I recently sent a letter to the Class of 2014 at Wake Forest University School of Law. On the chance that it might be useful to others, I post the letter here as well. I also post it in tribute to a Class that will go far.
To the Class of 2014,
Though I've been at Wake for four years now, you are the first graduating class with members I have known since the first day of first year orientation week. That is a special event for me and I wanted to let you know that. I also wanted to thank you for all that I've learned from you and for letting me watch you grow over the last three years. That has been a joy. In gratitude, I'd like to share a few things I wish I had known as I began my career. Even if you already know what I'm about to say, humor me and let me think I'm helping out. Here goes:
Life is the journey, not the destination. Read and savor Cavafy's "Ithaca" (attached) at least once a year. Goals and destinations are ends, not journeys. When I was a child, my mother chastised me for "wishing my life away" when I wished Christmas or my birthday "would hurry up and come." It took me many years to understand her wisdom here. For those of you who find yourself wishing that some future event (like making partner or closing your first big deal on your own) "would hurry up and come," check yourself. Don't wish your life away.
Life stops when the journey stops. Avoid tethers that hold you back. Avoid holding onto or seeking material possessions that hold you back. Avoid holding onto wrong ideas that hold you back. Avoid the natural tendency to over-weight loss with respect to gain--the absolute value of losing a dollar shouldn't be more than that of gaining a dollar. Failure to realize this not only unnecessarily increases the pain of loss, it also tethers you by discouraging reasonable risk. At all costs, avoid the tether that torments and holds so many lawyers back: perfectionism.
You are not perfect and you will make mistakes. You must of course strive to be excellent. However, no one is perfect. If you demand the perfect, you demand what you cannot do or have. In fact, you demand something far worse than merely the impossible. Perfect means complete. Complete means finished, done. A life that is finished, done is a life that's over. Perfection is incompatible with the very journey that gives you life. Accept that no matter how careful you are you will make mistakes. Temper this sobering thought, however, with three good thoughts. First, making mistakes means you're still alive! Second, you'll learn some of your best lessons through your mistakes. Third, you'll likely find that most mistakes can be fixed if you'll promptly admit them and promptly seek their cure. Again, though, always strive to be excellent. Fallibility is no excuse for not doing your best.
The world is in color, not in black and white. If you "see" the world in black and white, you don't really see the world at all. If you don't see the world at all, you can't take a meaningful journey through it. Keep an open mind. Be patient, kind, and tolerant. Think for yourself and think in color.
See yourself in color, too. Live an authentic life. Be your true self. As Emily Dickinson would have you do, refuse to be a counterfeit or "Plated Person" despite all contrary pressure. Celebrate yourself in all your unique hues. Celebrate your good fortune to be alive, to be able to take your own special journey through life. Dazzle us all with what you alone can do.
As you move to life's next stage, I wish you the best of luck always. I'm very proud of you, of the good that you've done, and of the good that you'll continue to do. As long as I'm around, I'll be honored and happy to help you in any way I can as you sail your many years to Ithaca.
With highest regards,
By Constantine Cavafy
When you set out in search of Ithaca,
pray fervently your journey may be long,
full of adventures and of things to learn.
Fear not the Laestrygonians, dread not
the Cyclopes or Poseidon's awful rage:
such things you'll never find upon your way
if your thought's lofty, your emotion's rare
in ways that touch the body and the soul.
You'll not encounter Laestrygonians
or Cyclopes or Poseidon on your way
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul itself sets them on you.
Pray fervently your journey may be long,
that many summer mornings yet remain
for pleasant and for joyous anchoring
in harbors you have never seen before.
Pray you may stop at fine Phoenician marts
acquiring there their finest merchandise,
their coral, mother of pearl, their ebony
their amber, and their sensuous perfumes
of many kinds in many quantities.
Pray you may visit many Egyptian towns
and learn from many educated men.
Keep Ithaca always before your mind.
Your destiny is your arrival there.
But do not rush the journey in the least.
It's better that you travel many years
and anchor on the island in old age
with all your treasures gathered on the way
without expecting more from Ithaca.
For Ithaca gave you the wondrous trip:
without her you would never have set sail.
Now she has nothing left to give you more.
And yet she won't have fooled you if she's poor.
The experience and wisdom you'll have gained,
Will have shown what Ithacas must truly mean.
(Translation by H. A. Lloyd Working from Sachperoglou's Greek-English parallel translation and that of John Cavafy)