Graduates: Don't Be Afraid to Fail
As you enter the world, don’t worry that you don’t have all the answers. In fact, no one does.
Dear young(er) people,
I’ve always wanted to write a commencement speech, but that usually requires being invited to a commencement at which to speak. And because I am not Jim Carrey, J.K. Rowling, or Oprah, I am not likely to be invited to commencement anytime soon, so I decided to write my own commencement speech, just for you, but also for me, because I am not happy unless I am writing. Or teaching. And with this “speech,” I hope to do a little of both.
So here goes:
Congratulations! You are embarking on a path in a world embedded in contradiction. A world that is both uncertain and scary, and yet endlessly hopeful.
Given what is usually said about “Millennials,” I have the feeling you haven’t heard the very next thing I’m about to say:
The world is hopeful because you exist in it.
You probably do not have any answers right now, and that is A-OK. Ignore anyone who says otherwise.
If you still have no idea about what you want to do with the rest of your life, then you’re in good company. On the other hand, a lot of people think that you should know exactly what you’re doing.
Ignore those people.
There are a lot of things you should do, moving forward. There are also a lot of things (and people) you should ignore. Here are some things I wish I would have been told when I graduated both high school and college many moons ago, and at the same time, not that long ago at all:
People will lie to you to make themselves feel better about their own lives.
You will encounter a number of people who pretend to have it all figured out: Bosses. Friends. Family. Strangers. Recognize their façade for what it is: Lives veiled in lies. No one has it all figured out, and those who pretend to are doing so because it is easier to pretend than it is to face life’s ambiguity. Ignore them, unless you want to experience the emotional turmoil and stress associated with the false belief that you should have it all figured out. This is where the art of smiling and nodding comes in handy.
Your degree will set you up; but be open to a career having nothing to do with your degree.
Take a good, long look at the degree with which you are graduating. Admire it. Relish in it. Be proud of it. Hug that degree if you’re not afraid of bending it. And embrace the future fully accepting and expecting that your future-self might not be working in a field having anything (directly) to do with your specific college preparation.
Working a crap job is probably inevitable.
People tend to say that finding the job you love means never having to work a day in your life. What people forget to point out is that finding the job you love requires sweating over jobs, experiences, and even careers that you do not love so much, and perhaps even for years. You have to toil in life’s myriad experiences before you have any idea about what it means to love what you do.
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid to think. No one ever died by thinking harder than they wanted to.
Do not be afraid to ask the kinds of questions that you need to ask in order to succeed. Some people believe that asking questions signifies weakness and vulnerability. Stay away from those people.
Do not be afraid to help people, or to do favors. Do not be afraid to do (some) work for free or on the cheap. Only then can you truly identify the difference between those who take advantage of others and those who do not.
You have the right to balance your personal interests with your professional life.
Nothing in the world is more important than friends and family. Even still, practice the art of putting yourself first, as necessary. This might mean skipping out on a couple of Sunday dinners, or not flying home for the holidays every year, for whatever reasons you’ve decided make sense for you in a given situation.
You are entitled to work-life balance.
No, this does not mean accepting a position and then immediately taking off for a month to backpack across Europe. That move is unprofessional, obnoxious, and ill-advised. Work-life balance means knowing that you are entitled to read for pleasure, go for a run, or do any of the day-to-day or week-to-week activities that allow you to feel like a whole person. Someone who requires you to live, eat, breathe, and sleep their ambitions/goals is not someone who understands much of anything.
Perfection is the enemy.
In the workplace, no one is watching your every move as closely as you are. Perfection is your enemy.
Do not be afraid of failure.
If it so happens that someone in the workplace is watching your every move as closely (or more closely) than you are, he or she is a micromanager. You cannot often choose who you work with, but you usually have control over who you work for. Do not work for a micromanager if you can possibly help it. It’s not worth the aggravation.
And finally, if you want to hear the universe laugh, share your “plans.”
Forge ahead with courage. Forge ahead with kindness. And for the love of everything holy, don’t apologize for it.
Christina Berchini is an assistant professor of English at UW-Eau Claire. She blogs frequently at her own website, www.heycollegekid.com, as well as at the Huffington Post, Success.com, and other outlets.