During the final weeks of my first year of teaching I don’t remember having much advice to give my seniors.
I was all of 22 years old and still a rookie at most good things in life—some of my students were almost 20. I might have had 12 pithy truisms the next May when classes started to wind down and I wanted to send my “kids” off into the world with sage advice from their old professor. Twelve grew to 30, and from 30 grew a neat 50, until, at some point between year five and eleven, I hit the hundred mark, which I felt was more than enough—I wanted all my advice to fit on one page. And then I did it – I just laid it all out there and filled up two pages, font size nine or lower, with any kind of advice I either invented, reinvented, or stole from the greats. What follows is a living document, because by this time next year I may just whittle the list down back to 12.
So here they are, reduced down to a svelte 147 or so, for your graduating pleasure, meant for graduates of all ages. No guarantees on results, however.
Dear Graduates, you’re about to be born. So here’s enough free advice to get you through whatever it is that you may go through as you are graduated.
- Some of you should relax. You know who you are. Some of you should stop relaxing. You know who you are.
- You can have everything you need and want in life. Just ask.
- The only thing you have in life is this present moment, so don’t waste it.
Follow your heart; follow your mind as well. Sometimes you won’t know what to do – in this case, follow your feet.
- Follow your dreams, and then push your dreams to follow you.
- Imitation is important, but we all need an original hero. That’s you.
- Stay young – but not too young.
- Don’t worry so much about the future – it will be there when you arrive.
Who you are today is always changing into who you are tomorrow – give yourself time.
- Find your voice, but remember that people don’t always listen.
- Ahl speling; gramerand punctation. And capatalisadion mus bee purfek. Corect comunikatian materrs.
- Tell your family and friends you love them – often.
- Respect and be good to your parents – one day you will be them. And call your mother.
- Everything to everyone is always happening. So get busy living.
- When it rains, you may get wet – be prepared; when things burn, you may get burnt – be prepared; if you’re not prepared, be prepared to not always be prepared.
- Although we think that others may be funnier, smarter, more educated, or better looking than we are, every human thinks he or she is wiser than the next one. Fight against this.
The grass is sometimes greener somewhere else, but there is only so much green one can handle. Avoid lawn envy.
- Try vegetarianism at least once. The animals will never thank you, but you’ll be healthier for it.
- Take care of the Earth and plants and animals and children – we need them as much as they need us.
Love each other. If you can’t love each other, at least try to like each other. If you can’t like each other, then get to know each other, and take it from there.
- The fact that you think you know what you think you know doesn’t always mean you really know what you think you know. (You may really know what you know, though, but it’s okay not to.)
- And watch out for people who know everything – You may be one of them.
Numbers and titles and awards matter little, so seek the right things that will last.
- Know when to let go; know when to hold on; know when to juggle.
- Sometimes you will make a fool out of yourself. It’s okay.
- Sometimes doing nothing works best. Sometimes it doesn’t.
- Sometimes money fixes a problem, sometimes it doesn’t.
- Sometimes you never know and sometimes you do. But you never know.
Sometimes you will need an ambulance, and sometimes you will just need a tall glass of water.
- Learn to respect what you don’t understand, and then try to understand.
- Listen carefully when listening; talk carefully when talking; feel carefully what you feel.
- You are extremely important and powerful in every way imaginable. Respect that.
You are the only one who can make a difference in your own way, and nobody will ever take your place. Know that.
- Be aware of the pain and suffering in the world, and work hard to ease as much of it as you can.
- Be the answer you hope to find in this world.
- Be here now (wherever “here” is) and explore the present moment. That’s really all there is.
- Be as fair as you can to those around you, even when it doesn’t benefit you.
- Fight for the freedom of everyone, even when it doesn’t benefit you.
- Be as free as you can be without causing any harm.
Be as kind and as generous as you can without expending yourself.
- Be a good neighbor.
- Be nice. Just. Be. Nice.
- Be careful what you wish for, you might just always get it.
- Be yourself, whoever that is.
Be careful of who you give the best of yourself to.
- Be careful of who you give control of your life to – and be careful of who takes it, whether they ask or not.
- Be a friend – everybody needs one.
Consider the idea that there is nothing you must do or be, there is nothing you must have or know, and that there are no days in the weeks, or hours in the days, or years in your life. Is just is.
- Everybody needs somebody. Know when to be that somebody.
- Do as much good as you can to as many people as you can right this instant.
- Choose which judgment days to live in light of.
Each day, pick one thing not to worry about.
- Try to do one thing at a time. Just try it.
- Know when to work hard; know when to work smart; know when to rest.
There is no laziness as good as the reward of hard work.
- Feel free to fart around when you can. Naps are good, too.
- Try to waste nothing.
- Get outdoors as much as you can. You’ll be better for it.
