To the Graduating Class of 2021
Some perspective and principles for high school scholars
What’s good Young People of Earth?
With the pandemic, politics, protests, police brutality and college pursuits hanging in the balance, you might be thinking: not much is good right now.
I feel that.
But you might also be saying (and I really hope you are): “Man, these adults have really run this world into the ground — and I’m part of the generation who will extinguish this dumpster fire and start to reimagine what’s possible — and what’s next.”
If you’re in that camp, you must know two things prior to the endeavor: your value and your values.
That is to say: you need to know what you are worth — that you are worthy. And you need to know what you stand for — what your principles and motivations are.
I’m sure you deal with people on a regular basis who seem to exist almost entirely to tear you down, to steal your energy, to tell you you’re not good enough. Sadly those people exist well into adulthood. Only it’s worse because the stakes are higher and there’s more to lose if you give into their criticism and negativity.
The antidote to haters is knowing yourself — knowing your value. That’s how you keep these people out of your head and from stoking fear and self-doubt.
When we’re children, we sing and dance and make art and music uninhibitedly. We simply express ourselves — sharing our ideas and imaginings freely. Then somewhere along the way, someone tells us we’re not good at those things. Tells us we’re doing it wrong. Tells us we can’t. And, sadly, little by little we begin to listen and before we know it, we’re too embarrassed to sing out loud or dance in public or express our creativity and thoughts openly.
And that fear limits our greatness. And we scale back and subvert ourselves. And start telling ourselves stories about all the things we can’t do. And we tell those stories until they’re true. And all of our potential and ambition and vision is extinguished.
The author and activist, Marianne Williamson puts it perfectly:
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Everything you want is on the other side of fear. Knowing your value is key to making moves — even when you’re scared.
Making big moves, bold moves and taking risks is pretty scary. But, you know what’s even scarier? Regret.
Knowing your values — your principles — is the other half of this knowledge equation.
What motivates and guides your behavior? What keeps you up at night? What gets you out of bed in the morning? The answers to these questions are your values. What matters to you as a human being moving forward in this world.
As you think about these behavioral drivers — your guiding principles — I really hope money and fame are not at the top of your list. And here’s why…
No one’s last gasp on their deathbed is ever, “I wish I made more money.” It’s things like: I wish I spent more time with my family, I wish traveled the world, I wish I hadn’t wasted all that time in that painful relationship and dead-end job.
Money doesn’t buy happiness and it can’t prevent regret.
Fame is so overvalued right now thanks to social media and influencers. The constant highlight reels of phony peoples’ fake lives have us all questioning ourselves and our abilities. Comparison is one of the leading causes of death in young people’s creativity. We’ll never truly know the creative death toll caused by social media — the number of people whose brilliance and artistry we’ll never get to experience because they were abandoned after comparison.
There’s nothing sadder than unrealized talent.
Whether you’re religious or not, somebody once told me the definition of hell:
“On your last day on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.”
Like I said before, there’s no doubt your generation is inheriting a world of violence, racism, pollution, sickness, and suffering. And none of it is your fault. None of it is your doing. Adversity, tragedy and death are outside of everyone’s control. But it’s absolutely worth trying. It’s worth healing and rebuilding and saving. And you’re just the generation to do it. Because more than any before it, your generation knows its value and its values.
So as you continue to sharpen your point of view and define what’s next for your scholarship and eventually your career, return again and again to the words of Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”