Graduation season has well past, but for some reason the start of this school year got me into a type of reflective mood that is typical around graduation time. As I dropped my daughters off for their first day of a new grade, I started to wonder why we wait until the end of a school experience to share such important words of wisdom. Many of the great keynotes and commencement speeches, such as the one Sheryl Sandberg delivered to the UC Berkeley graduates in May 2016, offer such great advice that can help navigate people not just during their post-education years, but as they are going through school and life in general. So I decided to write a commencement speech that is not for a “send off”, but to accompany you on your journey, wherever that may be…..
Honored students of life, families and friends that support them, and children that are guided by them, today, on this special day, the first day of the rest of your life, I remind you that every day is the first day of the rest of your life. It’s easy to forget that when you’re in the busy world of living, but it’s important to remember. Each day can have an influence on the next. The days woven together create an immaculate and intricate masterpiece of art—a one-of-a-kind, invaluable masterpiece — named YOU.
Each brush stroke has an impact – whether or not the color and brush were chosen with care or not. So I ask—what type of painting do you want to create? Do you want one that just comes together without much thought? Or do you want to create a masterpiece that is worthy of being shared in a museum and leaves a legacy for those you love?
By now, I’m assuming you’re still listening (eh, reading) because you’re interested in the latter. Luckily, the foundation for creating a masterpiece doesn’t require years of special schooling. The “lesson” is simple really – five guiding principles. But it’s the intention that’s challenging. So don’t just listen (eh, read) these principles, but internalize them. Think about them each day. Ask yourself how well you lived them at the end of each day. Talk about them with others. Live them intentionally—and you will go far!
The Five Guiding Principles to Keep Driving towards your Potential
- Pause and Pray (or meditate, or whatever centers you): Most people get on the hamster wheel of life and start running. Before you know it, you’re exhausted—and you haven’t really gone anywhere. Inertia is a powerful force. It’s important to hit the pause button once in a while and center yourself. You can read more about that here.
- Be inspired: I have written about this before, and you can read the longer blog post here. But know that inspiration is such an important energy source and helps opens you up to possibilities – which can help you decide where you’re really going. And then you have to…
- Ask yourself – “Do I really know where I’m going?”: I was so thrilled when I completed my undergraduate degree. I had been working towards that goal since a young age—doing well at school, working multiple jobs to save money, participating in extracurricular activities—all in hopes of getting into a school and getting some scholarships. And I did both. And then I worked so hard throughout college—while working multiple jobs. When graduation day arrived, I thought “I finally did it!” But I couldn’t help feeling a little lost. For years I knew what my goal was: to get a college degree. After college, I wasn’t as focused. I worked as a nanny in Sicily. I came back and got a job offer from a company that I didn’t really know too much about (Accenture) but took the job anyway – and lucky for me the job was awesome. I’m so blessed that things worked out so well, but as I was going through the motions, stuck with the feeling of being lost. That’s when I realized what happened – I was “going,” but after college I didn’t define where my end point was. I was just going through the motions. Many times in my career and post-college life I’ve had to stop and ask myself if I knew where I was going. If the answer was no, I had to stop and reflect. My Recommended Reading List has lots of books and tools to help you discover and reflect. It’s really important you know your destination so your efforts and energy are driving towards that.
- Ask the right questions: So many people think being a good leader, good friend, good parent is about having the right answers. Many aren’t upfront when they don’t have the right answers. Don’t be that person. Life isn’t about having all the answers – it’s about knowing when you don’t have them and asking the right questions to find out. I’ve learned in both parenting and leadership that the most powerful (and underutilized) tool and skill is listening. Ask the right questions, and then listen openly to the answers. People like and need to feel heard. Often times, that is all they need, even when they’re upset. When they need more, truly listening, asking the right questions, and asking more follow-up questions can provide valuable insight needed to drive to a win-win solution. Don’t underestimate the power of asking questions. Even if you think you know an answer, before you talk at someone, take a moment to think of at least one question you can ask to start a conversation and talk with someone. Who knows? Their answers might help you better understand what you though you already knew.
- Find your passion and purpose, and try to do it for a living: My Aunt Sharon gave me this advice when I was very young and I’ve never forgotten it. She told me that if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I really find that’s true. Life is too short to do something that you’re not passionate about. Now I realize that sometimes you have to work a specific job. Responsibility calls—rent to pay, people to feed, school to get through, etc., but reframe that job as a means to an end – and find a way to drive towards your passion. Coaching and empowering working parents to navigate the world of working parenthood is truly a passion of mine. Some day, it may even be my full-time job. But just because it’s not my full-time gig today doesn’t mean I put it on the back burner. I love my “day job”, and it helps me grow and develop, both professionally and personally. AND having a day job doesn’t mean I can’t pursue may passion and one of my purposes in life. It just means that I have to make sure I’m grounded in these principles and really thoughtful and intentional about my time and energy.
The world around us is constantly changing—and at a faster pace than ever before. Rooting myself in these guiding principles not only helps me adapt to these changes, but helps me thrive in them. Perhaps they can do the same for you. As a working parent, isn’t that a wonderful thing to be modeling and teaching our children?