Tis’ the season of “congradulations.” Over the last decade, I’ve worked closely with students of all ages – from pre-adolescent junior highers to recent college graduates. As someone who has walked through the American education system (and am still sprinting through the finish), I’ve sat through my fair share of pump-up rallies designed to inspire students to reach for the stars. As someone who switched his major (twice), had two career jobs in separate fields, and entered two separate graduate programs, I’ve learned the hard way that not all advice is good advice.
With today’s culture bound towards insta-gratification, it is easy to yearn for instant success, happiness, and satisfaction. With the struggles surrounding today’s economy, constant negativity about how much harder we have it than our parents (truth), and social pressures to live out the perfect Instagram life, I have seen many students succumb to the easy path. I always find myself asking, is that decision worth it? Is that what they are passionate about?
Here are four lessons I have shared over the years with my students and peers regarding the transitional season of young adulthood.
Convenient choices are often misunderstood as wise decisions
It makes sense that these are often intertwined: taking the first job that comes along to pay off bills is a smart decision; getting into medical school because you have the skills and abilities would lead to a great career. Yet choosing convenience is to choose the path that requires little effort and has low difficulty. Wisdom can be defined as sound judgement as it relates to actions, based on knowledge, experience, and judgement. The wise decision is not always the easiest, and in most cases I would argue that it can be the most difficult one to make. Human nature is to choose the easiest route, or the route most traveled – for psychology fans, it is called fight or flight. If you aren’t willing to take risks to follow your passions, tapping into your greatest potential, leading a life to become more human every single day, you aren’t just selling yourself short but short-changing everyone around you as well. Pursue your dreams (unless you’re Tim Tebow), take risks, but do it wisely. Know that the right thing, at the wrong time, is the wrong thing. A door might not always seem open, but check to see if it’s unlocked. With preparation and the right timing, the perfect opportunities will come along.
Pursuing your passions will come with costs
The convenient choices in life come with the least risk and the least reward. The wise choices will come with the highest risk and the full reward. The cliché catchphrase “life is a journey” is absolutely true. Journeys are not easy (ask Bilbo Baggins). With success comes struggles, baggage, and heartache. Often times, it seems letdowns are more likely than positive experiences. There will be nights at the office when you turn out the lights after the custodial staff has left. There will be moments when your “friends” walk away from you in a time of need. Often times, you will start to question your “why” and doubt will start telling you that you aren’t worthy. Push forward. If you are pursuing what you are called to do, you can find the willpower within yourself to fight for it. If it is worth spending your whole life doing, then it has to be something that you are willing to sacrifice for.
Even Bert has Ernie
You cannot do this alone
The greatest tragedy of the insta-culture is isolation. No one becomes fully human without community. Han Solo has Chewbacca. Batman has Robin. Even Bert has Ernie. Knowing who is in your inner-circle (and more importantly, who belongs there) is a crucial part of doing life.
We all have those we can call on in the middle of the night when we are at our weakest. We all have those who we can rely on to pick us up when we fall. They lead with empathy, follow with compassion, and push us out of love (sometimes the tough kind). They are the friends who will look you square in the eye and tell you that you are wrong and the same friends who will remind you that your why is greater than the how. Know who they are, rely on them, and most importantly – return the friendship.
Figuring out your passion is important – but be patient
Some people know their passion by the time they are crawling and some people don’t figure it out until they’ve already had a career job – and that’s OK. I’ve had many students over the years (and especially during my one year working in a Student Life office) fret and worry about what they will doing next. It’s natural to worry, but it’s important to focus on what you can control. One way to discover your passion is to figure out your “Why” before your “How” and your “What.”
When I was 22 and graduating college, I didn’t know what my “Why” driving me was. Yet as I took a leap of faith to move to Detroit, it became more and more clear. My journeys have made me realize that I’m passionate about people – meeting them, helping them, learning from them; I’m passionate about writing, music, and what makes people react. My “Why” is about the adventure, as cliché as it may be. The “How” and “What” can change, but my “Why” is constantly driving me.
So be encouraged – back then, I never thought that my first job would lead me to live in five cities in just under four years. I was worried about what I would be doing 10 years from then, instead of enjoying the moments that make up the journey. Now, nearly 26, I’m going to (my second) grad school, and moving to New York City. Life has a funny way of happening when you start enjoying the moments for what they are worth.
Finding your “Why” will take time – it certainly will take life experiences, and it must include people in your life who can help you think through life together. So to my dear friends and students who graduated this year – whether you are 14 or 22, strive to be more human, enjoy the ride, and choose to follow what makes you tick rather than what others expect you to do.
It will all be worth it in the end.
I'm a former Bible-school grad with a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Biblical Studies. I've lived in six cities in six states since 2009, and had a lot of adventures. I'm now searching for The Renaissance in all of us. You can learn more here.