I met Teresa my junior year of high school while waiting in the cafeteria. She invited me to sit with her and since I had no friends who had lunch that period, I accepted. She had blond hair, a mischievous smile and was one of the friendliest people I had ever met. So, for the next year and a half, I joined her circle of friends and they single-handedly changed the course of my life.
I’d like to dedicate this column to the high school graduates who are entering an exciting and challenging phase of life. In the next ten years you will make more decisions that impact your future than any other decade in your life. You will choose a career path, get your first real job, meet a spouse and most likely start a family.
Twenty three years ago this month, I was you. Well, not really you—that would be implausible considering all the laws of time travel and science we’d have to break—but metaphorically speaking, I was you. In your shoes, walking across the stage, accepting my fake-rolled-up-don’t-worry-once-your-fees-are-paid-and-the-grades-are-in-you’ll-get-the-real-one-in-the-mail, diploma.
I sincerely wonder where the last twenty-ish years have gone and I am incredibly thrilled beyond imagination that I never have to do high school over again. Not that is was horribly horrible (that was middle school) but I wish I knew then what I know now, which is also impossible since that’s sort of how you gain wisdom: through years of experience making mistakes and correcting them.
You probably won’t listen, but here are the things I am glad I knew when I was your age and a few I wish I had known.
B.N.F. (Bad News First): acne doesn’t go away.
I’m sorry to that you have to hear it from me but it comes and goes depending on hormones, hygiene and the sweltering places you live. I’m really sorry, it really is appalling……..I’ll give you a minute to mourn.
Hi! Are you back? Is your grieving process complete? Good; moving on then…
The person you were in high school isn’t necessarily the person you have to be for the rest of your life.
It certainly shapes you but does not have to dictate your future. I knew friends who were painfully shy or hoodlums or incredibly socially awkward who have somehow found a better groove in their future than they had in their past. God, and most of humanity, allows u-turns.
Rinse out your cereal bowl before the granola, oatmeal or grape nuts turn into cement.
You can ignore my warning, but the amount of time (or bowls) you will save is incalculable if you keep this one bit of advice.
Be willing to give up something now for what you want later.
For some jobs a post-High School diploma is simply proof that you can finish what you start and that you are willing to put off what you want today for what you want years down the road. For many employers, it is merely evidence that you can work towards a goal that is farther off than a Happy Meal or the newest video game.
I hope one day you and your spouse will have children not because of what you get but because it changes you and makes you a better person, if you allow it.
Kids do require a lot so make sure you have the reservoir of knowledge and life experience to draw upon. They deserve to be consciously added to a family that is strong and prepared for them. This a lifetime gig and for their sake, please make it a conscious and selfless decision.
Many people take this advice as, “Make sure you’re super-financially stable and have a two-car garage.” Each family has their own timing, but for us–none of our children ever had a “proper nursery”. We had ghetto apartments where we had SWAT teams and 2nd hand smoke through the air vents. There were (more than I wanted) years of laundry-mat use and rationing of cheese on pizza but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. If we had waited until we could “afford” children, I’m not sure that day would have ever come.
In short: focus more on becoming ready emotionally, maritally and spiritually than having a college or diaper fund.
No one is “all good” or “all bad.”
Leave the good/bad guys to the five year-olds at the playground. As I’ve aged, I can disagree with someone on every political, moral or ethical issue and still see the good. Learn to look for commonalities instead of “me vs. you” attributes. Everyone has a story; listen to them, and you’ll become their ally instead of their enemy.
Looking back, I’m not even sure when Teresa received a diploma or how many years she attended our school. She was in one of the special needs classrooms and because of her simple and serendipitous invitation, I got to know her friends, accompany them on field trips, and post-college, worked as a special education teacher. More importantly though, it guided me to a path that helped me be prepared to raise my own child with a disability.
How does that happen? How does a single seemingly-random meeting in a cacophonous, hormone-infused cafeteria prepare a person for an event a decade and a half later?
I don’t know but here’s what I do know: pay attention. Pay attention to people who are inexplicably placed in your path who will teach, mentor and guide you to directions you never intended to go—whether for career, relationship or religious purposes. Pay attention to those around you who you can mentor and guide to help them reach a higher level of satisfaction and joy in life.
John Donne had it right when he said that “no man is an island.” You are not a mistake and your talents are in you to do good—to serve, lighten and help others. Your God-given gifts and abilities are for you to use to bless the lives of those around you and that can happen in any career. We don’t all have to be social workers, doctors and teachers. I have had many people help our family through finding us a good deal on a mortgage, guiding us through health insurance or breaking down barriers so we can make an appointment with the right doctor.
Every occupation, every hour of your life, gives you opportunities to make another person’s life better. Use it wisely.
photos from: pexels.com