At this time of graduation ceremonies, I ask myself what I would tell a bunch of wide-eyed kids in their late teens and early twenties about their lives ahead.
People talk about following their passions. If you're in your early twenties, and you've already found your passion, you are fortunate indeed and should follow it. But most of us are not so lucky. We don't know at age 20 or 30 or 40 what our mission in life is. We follow the motions. We get a job, hopefully in a field we have some interest in. We hope to find someone to love and share our lives with. We decide if we want to share our lives with children. We try to make money, and we try to be a success, whatever that means to us.
Some of these young adults will become doctors, lawyers, politicians. Some will become bankers, stay-at-home parents, ditch diggers, childcare workers, cashiers or clerks. Some will break the law and end up in jail. Some will become addicts. Some will become sick. Some will not survive to see old age.
So what could I say that might make a difference? I would tell them about three things: kindness, moderation and passion.
Kindness is a key to me. First it's important to be kind to yourself. It's good to put yourself first as long as you're not the only one on the roster. When you are good to yourself, you are happy, which makes you confident and strong enough to spread kindness to others. When we're older, we often have regrets for all kinds of things, but I've never regretted a time when I shared kindness.
Moderation is good in almost everything. There is nothing wrong with indulging in life's pleasures. Having a few vices is not so terrible. But I've always found that moderation brings balance to life. Too much work leads to an unhappy home. Too much play leads to an unsuccessful career. Too much eating makes you fat, unhealthy and uncomfortable in your own skin. Too much dieting makes you mean, unhealthy and craving the spice of life. Too much people-pleasing prevents pleasing yourself. Too much self-gratification leads to a lonely, unsatisfied life. I believe that living with a dose of everything and an excess of little will serve you well in life.
Now I said that moderation was good in "almost" everything. There is also passion. I remember people telling me that if I followed my passion I would never work a day in my life.
In my twenties, I didn't think I had a particular passion for anything. I knew that I was a good communicator and teacher. I was good at public speaking. I could ace my school writing assignments. And I knew I was a good listener, because my friends always came to me in order to be heard.
Yet I could pinpoint no passion. When I asked myself what my mission on earth was, I found no answer. So I followed my talents. I worked in fields where I knew I could take advantage of those strengths: as a "hotelly," presenting to clients, listening to their needs and booking sales; running a book fair business; working for a non-profit and teaching large groups. What I didn't know was that I did have passions; I just hadn't found them yet.
I found my first passion when I met my husband. I had the fortune of falling in love. I fell hard, and I fell for life. It didn't always come easily. We had our rough spots, but it was a passion just the same. I've never regretted it. My second passion, which came shortly after the first, was for my children. Most parents I know feel the same, but my passion was to be a stay-at-home mom, even though it was very unfashionable to do so at the time. The prior generation of women had fought long and hard for the right to build careers and be super-women. They fought so that we could be wives, mothers and have careers. I was out of step, but I followed my passion against my friends' paths into medicine, law and finance. I've never regretted my decision.
But eventually, if we've done a good job, our children grow up and move on with their own lives, to follow their own dreams. It wasn't until this later period in my life that I found my other passion: writing. If I'm pissed off at the world for attempting to take away the civil rights of a fellow human being, I can write about it. If I'm touched by the kindness I observe in someone, I can write about it. If my mind won't stop racing because it has so much it wants to share, I can write about it.
When I start writing, it takes my full bladder or my growling stomach to tell me to step away from the keyboard and practice moderation.
What do I think is important for today's youth to know? My answer is to practice kindness, moderation and passion in life. Whatever your choices are, if you practice these three things, your regrets will be small and your successes will not only be abundant, but they will come from your heart.
This essay was previously published in NewsWorks.