Although I don’t know every high school senior in the Class of 2014 (actually I don’t know any), I’m impressed. But I’d still like to offer a few words of advice.
In the past 12 years you’ve mastered a new language and learned about science, mathematics, art, music, sports, literature, geography, photography, computers, poetry, history, and government. High school is such an intense experience it’s likely that in 50 years you’ll still be friends with many of your friends from your senior class. It’s also kind of funny that in 2064, you’ll all be seniors again.
It’s unlikely, though, that high school will still be the highlight of your life. That’s like saying you know how a book ends after reading one chapter. The rest of your life is more than a book — it’ll be a vast library filled with volumes of travels, experiences, events, and achievements. As you start to add to this library, put this one on a shelf:
That’s it. Everyone else is taken, so be yourself. No matter how much you admire a musician, an actor, a writer, athlete, or teacher, remember you will never be them. So be inspired, but be yourself. And if your role model is a reality show star, never forget that reality stars are neither.
It takes time to know who you are, to be comfortable with your own company and sure of decisions you make. Over time, you’ll meet a lot of adults who don’t even know even who they are. But once you figure it out, it becomes easier to add the next volume: Follow your passion. How can you separate what you think you want to do from what you really want to do? It’s as easy as depositing an imaginary million dollars into an imaginary bank account and asking yourself, “Now that I don’t have to work tomorrow, how will I spend my day?”
Will it work? Well, after I asked myself that question in my mid-20s, I realized that if I didn’t have to chase money, I was free to chase my true passions, which were traveling and writing. After I knew my goal, I crafted a lifestyle that would get me there. On the strength of my passion and on the single-minded purpose to pursue it, that one decision has since taken me around the world.
In the next few years you’ll recognize that too many people chase careers based solely on the comfort of a steady income. Before they know it, though, they’re watching years go by as they wait for a reward that may be 20 or 30 or 40 years away. So whatever lights your fire, whatever you would do for free, find that thing and then find a way to get paid for it. It’ll be tough and you may get discouraged, but few things of value come easy.
And while you’re figuring out how to spend your day, figure out how to spend your money. Better yet, figure out how not to spend your money.
If you ever wondered why ads, music, fashion, technology, movies, magazines, and television are geared for your age group, it’s because these industries know that you want things — and you want them right now. For the first time in your life you’re about to make some serious cash, and the first thing you want to do is spend that money. So to these industries you’re not just a person in a target market, you are a target.
So keep your guard up. Resist tempting credit card offers suggesting how easy it is to spend what money you do have — along with thousands of dollars you don’t have. Instant gratification feels great until you’re surrounded by a pile of stuff you didn’t need sitting next to a pile of bills you can’t pay. If you can’t afford to buy something, don’t buy it.
Most of you were born around 1996, which means you’re going to see and do things that most people my age (I’m 21) can’t even imagine. You’re also going to face challenges no one else has ever had to deal with. But here’s a 100 percent foolproof way that you’ll never fail…
Never give up.
As long as you’re trying, as long as you’re making an effort, you still have a chance. And when things don’t work out, if you did your best, you should have no regrets.
I’ll sign off with this message from one of my favorites. Before he was in The Beatles (ask your parents), John Lennon was a student like you. Years later, when someone asked him about setting his life’s goals, he recalled a moment in the classroom.
“When I was 5 years old,” he said, “my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment…
“I told them they didn’t understand life.”
So here’s wishing you years of happiness. Make yourself, your family, and your world proud.