Congratulations! Today you graduate from High School. Never again the tree-green uniforms, the piercing bells, the racing helter-skelter to catch the next class. Your life is now different … the same but very different from everything you have ever known.
So I thought I would share some observations from the perspective of many decades since my own exciting, yet terrifying moment when I stepped out the school gate for the last time. Here is my advice to my daughter on her graduation.
What school teaches you
School is nothing to do with what you learn from books. Much of what you spent hours learning, you will never again use (32 years and counting since I last used the Pythagorean Theorem).
What school does/should teach you is how to learn. How to question. How to find out what you want to know and how to form your own opinion. If you stop learning when you shut your textbooks for the last time, all your school years will be wasted.
Keep the constant questioning, the search for answers and the thirst for learning going – even after your uniform is cleaned and folded into the back of the cupboard for the last time.
What teachers teach you
Schools are just a workplace for teachers. And like any workplace, there are differences between employees. Approximately 20% of any workforce are highly engaged, passionate about their work, and are high-performers. These are the people that change the world. You have been lucky to have had a few of these as teachers over your years at school and these are the ones that you will remember as people who set your feet on the path of your life.
60% are nice people and are average performers. They do their job to the best of their ability. They could best be described as what makes the world go around. You will see them and smile at them in the shops when you bump into them, but as the years pass you will probably forget their names.
20% are disengaged, bitter and angry. These are the poor performers, the squeaky wheels, the back-biters. Because they are so vocal, there can seem to be more of them than there really are. If you focus on them, you ignore the other 80% of the people who are nice. Spending too much time focussed on what they said or did can consume your life, until you end up as bitter as they are.
In my experience, people don’t go to work with the intent to do a bad job. Often they are truly amazed that they have such a negative impact when they are confronted with what they do. In their minds, they are doing the best they can.
The trick is to distill what you observed them do into lessons that you choose never to repeat. Remember how they spoke to people. How they interacted and how they dealt with conflict. Squirrel that away in your memory as the anti-lesson in how to engage and motivate other people.
Your future career(s)
School should also have helped you find the glimmer of your future career. Focus on the subjects where you lost track of time studying – where the learning was easy and where you reached voluntarily for more information. In there are the seeds for your future. Pursue the interesting things and polish your strengths – as that is where your gift to the world is located.
You also need to remember that there is always more than one career possibility for each person. Each individual career is made up of different skills, assembled like Lego into a creation we call a job.
Over the years you will combine and re-combine your skills into many different job configurations – many of which you have not yet dreamed existed. You will reinvent yourself numerous times. And that process is to be welcomed and embraced.
With your career – you are never lost. You are merely on an adventure. Allow the adventure lead you where you are meant to go.
What your friends teach you
School has shown you that you are known by whom you hang out with. If you hang with the nerds, stoners, mean girls or populars – then that is your reputation amongst other kids and teachers. Leaving school, all teenagers have the rare chance to change and reinvent themselves. Choose your friends post-school wisely.
Your first teenage experiences of dating and relationships have also left huge lessons for your future. Having a strong connection with someone over the net or via electronic communication is not the same as connecting in life. Always look to someone’s actions – not their words. If their actions don’t match what they say – they are not worth your time.
Also, always trust how you feel when you are with them. If you feel “less than” when you are with them – then they are wrong for you. If you feel manipulated or guilted into acting a certain way – they are wrong for you. If you are the one doing all the giving and there is no reciprocal balancing – they are wrong for you. Relationships are like breathing – there has to be inhaling and exhaling. You can’t live by exhaling only.
Good friends and partners are like the sum 2+2=5. Together you are more than when you are apart. Together you do more, enjoy more, achieve more and are happier than when you are apart. If together you are less than, then the equation is out of balance – they are wrong for you.
What your results teach you
Your results in life come from what you put into it. Yes, there are no more red pens and no report cards brought home in shaking hands to see if you had an A or an E. But your life constantly delivers reports to you on how you are doing.
Look at your life. If you are not getting the results you want – do something different and ask yourself if you have been truly putting in as much effort as you need to achieve the results you want. If you want something strongly enough – you will always find another way to get there if you work at it. Just remember – wishing is not a life strategy.
And before you point to the people who seem to succeed with no effort and no work, those who rely on personality, manipulation and charm, I can only tell you that the gloss does fade. At some point their success will falter – but that may take decades. Don’t waste your life waiting for someone to fall. Live your own life and run your own race. Let them fall in their own time and in their own way. Bitterness robs you more than it robs them.
Leaving everything you know, everything that is comfortable behind can be challenging. Leaving school can feel like you have suddenly become weightless in space – and vertigo can set in until you recalibrate your internal body clock to your new environment.
Right now, just let your heart lead you onto the next stage of your life. Put one foot in front of the other if the path is not clear. And bravely step into your new adventure. Look back on your time at school in the same way an astronaut looks back on the earth. With wonder. With gratitude. And with new eyes.
And as for me … as a mother I couldn’t be prouder of the amazing, interesting, engaged in life young woman you have become. I have no doubt you will make a difference to this world. I have no doubt you will leave your positive mark. And I have no doubt that I am eternally grateful that you chose me to be your mother. Congratulations babe!
Proud mum of Rachel Cliff