This year, you are graduating. Be it from high school, community college, four-year university, law school… You have reached some kind of pinnacle of your academic career and you are soon going to be celebrating this achievement. As someone who has recently celebrated this same milestone, I congratulate you. It is not an easy task to whisk through two, four, or even more years of life under the watchful eye of your GPA and exam scores.
One of the most common things I hear from graduates is the phrase “I survived.” Sometimes it’s “We survived the hardest part of our lives.” This focus seems to be on the word survival and comparing the educational pathway to other life events seems to suggest that life will be more easy from here on. The years of studying and stressing have paid their dividends and now it is time to reap the rewards.
I know quite a bit about survival. You might even say I’m a bit of a survivalist. I am an addiction survivor, overdose survivor, suicide survivor, cancer survivor, and even a hurricane survivor (shout out to all those who went through Hugo in 1989). I am living proof of a man who probably should have seen the end of the tunnel many times. Yet, here I am. I am still kicking, still going, still living. I am surviving. And with my track record for bouncing back and always moving forward, I want to share with you, the graduates of 2017, what I know about surviving.
Survival Tip Number 1: It Gets Harder
Graduating is not the hardest thing you are ever going to have to do. Often times I have found that survival welcomes hardship. It’s never as easy as you think it will be. Things don’t just get automatically better because you crossed one finish line. All of life is a series of races. Not one race, a series of races. You finish one and barely have time to finish your Gatorade before it’s time to start the next. You have to learn to pace yourself and not get into the trap of thinking that things get easier as you go.
The truth is, it doesn’t. I don’t say this to try to scare you. It is actually quite the opposite. I want you to be prepared for that. There is always something new that comes next. And when you can recognize that and be as prepared as you can be, the sky is the limit. Face what is coming with. Sure, you can be scared, and you can worry. You can check your email a thousand times a day hoping for the one that says you got the job. But be ready for when that inbox reads 0, when you ask the landlord if late rent is okay, and when you pay that three dollar late fee on your water bill. You will thank yourself for preparedness in the end.
Survival Tip Number 2: Thriving Means Risk
Survival is an act. It is a process. Surviving begins before it happens. It can be instant, or it can be a long drawn out fight. Surviving means making it through some bad hand that you have been dealt by life. Thriving means something quite different. It means doing things and accomplishing things that bring you true happiness, fulfillment, and acceptance. Thriving is something that a lot of people never experience. Some people fail to meet goals. I’ve done this more times than I have succeeded. Some people will work a miserable job the rest of their lives because they have to in order to provide the basics. Some people go through a mundane routine day in and day out. They may be satisfied, but they are not thriving. But thriving means more than being happy. Thriving, also means taking risks.
You won’t accomplish anything glorious in life without first taking a risk. That’s a scary thing to think about. Without risk, there is no advancement. Whether you risk reputation, or life, or limb, or friendships. There is no thriving without risk. Be a risk taker. Don’t be afraid to fail. Because you will. Many times. But for all of your failure, there will come a time where being the one to take the risk means being the one to thrive, and find yourself truly enjoying life. I’m not done failing yet, but I’m not done taking risks and trying to thrive.
Survival Tip Number 3: You Won’t Be Remembered for Surviving
This might be the most important thing I say in this whole concoction of words and phrases. When you die, when you have moved away after retirement, when you have faded into a memory someone has at the 30th high school reunion you decided not to go to, nobody will remember you for being a survivor. Hell, it’s only been 4 years since I was deemed cancer free, and except for family, nobody really remembers that. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When my time is at an end, that’s not what I will be remembered for. So don’t focus on surviving.
Focus on the things that will get you remembered. A kind spirit, a giving heart, and perseverance. People will remember you for the times that you fell, but more for the times you got back up and kept going. You don’t want to be remembered for merely surviving. Be remembered because you aspired to be something great, but became something admirable. Be remembered for the quality of the company you kept, not the quantity. When your time is up, lay your head to rest on the memories of a life that had purpose over prosperity.
Graduating class of 2017, remember these things as you move forward onto the next part of your life’s journey. Make it your purpose now to not just be a survivor. Drive yourself. Take risks, make mistakes, fall down, lay it all on the line. Then push yourself some more, take more risks, learn from your mistakes, get back up, and take it all in. You have already made it this far. Imagine how much farther you can make it. After all, you survived up to this point. What happens next, is up to you.