are the bullet points I developed for this year’s imaginary commencement speech. To the class of 2022, here’s what I think you should know:
- Connect with people IN PERSON. While an online connection is better than no connection, IN PERSON connection is best for relationships. When I think about the loved ones I miss, I don’t think about our phone conversations. I miss their eyes, their touch, and their hugs.
- Spend time thinking every day. This may sound odd to a generation known for their ubiquitous earbuds! But spend some time in your own mind — shave without a podcast on, drive in silence, or just sit at your desk and think. We live in a reactionary society. Thinking forces you to slow down, plan, and be proactive.
- Seek out wisdom. In my twenties, the best thing I did was have coffee with people further down life’s road than I was. I asked questions, listened, and thought about what they told me during my times of reflection. Do the same.
- Realize that the “harder” path is almost always the path with the higher upside. The harder path may not feel good — in fact, “this feels good” is a good sign that you are NOT going the right way.
- Understand that “happiness” evolves. What made me happy at 20 was not what made me happy at 40. I’ve found “meaning” and “purpose” to be better guides to personal fulfillment. Doing work that matters may require taking the hard road, but in the end, it will bring satisfaction. This will produce more profound happiness.
- Write down what you learn while you are on the journey. I kept a journal in college. I poured my soul out about 9/11, what I should do with my life, and even the kind of person I wanted to marry. Now I keep an Evernote about what I am learning, write in a planner about each week, and still journal. All of this helps me improve myself.
- Be financially responsible. Financial strength tends to come from two practices — avoiding unnecessary debt and using compounding interest to your advantage. With that in mind, it’s worth cultivating something else that will help financially and in every aspect of your life: patience.
- Recognize that everyone is gifted to some degree. It is the maximizing of one’s giftedness that separates the great from the mediocre. This takes hard work and discipline.
- In the long run, consistent good work tends to beat out occasional great work. Keep at it.
- Understand your sphere. In a world of increasing divisiveness, it is best to not waste influence over the things you cannot truly influence.
- And a final bonus: Love wholeheartedly. You will never regret hugging your loved ones, telling them you love them, and ensuring those relationships are on solid ground. There is no tax heavier, more painful, or more extreme, than regret. Avoiding this tax has, so far, been one of the major accomplishments of my life.
The list above is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it makes you think. And I hope that thinking leads you down a path of meaning and doing things worth doing. Potentially, even a harder path. But one that leads to real life and with real people.
A life worth living.