It’s graduation season. Congrats to you, graduate, both on your accomplishment and the conclusion of another life chapter.
I still remember my college graduation, eight years ago. Between then and now, I’ve experienced much. I want to share some of my insights with you. Most of these you won’t hear from a commencement speech, but they’re valuable life lessons for young people, in general, and college grads, in particular.
Here, then, distinguished friends, are 7 things I wish someone told me when I graduated college.
1. Celebrate your successes. But your response to failure will shape your future.
I hope you find success. I really do. Chances are, if you live upright and work with excellence, success will find you. Either way, celebrate.
But also know this. Failure is part of the deal. And how you respond to it reveals a lot about who you are, what you value and where your hope rests. You learn much more through failure than success, in other words.
It took me years to get this, to change my perspective from “Why me?” to opportunity.
2. You don’t have to be in charge to lead.
Chances are you won’t be in charge at first. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader. Leadership is about influence. Prioritize integrity. Take a genuine interest in others. Be a giver and a servant.
This is my hope for your generation. I hope God raises up young people who care more about influencing others than being in charge of them.
This is my hope for your generation. I hope God raises up young people who care more about influencing others than being in charge of them. Our world has plenty of bosses. We’re desperate for leaders.
You can be one. Start today.
3. The books you read will shape the person you become.
I get it. You’ve been reading your entire life. Take a mental siesta, if it helps.
Just know, the great ones never stop learning. This saying is certainly corny but undoubtedly true, “Leaders are readers.” If you want to maximize your potential, add depth to your relationships, expand your worldview, or grow in empathy and compassion, you need to read.
4. It’s not what people call you. It’s what you answer to.
Everyone has critics and haters. This is especially true if you set out to make the world a better place.
Marry yourself to this truth: you can’t control your circumstances, but you’re ALWAYS responsible for your response. Applying it will cover a multitude of sins.
If someone hurts you, don’t deny your emotions. Process with them. Invest in a punching bag or maybe a counselor. Then get on with making a dent in the world.
5. Consistency and character are more valuable than competency.
The path to your dreams is much more about consistency and character than competency. Show up everyday, even when you don’t feel like it. Don’t worry about being perfect. Give the world your best. On certain days, this might not be much. That’s okay. Too many bow out of the race or show up only when they feel like it. It’s very difficult to realize your dreams this way.
Make the right choice even when it’s not the easy one. Stay true to who you are, even if it costs you a relationship or a job. If you’re consistent and develop your character, you will arrive wherever it is you’re trying to go.
6. Keep your mind open and your heart humble.
Certainty creates a very small world and a very large sense of entitlement and insecurity.
Keep your mind open. Engage people with different world views. Give up trying to convince people. Leave open the possibility you could be wrong. And make peace with not knowing, which is what it means to have faith.
7. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.
I was tempted to say “unrealistic expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” Then I recalled the times I placed realistic expectations on someone and ended up bitter anyway.
A few years ago, on the way home from a leadership meeting at church, I pulled over to help a lady who ran out of gas. She was in a tight spot, so I drove to the gas station, bought a gas tank, filled it up, and returned to pour the petro in her car. I then walked up to her window and told her she was ready to go. She asked if I wanted some cash. I said no. She said ok and drove off.
I honestly didn’t want cash. I did, however, want some word or gesture of gratitude. “Thank you” or “I appreciate it” would have worked. Shoot, I would have taken a Gilligan salute.
Reasonable expectation, agreed?
Instead I got nothing. And I was fightin’ mad.
At least a few years has passed since that incident, and it just hit me that I haven’t stopped to help one person since. Why? Resentment fueled by an unmet expectation.
Don’t place expectations on people and situations.
Instead, appreciate every one and embrace every moment for who or what it is, not what you think it should be. And give to the world without assuming it owes you anything in return…because it doesn’t.
8. When in doubt, always choose love.
In the days moving forward, there will be many opportunities to choose something other than love. You will encounter difficult co-workers and experience situations that are less than ideal. You will often read about a world where hope is in short supply.
In these moments, ask yourself, “What’s the loving response to this person or situation? How can I glorify God here?”
Responding to situations with this perspective doesn’t mean you will avoid mistakes. But it does mean you will avoid regret.
Graduates, I pray God gives you clarity in the months and years to come. Trust that he’s in control of everything. Don’t lose hope. Your best days are yet to come. That will be true today and ten years from now. Keep your eyes open and your heart humble.
Welcome to your next chapter.
Grace and peace, distinguished friends.