As a writer, I am often tasked with making connections between concepts, with synthesizing information for easy conveyance and digestion.
However, as a person, I sometimes struggle with connecting the dots in my own life.
Attending my cousin’s high school graduation a few months ago produced a moment of great clarity that I would like to share.
The Joy of Being Able to Attend
On a Friday, I made the 3.5 hour drive from Winter Haven, FL to Kingsland, GA to see the ceremony. I left my house around noon, stopped once and arrived by 4PM.
Last year at that time, I was sitting in a cubicle, urging the clock to tick down to the weekend and working on some pile of HR related tasks.
The difference? A resignation letter.
A few months earlier, I quit my 9-5 gig and started off on a new path. A path full of unknowns and mixed emotions (more on that here).
But also a path of flexibility and freedom.
It was exhilarating to use my day for what I wanted, what I deemed to be important. I got to choose! My new life enabled me to live in alignment with my values.
But this post isn’t just to tout the merits of restructuring one’s life, exploring alternative work arrangements or living in congruence with personal truths.
This post is to reflect on the occasion my reformed lifestyle allowed me to participate in.
What I Thought the Graduation Would Be
At first, I saw going to this graduation as an opportunity to spend quality time with family that I didn’t get to visit with very often.
And it was!
It was an absolute blessing to share stories, laughs and hugs with folks that I sometimes went years without seeing. My grandmother (aka Memere since we’re part French) was also in GA visiting from MA at the time so the extra hours spent with her were precious.
My cousin and my amazing Memere!
But there was something more to this visit that I wasn’t anticipating.
I graduated from high school 15 years ago—and truthfully, I don’t remember much about the actual ceremony.
I wish I had recorded or at least better internalized the messages of the keynote speakers. It would be interesting to see which advice I heeded and which I ignored.
All I have for memories of that day are some photographs, a diploma, a tassel and some foggy mental images of going out to eat that evening and stopping by a few graduation parties afterwards.
For my cousin’s graduation, I expected to be sitting in a packed (and noisy!) football stadium, on metal bleachers, baking in the sun. All of this was true.
I expected to cheer loudly for my cousin, even though we could barely see him from our nosebleed seats. That was also true.
What the Graduation Actually Was
What I didn’t expect is that I would be profoundly moved by some of the commencement addresses.
Perhaps the reason I don’t really recall my own commencement addresses (apart from having an aging brain), is that I wasn’t truly paying attention when they were given.
Knowing me, my brain was focused on getting out of that silly robe and spending the day with my boyfriend. I had one eye on that summer and the other eye on college coming up in the fall.
Focusing on today, this very moment, has always been challenging for me. I need to make a conscious effort to do so.
Thankfully, on that warm GA night, I was all ears and all mind.
I found myself wistfully nostalgic and supremely in the moment simultaneously. It was if I was 18 and 33 all at once.
I was old enough to have learned some of the lessons still to come for the graduates and I nodded as tried and true adages were offered to them.
But I was also young enough to remember feeling wide-eyed at 18– seeing the vast expanse of opportunities open up before me and my cohort.
I was excited for this group– they were being ushered into adulthood. The real world. It can be a daunting place, but it can be molded by ambitions, energy and perseverance. All of which these young people have in droves.
I realized in that moment that the last several months– and now witnessing this ceremony– had reignited the idea of limitless possibility for my own life.
There were several speeches given over the course of the evening—and all were inspiring.
But three ideas really stood out:
1) Any moment can be a springboard to greatness.
2) Find your truth—it’s very unique to you.
3) You don’t need to know what things mean right away. Overtime, you will connect the dots.
Let’s take these one at a time.
Any moment can be a springboard to greatness.
I believe in this 100%.
We tend to see milestones as appropriate points in our lives to close a given chapter and start a new one.
Of course, there is logic in this. Once you’ve completed something like high school, it’s time to move on from it and embark on what’s next.
But—why do we need a chronologically prescribed momentous occasion to propel us towards our goals and dreams?
Why can’t we grow, achieve and make an impact during the course of our everyday-between-milestones lives?
Why can’t we take inspiration from what is happening right this second to give back, rekindle our passion or reconsider our priorities?
The answer is we don’t—and we can! If we allow ourselves to do it.
We are very much conditioned to live a certain story, in a certain order. There’s no skipping around chapters. There’s no changing to another book.
But that conditioning is false and limiting.
We don’t have to check off the boxes on the checklist of life—if they don’t apply to us. And, even, if they do, we don’t have to (generally) check off the boxes in any one order.
If we live our lives in accordance with our true values and aims, we’ll create magic that we thought was only reserved for “special” occasions.
Life is your special occasion. Any point in time is an opportunity for you to be great–whatever that means for you.
Which brings us to:
Find your truth—it’s very unique to you.
While we all share many similarities as humans living life on this Earth, we are each distinct concoctions of our experiences and circumstances.
Our unique blend gives us each our own perspectives, our own beliefs and our own ways of assigning life meaning.
Our personal meaning of life will help us chart a course, leading us down what we hope will be a contented and fulfilling path.
But we do not write our life story in isolation.
Our paths will converge with other paths—sometimes when we least expect it.
We’ll get written into some stories as bit players, some as recurring characters, some as the hero, perhaps some as the villain. We may be in some stories for almost the entire book.
We will influence and be influenced in ways that we cannot possibly foresee in advance.
And, finally, there’s this:
You don’t need to know what things mean right away.
This is huge.
We often underestimate just how interwoven we all are. How interconnected this whole world is.
What we do today will have an impact, good or bad, on what life looks like for us next week, next year and a decade from now.
It’s important to make the best choices we can with the information we have at the time. We want our future selves to be in a good place. We want the world to be better for us having lived in it.
But—we can’t obsess.
It’s not possible to know how everything interrelates and we can’t possibly anticipate all of the byproducts of our actions that will surface.
Frankly—I’m not sure that I would want all of that information anyway.
I quite like being able to retrospectively tie things together—to look at a time period holistically. That’s not possible when you’re in the throes of the situation.
Stepping back to connect those dots allows us to see patterns, learn lessons, be grateful, take inspiration and synthesize experiences—all the while impacting how we write the next chapter.
So what dots did I connect?
I realized that I had actually been heeding the advice of the commencement speakers for the last few months. I was living their speech before they even gave it.
- I am relishing the smaller achievements I’m experiencing along the way, rather than waiting for my next big milestone. Truthfully– since I am no longer on that prescribed path (school, work, retire, die)–I’m not sure what the next big thing will be. I think it’s really whatever I say it is!
- When I quit my job, I was following my unique path, my unique truth.
- I realized that the longer I spend in the blogging/freelance community, the more interconnectivity I see. I am amazed at the community I have found myself in and I look forward to all of the ways we will interact with, help and influence each other– the true extent to which we can’t possibly know now.
What pleasant surprises lie ahead? I can’t wait to look back and connect the dots.
I love this! Yeah, I’m not so sure I’d want all that information either. In hindsight, I’m able to see the value of my life experiences and how I can use them to help others…
Thank you! I totally agree. I think there are individual moments of great personal growth, but normally it’s more incremental over time.