Dear graduating seniors,
Congratulations on your accomplishments in graduating from high school. Whether you stayed the course with a 4.0 GPA or were one of those who worked hard to scrape together a passing grade at the end in far from ideal circumstances, what you have achieved is something you should feel proud of.
Celebrations for that work will look a little bit different this year, and I’m sorry about that. I truly feel for students who have been suffering the disappointment of missing their final musical performance or sports season or just hanging out with friends.
If it is any comfort at all, I will say I believe society sometimes places an outsized role on certain rites of passage. I skipped my high school prom, for example, and turned out fine. I have no idea what any of my friends I’ve met since high school wore to their prom, or who they went with, or whether they went at all, because it is not something that comes up in day-to-day adult life.
As I thought of what kind of advice I might give you, since you won’t have the usual commencement speeches to sit through, I have two pieces of advice relating to what comes next.
The first is to not pay too much attention to the well-known quote “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I love my job. I know a lot of people who love their jobs, but in my experience, each one of those people still have the occasional complaint about their employment. They might have to control their impatience with certain customers, stress out when a co-worker quits unexpectedly or not enjoy the paperwork part.
I’m sure Marshawn Lynch loved playing for the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. It was probably a dream come true. But when media day for the Super Bowl came around, he answered every question from reporters with, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” proving even star athletes have parts of their job — like holding press conferences — that feel like work rather than play.
If you test the waters on a college major or other job path and aren’t enjoying yourself overall, find something you’ll like better. But be cautious about buying into the notion that everyone has One True Calling out there somewhere that will solve all their problems.
That brings me to my second piece of advice, which is not to feel like you have one shot right now at age 18 to pick what the rest of your life will be like, and there is only one right answer.
Some jobs have a pretty straightforward career path. Someone does a plumbing apprenticeship and ends up as a plumber, or goes to nursing school to become a nurse. But there are millions of job titles out there. There is a good chance yours will end up looking more like “content marketing manager for a company that makes toothbrushes.”
People don’t generally decide in high school they want to work for a company that makes toothbrushes, but somebody has to do it.
I read a story recently about a woman whose job it is to pick out the artwork for television characters’ homes, based on the character’s personality, aesthetic, the time period they live in and what they might be able to afford. It’s a cool job, but probably not exactly where she imagined she would end up when she graduated from high school.
So remember as you start your journey that the job you’ll love might not be one you know exists yet, most college students change their major at least once and most people don’t retire from the same company they started at.
A career, like life in general, isn’t a journey from A to B but rather a maze with constantly branching paths. I may have chosen to major in journalism, but every day since I have had to make choices. Do I want to stay in my job or is it time for a change? If it’s time for a change, do I want to stay in journalism or do something else? If I stay in journalism, what job title would I want to pursue, and what news outlet would I want to work for? If I wanted to get out of journalism, what would I want to do instead?
If you’re not sure exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life, don’t sweat it. You’re not choosing your entire future right now, you’re just taking a first step. Every step will bring new choices into view, including the choice to turn back and go in a different direction if you don’t like what you see ahead.
So good luck out there. You’ll do great.