Dear 2020 Graduate,
The world is telling you that you just graduated at the worst time possible. Hallmark could have had bang up business making “Sorry You’re a Senior” cards this year. In my envelope, I’m handing you a new narrative. It may prove to be far more valuable than a twenty dollar gift card in years to come.
Your ceremony may have been stripped of pomp and circumstance. There were no speeches given from the auditorium stage where you performed “Grease” or “Glass Menagerie” your sophomore year. Today, let me deliver a new commencement message. It will sound different than the story collective culture is spouting to you.
I have a secret of sorts. I won’t whisper it. I’ll shout it, because I believe it to be true. Listen close. You need to hear this through the negative noise. You do not need anyone’s pity–present or future. You just swung your tassel to the other side and are making your first step into the marketplace at what may be one of the best times in history.
There may be many closed doors looking you in the face right now. Remember: closed doors are not always locked doors. Also, there is never only one door. In life, often there is a corridor of infinite opportunities for those willing to seek, explore, knock, and turn the handle.
When faced with closed doors do you know what that sometimes forces you to do? Look for windows you would have never bothered to find and climb out of in the past. The path you planned for yourself – the one you or your family envisioned – maybe looks different right now. Rather than defaulting to expectation or tradition, you now have space to stop and think. What is it that you really want and why?
Your resolve to pursue the picture you grew up holding in your mind may be strengthened. This will serve you well. Current circumstances or an unexpected delay can serve as a gratitude catalyst of sorts. You will likely approach opportunity to train with deeper engagement and fervor when the door of your childhood dreams finally opens. It will. (Good things truly do come to those who are willing to wait.) Or, you may decide to explore a path you would haven’t gotten to travel had you stuck with the same map followed by those who have come before and currently surround you. The destination you ultimately discover might just be far bigger, better, and more amazing than your junior year self could have pictured in your mind.
If you can make your adult start during the historical, economic, and cultural context that you are existing in now – you can do anything. Your beginning postures you to be remarkably resilient long after the salience of the current crisis has faded.
This may be the hardest time to start. The strength that is born out of “hard” may just make it the most advantageous for you and your future. Welcome to the School of Hard Knocks (which is, my friend, real life) freshman lesson in survival of the fittest.
In 2020, the game changed for businesses going forward into the future. In your professional lifetime, they will place a premium on someone’s ability to adapt and be agile. Demonstrating that you’ve done nothing but flex, grow, flip a quick mental switch, develop, and see new possibility where a blank exists will be your lifelong alpha.
Maybe you ultimately decide that you don’t want to wait. Instead, you create. You become the CEO — straight out of the gate. Don’t let your age or previous experience be your mental ceiling. Many people are starting over, even some who have spent years at the top. The playing field, in some respects, has been leveled in your favor. Even the fact that you long ago mastered TicTok is an asset in your portfolio.
You have a blank canvas. Make something memorable on top of it. Splash big, bright, and bold. Stop passersby in their tracks. You can even price your creation at a premium early on. Do you know the cash people put down for what passes as “modern” art? Pricing is positioning. Don’t discount yourself. Don’t step into the world seeing scarcity. You aren’t “lucky to get whatever you find.” Instead, “anything you find is lucky to get you.”
You have the chance to fill a tool box to overflowing through online training and education today. With this equipment, you will have the power to build the mansion of your dreams. Maybe that is someday a sky-scraper in Manhattan. Perhaps it is a lake-side lodge in Montana. You get to choose. It’s okay if you start the blueprints in your parent’s basement. Just start drawing and planning. Today. Don’t hesitate. Do. Use this time to fill that toolbox so that you can build anything you want for the rest of your life. Your training can cost a pittance rather than a fortune. Start your life in the financial black. This alone can serve to help put you ahead for the decades waiting for you.
You were just schooled in a lesson that sometimes hurts more to learn later in life: no one can ultimately predict the future. Let that change how you choose to live today. You will always have control over some things but never everything. Use agency where you have it. Lots of people don’t. Create and edge and differentiate yourself. Life can change on the turn of a dime. Be smart. Stupid but easy and cool now will quickly become your worst regret tomorrow.
If you start looking at the world slightly differently that everyone around you right now, you are soon going to stand out in all of the right ways. How you see, changes how you think. How you think, changes how you do. How you do, changes what you ultimately have.
It’s your party; you can cry if you want to. Everyone else is. I suggest wiping the tears and leaving the Kleenex box for the rest.
Grieve, yes. And go. Go, go, go.
Graduate, you’ve just been given a gift. Tear it open and take it incredible places.