The things every high-achiever should know
I’d like to apologize for my lack of posts lately. Having just graduated, I’m in the midst of a storm comprised of both rapid change and activity. I’ve finished classes, graduated, moved out of my apartment, moved back home, re-packed, moved back to my college town, and am preparing to begin full-time work next week. It’s been pretty hectic; this is my first chance to have a few hours alone at a computer in quite some time. As I write this post, I’m also reviewing my bucket list to update a few items I just realized I’ve completed during my college years.
If you recall from my last post, I applied to be the student speaker at my college commencement ceremony (I didn’t get it). In the process of applying, I was asked to create a draft of the speech I would give and read it in front of a panel. So although I didn’t get the honor of speaking (the student chosen over me was very qualified and delivered an excellent speach), the process of aggregating the lessons I’d wish to impart unto other students was a very valuable process in of itself.
So instead of letting my thoughts go to waste, I decided to re-post the speech I would have given in the hopes that others may benefit from it. Although there is some humor and specifics referencing my particular school (Binghamton University), the main lessons are applicable to all students and I believe college seniors and recent graduates will find the advice relevant and actionable. Enjoy!
While I was home during winter break of my freshman year, I attended a family gathering. My aunts, uncles, and older cousins were excited to hear about my first few months as a college student. Of all the advice given to me by my overeager family, the one that seemed to pop up most frequently was, college will be the best four years of your life so really enjoy it now, while you still can. After hearing those words, I did what every other student does when an older relative tries to give him advice: I completely ignored it. However, these words came echoing back in the beginning of this year. Were the best years of my life really coming to a rapid conclusion? So naturally, I panicked and began calling parents, aunts, and uncles, who all, instead of comforting me, confidently assured me, “yes, the best years of your life will be over in a few months.”
In the delusion of this mid-college crisis, I obsessed about graduation and eventually reached some valuable conclusions. As it turns out, most people have it backwards when they think of college as the pinnacle of their youth. Here’s why: the college experience is, in many ways, a practice run at real life. You start your college career as a freshman; confused, overwhelmed, and doing your best to adjust to a new world. And by the time you’re a senior, you’ve essentially become an elder of the community who does his or her best to pass on accumulated knowledge and experience before you graduate and move on in life. So if you’ve had four amazing years here, you’ve already learned all of the foundational lessons you’ll need to continue this trend for decades to come. So in the next few minutes, I want to call attention to the three most important of these lessons you’ve learned –embracing uncertainty, joining a community, and handling failure – in the hopes that these reminders will keep you on course for an extraordinary life.
The uncertainty that pervaded life as a freshman felt very overwhelming. There were so many decisions to make, people to meet, experiences to try, and grades to keep high. But by now, much of the uncertainty of your past has transformed into valuable memories and unforgettable experiences. I’m sure many of you value the priceless, humorous, and absurd college stories that you’ll be telling for years to come.
That same uncertainty you felt as a freshman will come rushing back as you enter this new period in your life. Thankfully, the exact same rules apply. Just as in college, living a life full of accomplishment, stories, and friendship is what you will come to truly value when it’s all over. When faced with a difficult life choice, ask yourself which would make for a better story that you’d be proud to tell a week, a year, or a decade from now? More often than not, the correct choice will require you to act with boldness and courage instead of indecision and passivity, in the same way that you would advise a shy freshman to overcome his nerves, take a chance, and introduce himself to the people on his floor, instead of playing World of Warcraft alone in his room all night. In your life, you are the director, writer, producer, and lead actor. And great things begin to happen when you take responsibility for all of these roles.
Moving on to community. As a freshman, you walk around campus and see a lot of strangers, and perhaps the occasional friend. Yet, I’m sure many of you can now attest to walking to class and often running into friend after friend, which ends up making you very late to class. Obviously, it’s a little tougher to do this in Binghamton given that there is usually a blizzard, flood, or some sort of hail storm happening, but the point still stands. It’s the years of building friendships and connecting with others that has made you a part of the Binghamton community. Unfortunately, many people, upon starting their career, bury themselves in their work and stop building new friendships with the fervor that they did in college. Even if your job demands long hours, that’s not a real excuse. Even during the toughest semesters you found time to get involved and spend time with friends, and it’s for that reason that you can look back on college with feelings of accomplishment and contentment. Why should life be any different from here on out?
To conclude, I want to briefly touch on failure. Who here hasn’t failed at anything in the last four years? [pause] Exactly. You experience a lot of setbacks and challenges in college, and perhaps more so having gone to Binghamton. We’ve persisted through four Binghamton winters, fought our way through a full twelve hours of Parade Day, and don’t even get me started on how many days a year it’s cloudy outside. But in all seriousness, it’s so important to hold onto this perseverance and dedication because the inevitable failures and challenges you will be handed in the real world are often harsher and less forgiving. For this reason, learn to embrace failure. For this reason, learn to learn from failure. For this reason, never let the fear of failure alter the goals you set out to achieve.
Congratulations to all of my fellow graduates and I wish you the best as your life’s story unfolds. Thank you.
Image courtesy of Binghamton University’s Flickr page
I'm Jon Guerrera, a life hacker at heart, and the man behind the scenes here at Living For Improvement. This blog documents all of my successes, failures, experiments and lessons learned as I hack my way to happiness, fulfillment and success.
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