You are poised for change, ready to be launched and eager to embrace the next phase of your life. Courtesy photo

Dear graduates,

You have recently crossed a metaphoric threshold signified by diplomas decorated with inscrutable signatures. You wore a black mortar board and a muumuu. You radiated relief and accomplishment.

Optimally, you are poised for change, ready to be launched and eager to embrace the next phase of your life. Realistically, you are stressed, distracted and trying to cram your worldly possessions into a U-Haul trailer. Congratulations!

I’m not in the forecast business, but I am in the living-out-loud business. I am also in the business of paying attention and telling people my ideas about things. With these credentials, I offer these thoughts.

There is no decoder ring

When I was younger, I had a foggy idea that adulthood meant you went to That Place—the Land of Knowing All. There you were masterful. What enabled that mastery was some kind of invisible cape that lets you fly over misery, failure, heartache and indecision.

This does not appear to be the way the world actually works.

As shiny and smart and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious as you are, sometimes you will feel lousy. Not bad-hair-day lousy, but what-is-the-purpose-of-my-life lousy. You will be addled with confusion. You will be flummoxed and vexed. This is OK.

Feeling lousy from time to time is a necessary part of the messy but enlarging journey of truly being alive. It just doesn’t show up very often in advertising campaigns as part of what some call The Good Life.


Read the clues, study the patterns, observe doggedly and figure out who you are. Just as you take time to build your brain and your biceps, take time to contemplate the topography of your heart.

And after you know yourself, gently let yourself off the hook. Stand back and observe how spectacular you are. A writer friend once said that awareness is learning to keep company with yourself. Knowing and loving yourself will be the two most generous and necessary things you will ever do.

Gather a fan club

Surround yourself whenever possible with those who applaud you, who further you, who inspire you to be your highest self. Move away as quickly as you can from anyone who tells you that you are unlovable, unwanted or unworthy. Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make us feel bad about ourselves without our permission.

Lose those permission slips.

Laugh often and much

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Become a Member

Ralph Waldo Emerson included this prescription in his classic definition of success. Emerson is onto something. Cultivate delight. Relish the absurd. In those days when the yoke of adulthood or the accumulation of disappointment tamps down your capacity to laugh, remember how humor unclutters and unleashes. And connects. Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

Sing more

Sing loudly. Sing even when you stop at red lights and the people in the vehicle beside you roll their eyes. Sing even if you are massacring the lyrics. Sing especially if you are massacring the lyrics. Sing with relish. Sing with gusto. Cervantes said that he who sings, scares away his woes.

One size does not fit all

Not with pantyhose. Not with life and the way you decide to live it. There are plenty of people who have lots of ideas about how they think you should live your life. But it’s yours, isn’t it?

The good news is that there are templates out there and for some, these do just fine. But for others, you may decide you want to customize.

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Let Rudolph join in your reindeer games

A shiny nose. A body different from yours. A partner different from yours. A god different from yours. A language, a custom, a belief different from yours. Exclusion is borne of fear.

A version of the Golden Rule threads itself through all the major religions of the world and all the generous souls in the world. Love one another as you would love yourself. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.


Dance alone in your living room. Dance in your kitchen as you wait for the coffee to brew. Dance at your sister’s wedding. Dance alone in your underpants to dislodge your cobwebs.

Dancing loosens those psychic muscles that cramp around old wounds—the pain from childhood, the missteps of early adulthood, the smarting humiliations, the rejections, the lovelessness you might have felt. Dancing loosens those cramps, tells the muscles it’s OK to let go. Dancing makes our bodies transmitters of joy.

Dance with others. Get over your big old self-conscious self and just get out there and dance. No one cares if you dance like a medicated farm animal. Remember: It’s not how you move; it’s that you had the sense and the passion to move at all.

Seek work that satisfies in the doing of the thing

Work is what fills up most of our conscious hours. Do something that is connected to who you are, to your gifts, your dreams. In the Marquesa Islands in the South Pacific, there is no concept of work, no word for it. The question asked to a newcomer isn’t what do you do, it is: Who are you? Find work that is about who you are and then give yourself away through the work you do.

Oh, and wear sunscreen

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Originally a flatlander, Laura Kelly is a journalism professor who teaches writing and storytelling at the American University in Bulgaria. She lives in Flagstaff during the summer months and calls the city one of her homes. She uses Mary Oliver’s words as her manifesto: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”


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