This past weekend I went to a friend's college graduation. As I sat there and listened to the speakers and observed all of the graduates, I noticed something that has long bothered me about modern society's approach to this season of life. As our youth exit their high school or college years, we tend to promise them things that may or may not ever happen for them. While we all hope they experience success in life, more than likely, they must taste failure first. While we want them to accomplish their dreams and we encourage them to pursue greatness in their goals, more often than not, some of those will never come to fruition - some dreams aren't meant to be and will die in order for better ones to emerge. But we never talk to them about this. Our graduation cards focus on all these things and never bring up the ultimate idea which is: you will never gain unless you lose; you will never learn to succeed unless you fail; you will never become who you're meant to be unless you rely on God and others. It's usually all about what you can accomplish, how far you will go in life, and how only you can make these dreams a reality…as if it all depended on the grad in the first place!
As a former graduate myself, I remember well going through this phase of life and hearing many of these same things. And, in my youth, I believed many of them. Life taught me otherwise, however, and now I talk to other graduates differently as a result.
So many of the well-wishes, while well-intentioned, came up short from the aspects I mentioned earlier. Life is so much about inversions, of realizing that its not about how much I can accomplish, but how much can be accomplished through me! Life isn't all about me as my culture tries to put it. Unselfishness is to be far more prized than ambition. Giving another a helping hand is of higher worth in the eyes of God than how many personal accomplishments I obtained along the way. My life - and the life of any other graduate - is a combination of many investments along the way: parents, friends, teachers, pastors, etc. who poured their lives into that one person's and helped make them who they are today. They are who they are because of those who have taken the time to unselfishly give to them. The only hope of those people is that the young person will go and do likewise for somebody else.
If I could talk to any young person and give them advice for this next phase of life, I would tell them this: expect the unexpected; don't be afraid to lose because you will gain far more when you do; be more concerned with who you help along the way than what you can accomplish for yourself. Most importantly, a life lived for God will not be wasted…even if it takes different directions along the way.
I would hope that, because of this advice, these young people might be spared the surprise of reality that I experienced in my post high school years. Life is an adventure, and the sometimes harsh reality of it shouldn't quench the awesome experience it can bring for a young person with aspirations and goals. Perhaps, though, a more-frequent word of caution is needed for our youth so that they learn that life isn't about never falling, but learning to rise from the falls and become a better person because of it.