I will be spending this coming weekend sitting on uncomfortable bleachers with many other family and friends scanning a sea of mortarboards for the one face I came to witness cross a stage.
Graduation season is upon us.
Transitioning into the next phase of your life can be incredibly scary, I know. It doesn’t matter if the move is from middle school into high school, from high school to college or technical school, or from school into the workforce: Each move can be daunting.
What if you don’t know what you want to do? What if school was a struggle for you, and the thought of another four years in a classroom is too much to bear? What if you thrive in a classroom and the thought of working in an office for the rest of your life is equally miserable to you?
Kids, I’m going to let you in on a little secret us adults have kept from you so that we can cling to our credibility and authority — no one knows what they’re doing. No fairy comes and bops you over the head on your 18th birthday granting you wisdom and insight. We’re all winging it.
And, most importantly, no one path in life is the same for everyone.
Find your way
Now, you may be full-on panicking now, reading that. But it’s OK. See, the secret of happy and fulfilled adults is that we kept trying until we found our way.
You may start out with a road map in your head, only to realize that the road before you forks in many places. Those choices may seem huge at the time, but I’m here to tell you that no matter which one you take, you will wind up at the destination you were always meant to find. Even if it wasn’t the destination you had in mind at the start of your journey.
I thought I’d marry a farmer, return home from a few years working in our careers, and we’d farm with my parents. I thought I’d have children and be a 4-H mom. I thought I’d be discovered by a talent scout and be on my way to my 15th Grammy Award by now.
None of that happened. The forks in the road took me to where I am today, and I thank God every day he put them there.
I’m where I’m meant to be, and you’ll find that place for yourselves, too.
How’d I do it? I just kept trying and putting one foot in front of the other.
I kept learning new things. Now for you, that may mean college, or trade school, or starting out working and then choosing some other path of learning. The key is to never be OK with just being OK. Push yourself to learn new skills, and you’ll see opportunities open to you on your own path.
I expanded my circle of friends. My friend list is a rainbow of political thoughts, faiths, nationalities and more. We don’t always agree on everything, but then again, I hate an echo chamber. If I’m the smartest one in the room, I’m in the wrong room. Your friends are there to show you different routes on your way.
I raised my hand. Volunteering in the classroom, volunteering in extracurricular activities, volunteering in church and at work — all of those are opportunities if you approach them right. Be the one people can rely on to do the work, even if there’s no award. When you help others, you often help yourself.
I found purpose even in drudgery and heartache. That promotion that never came through, the lost love, and other crises — we adults have navigated them all. And you will, too. But our paths aren’t always smooth blacktop highways. Sometimes there’s a bit of mud before you reach your destination. Like my dad would say when he taught me to drive, “just put it in four low, and say a prayer, and you’ll be fine.”
Looking in my rearview mirror, I can see clearly now that my own path detoured and wound up and down hills and through valleys. It was nothing like the four-lane highway I thought it would be. The destination I’m at today was not even on my map yesterday. But I found my place.
You will, too. If you just put it in "drive" and go.