I am pulling no punches in today’s post – if I’m ever asked to give the commencement address to a class of graduating seniors (Ha! Yeah, right…), this is what I would say…though after posting this, I’m sure that I will never be asked!
A challenge to other bloggers: What commencement address would you give? Care to post your version?
Okay, here we go!
My commencement address
You might be the luckiest graduating class in the history of America. Opportunities abound. Your futures are bright. Over the past four years, each of you has worked (and drank) your way to academic success, and here today you sit on the precipice of a new venture. The next stage of your life is about to begin.
You might expect this commencement address to be positive and uplifting. I’m not delivering such an address. Instead, I’m giving you a little dose of reality and an extremely important piece of wisdom to take with you.
I have one powerful piece of advice for each and every one of you. Reject conventional wisdom. It’s nonsense. The conventional wisdom is what keeps you working nonsense jobs to pay for nonsense items that don’t make you happy.
Don’t follow the leader. Instead, be the leader. Be the one that others look up to. Sharpen your teeth on the edges of what is possible in this country. Make whatever happens in your lives a result of your willing and informed choice, not a byproduct of a lifetime of normalcy; of mediocrity; of nonsense and bullshit.
Reject the notion that your jobs define you. Your work pays the bills, but within each of us lies a much deeper emotional component that makes us all who we truly are. At most, college prepared you to perform a trade in exchange for compensation. But our trades should not limit us. They should not control our livelihoods. Get a job and become a productive member of society.
But remember that your job doesn’t give a whit about you; it doesn’t care about your upbringing or what you’ve been through. It doesn’t care how much you try or love coming to work. Because in the end, your position is nothing more than a source of money to the organization. You fill a billable role. If you are no longer a viable money-maker to your company, you’re out on your ass finding another job regardless of how hard you work. Contrary to the culture that you were probably brought up in, we don’t give trophies for participating. This isn’t little league baseball. Produce or find yourself picking up garbage for a living.
The bar is set exceptionally low. Often, showing up is half the battle.
In the end, it doesn’t pay to “live your job”. Just like conventional wisdom, living your job is nonsense. It means countless hours, days, months and years are removed from your future, years that could have been spent exploring, producing or cultivating mind-blowing advancements in society. It’s okay to like your job, but never let it consume your life.
The fact is the large majority of us who sit behind desks staring blankly into a computer monitor aren’t cultivating much beyond a deep yawning chasm in the seat of their chair.
Once released into the wild, the decision is entirely yours regarding how you will lead your life, make and maintain friendships, pursue happiness. Those who understand what true happiness means to them are better prepared to avoid the nonsense of life that every follower of conventional wisdom trudges through, endlessly searching for the escape but also diving straight back into the pile.
Thank you for that lashing. May I have another?
Understand this: None of you are special. You’re all on the same playing field competing to make the most money or find the best job. You all have college degrees, which prepares you only to complete the job application process. The rest is entirely up to you. Your degree does not entitle you to a good job or early retirement, a nice boss, dependable friends or short commute.
In fact, remove the word “entitle” from your vocabulary – right now. That word sets unrealistic expectations that you’re owed something, and that attitude will leave you helpless, angry and unsuccessful for the rest of your life. I promise.
Society doesn’t owe you fortune or fame. It isn’t responsible for supporting you, paying your mortgage or buying your groceries. Society doesn’t work for you. You work for it, and the greater impact that you have on society, the more likely your name will be recorded in a history book rather than just atop a hastily carved tombstone.
Resist the temptation to allow your lifestyle to inflate as you earn greater and greater amounts of money. The more money you spend, the more you’ll have to make just to get by…just to make ends meet, and the further off retirement will stay. Many believe that today’s college graduates have 50 or more years of work to look forward to, building careers and kissing ass in the never-ending pursuit of money, power or fame.
But I tell you this – it doesn’t have to be that way. Fifty-year careers only exist for people who actually want them, who fail to manage their finances and lifestyle appropriately, who let their egos and superficial desires – honed and exploited by cleverly evil marketing geniuses – get the better of them. Conventional wisdom, again.
Do you want to work the rest of your life or enjoy your time on this planet? If you choose work, then conventional wisdom is your game. Otherwise, don’t allow the nonsense of life to destroy your ambitions or postpone your goals.
After all, we only live once, and life is short. Work hard, but play harder.
What makes the difference is YOU. Be comfortable and confident in yourself, but understand your weaknesses and be willing to change. Remaining steadfast in your drive towards mediocrity in this world can only lead to a successful completion of that goal. Instead, open your eyes. Breath in the air. Take stock of your life at every turn and re-evaluate your options.
Because the better that we understand ourselves, the more prepared we are to design a life that we can be proud of in the end, bucket-list complete.
Steve is a 37-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.