- Take time each day and be alone with your thoughts. You’ll be better for it.
- Keep a journal when and where you can. You’ll be better for it.
- Avoid violence, complaint, and insult, and you will live all your days in peace.
We are all one step away from where we don’t want to be, so watch your step.
- Enjoy and demand a good cry from yourself now and then.
- Know when to lay low and know when to make waves, and know when to say no to both, or when to float.
- Clean up after yourself. You never know who will follow.
- Never betray the ones you love, including yourself.
- Let go of anger – it holds you more than you hold it.
Try to notice when someone gets a new haircut.
- Laugh as much as you can without causing a scene.
- Get involved in your community every chance you can.
- Vote every chance you can, either on election days or with your wallet any other day.
Whatever you do, whoever you become, wherever you are, in all things: don’t be a jerk.
- Remember where you came from – it may just be the right place.
- Please remember that “please” and “thank you” go a long way. Thank you.
- Learn how to dance.
- Learn how to laugh at yourself.
Learn how to write well. Some of us want to know your ideas.
- Learn how to sing well. If you can’t sing, learn an instrument. Then sing along.
Learn how to saunter properly.
- Know that you become less attractive the more you complain.
- Take care of your body – you only get one, and maybe assorted parts someday.
- Take care of yourself – we can’t be a good we without you.
- Know yourself, flaws and all.
- There is nothing better than a satisfied mind. Getting there is the anxious part.
- Know when to be satisfied.
- When you’re older you’ll tell kids to respect their elders, so get started now.
Failure can teach us more than success. Be willing to learn either way.
- Once fear is allowed in, it becomes boss. Work hard against this.
- Hope does not always spring eternal. But it should.
Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.
- Know that so much depends on self-reliance.
- Meet the Transcendent where and when you can – even if it’s only in a conversation.
- Don’t just look smart, be smart.
- Don’t be afraid to fight for the right thing.
- Don’t be afraid to run, either.
- Don’t lionize the wrong lions – smaller creatures need their place too.
When you see the tiger, avoid the tiger – unless you’re ready for the tiger, or you are the tiger.
- Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. O my.
- Don’t forget to breathe.
- Don’t just believe in yourself, but accept yourself, doubt and all.
- Don’t believe everything you read, hear, and see.
- Don’t believe everything you think, either.
Don’t be afraid of the Big Questions.
- Don’t be afraid of the small answers, either.
- Don’t be afraid to suffer for the right reasons – life, in fact, is full of them.
- Seek and beware of Truth and Beauty in the world around you.
- Nothing divides us as much as our own point of view. Beware.
If this is all there is, let’s make it the best “is” there is.
- Everyone is out for “number one,” so decide who that “number one” truly is.
- A broken clock is right twice a day, but it is still broken.
- Words are more powerful than swords – they can cut years after spoken.
- Never pass judgment on those who haven’t had the privileges you’ve had.
If there is an extra mile to go, then go.
- When Life gives you lemons, learn all you can about lemons.
- When Life gives you lemons, ask for water and sugar.
- When Life gives you lemons, be glad it was lemons.
Looking good is not as good as feeling good, which is not as good as being good, which is not as good as being good for something good.
- Sometimes it’s not all good. Sometimes it is.
- At some point you’re going to have to be good at something and work hard. Don’t be afraid to start now.
Avoid clocks and mirrors when you can.
- Make friends with a library.
- Figure out where your money goes. Then either chase it or help it get there.
Try hard not to love money or things.
What goes around sometimes really goes around.
- It’s okay to be wrong about things. Life is often lived between satisfaction and regret.
- Forgive often and when you can. Try forgetting some things too.
If you always do the right thing, you’ll always do the right thing.
- Always be learning – education is life itself.
- Always be reading for pleasure or enlightenment or both or neither or other.
- Always have a pen ready and a brain warmed.
- Always be seeking adventure.
- Always be improving.
- Always be listening.
- Always be honest, even when it hurts.
Always make new mistakes.
- Always be mindful of those less fortunate and then do something about it. Take nothing for granted.
- Always be deciding your fate. Sometimes you can’t choose your way out of a situation. In that case, forge ahead with patience, humility, diligence, love, and compassion.
Always be going in peace.
- Love is the answer – so get busy finding the questions.
- There is always a root to the root of the root. Start planting.
- There is almost always another “why?” to ask. Keep asking.
- Let that which truly matters, matter; let that which truly doesn’t matter, not matter.
- All the answers are right in front of you or somewhere around here. Keep searching.
You are the hero we’ve all been waiting for. So get to work.
…And when in doubt, see number one.
~In Love and Life,
Photo: Suzi Walker/Flickr
Read more from Jeremy McKeen on his Bergamot Ink column (posted every week on The Good Men Project):