In a few days, my sister will be walking across the stage in a cap and gown for the third time from The University of Texas at Austin. Yes, THIRD time. She will be receiving her post-Masters degree because one, apparently, is not enough for this bright, hard-working and driven person with whom I have the pleasure of being related. (Congratulations, Stephanie!)
Over the next few weeks, countless videos of inspiring commencement speeches for the graduating class of 2017 will be posted to YouTube. (Dr. Will Ferrell's USC address is worth the 25-minute investment, in my opinion.) After all, this is graduation season. A season of excitement and promise of a bright future. While this may be true for those who have secured jobs in their desired field, for the rest, after the confetti has settled, post-college life can feel overwhelming, daunting, and uncertain.
Freshman 18-year-old you had this idea of what graduating 22-year-old you would be and something isn't matching up. You've stepped into adulthood all of the sudden without a map, yet you're expected to navigate this new terrain like a pro. It seems your peers are owning adulthood, and life, in general, for that matter: excelling and mastering their dream job, climbing their respective field ladders, settling into romantic relationships and all the while still make time for Sunday brunch. Why, then, is it so hard for you? Is your internal compass faulty? Did you miss the manual that everyone else received along with their diplomas? How do you begin to figure things out when you don't even know where to start?
What happens when life doesn't go according to the script you had laid out? This is a question for everyone, at every life stage. (However, I think for those coming into their own during their 20s, this question can be particularly challenging.) I doubt many people include cancer diagnosis, miscarriages, heartache and heartbreak, divorce, unemployment and other gut wrenching realities in their "Oh, The Places You'll Go" ideals. And yet, they find their way onto that undesired landscape.
The unexpected can really disrupt and disorient us. Living in this haze, we wobble and stumble forward trying to find some version of our dreams, some aspect to not feel so powerless and helpless, some landing place to not feel inferior. I believe two things can happen here:
1) It feels too excruciating to keep trying, to make sense of things, to be disappointed that life isn't what you wanted/thought it would be so you numb out. You disconnect and isolate from yourself and others emotionally and you find solace in various addictions to stifle your inner strife.
2) It feels quite painful, excruciating at times, and you bravely choose to engage the pain. You allow yourself to explore false beliefs you have about yourself and the world. Our pain highlights an emotional depth needed to live a life of meaning, purpose, and hope. Our pain informs our joy. Our pain, like our joy, makes us real. Emotional resiliency is birthed.
There's not an in-between. There is not an option to not not feel pain if you want to have a life of connection. You either ignore your pain, which has its own cost, or you choose to befriend your pain and see what it wants to tell you. You're at a crossroads. This decision has far weightier and far-reaching implications than most others you'll have to make.
I wish for you the courage to remain present in the midst of uncertainty, disappointment, and expectations not being fulfilled. Perhaps you'll stumble upon something beautiful among the unexpected.