Monday, May 30, 2016

Rule No. 1: Ignore All the Platitudes

Several years ago when my god-daughter, now grown, graduated from high school I took it upon myself to offer some of the advice nobody gives you when you head out into the world. Time has passed, I think the advice still stands, and the young woman in question never ended up in jail. And, I think she throws some pretty good parties.

When your parents made me your godmother, your dad got it into his head that A) I had to take you to Europe one day or B) I had to pay for your college education.

Fortunately, your parents schlepped you off on that fabulous vacation last year. And I think you took care of yourself by being smart enough to get scholarships. Thanks, I don’t have $200,000 under my pillow.

That leaves me with the task of imparting wisdom. OK, you can start laughing now. But think about it. You and your classmates will be hearing platitudes ranging from “Wow, can you believe we finally made it?” to “The world is your oyster” and versions of climbing every mountain and fording every stream. While all true in their own way, those notions do not make up a complete picture.

See, nobody tells you the whole truth. I don’t mean in a scary way, just the things that later, you think, “I woud never have seen that coming.”

So here are a few. And trust me, I’ll not spend any more time in my life imparting my wisdom to you. You’re probably smarter than I am anyway.

* The combination of people irritating in a classroom – the suck-up, the know-it-all, the idiot who just can’t understand anything, the comedian who isn’t funny – is essentially the same combination of people you will encounter in any group situation for the rest of your life

* Don’t listen if the people you know think your friends are weird. In 10 years, people will be itching to come to your parties because you know such interesting people.

* You will miss your brothers. Someday.

* Never burn any bridges. That bratty kid you babysit might be your boss one day.

* Friendship takes work. Staying in touch takes work. But the payoff is tremendous. After a while, you realize that having a lot of friends isn’t a popularity contest so much as the result of working hard to be good to the people you care about. 

* Love doesn’t always conquer all. And when it doesn’t, it is a blow from which you feel you will never, ever recover. 

* But you do recover.

* You will always be the child, even when you are not. You can be 37 years old and have just given birth to triplets, and your parents will still think you don’t mind crashing in a sleeping bag on the family room floor.

* This might be the most important: If you find a pair of jeans or shoes that are absolutely perfect, buy at least two pair because clothing companies change their lines on even the most timeless of items for no other reason than to drive you insane.

 Goals are nice, but if you stick to them too much you won’t enjoy the ride and be open to other possibilities. Things come up that might not have even crossed your mind as a student. Ask any 50-year-old web designer. 

* Just you can’t sing doesn’t mean you can’t be a rock star. OK, even if that’s not in your career plan and you can sing like an “American Idol,” it’s more original than saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” If there’s something you want, go after it with your whole heart and don’t listen to people who say it can’t be done. Unless, of course, going after it would set off an alarm system of any kind. 

Well, the last one borders on the kind of platitude you’re going to hear in every speech and see in every graduation card. So I’ll leave the rest up to you to find out.

After all, the world is your oyster.

This essay first appeared in The Des Moines Register on May 29, 2004.

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