It’s taking the road in the first place.
And being thankful you’ve got legs for the journey.
Certainly, it’s important to reminisce about educational accomplishments and ruminate on sage advice of well-paid commencement speakers. No doubt, the ethereal, castles-in-the-air stuff resonating off the walls of high school gyms contains important travel gear for graduates.
But the wisdom isn’t one-size-fits-all.
A greater wisdom waits beyond those walls: wisdom from folks who work 40- or 50-hour weeks, raise children, and spend decades stretching toward dreams and hopes which only sometimes — and sometimes never — culminate.
It’s a wisdom for graduates who’ve never quite found their place, never quite figured out their dreams, or had others choose dreams for them.
One of the most admirable stories I’ve heard was from a multi-degreed mother and father who, years ago, encouraged their son (who had more than one serious learning challenge) to jump off the college expectation train.
“What do you really love?” his mom asked him.
“Well, cars. Yeah. I love working on cars,” he replied.
“Then you go and you work on cars,” his mom and dad said.
And so he did.
Despite the fact most of his classmates chose college, the young man is working on cars to this day, and has become quite successful. Folks come from all over the region to bring their cars to his business.
This brave young man and his even more courageous parents knew something seldom preached at commencement ceremonies. They knew the importance of following your dreams — not the dreams of administrators or statisticians, neighbors or friends.
So, dear graduates, follow your dreams.
And while you’re at it, stash a few of these not-so-typical tips in your rucksack, in case dreams evaporate and you’re thirsting for something to salve the wounds of real life:
1) Work hard. Period.
2) Do what you love, even if it’s not cool and none of your friends are doing it.
3) Give back. Find a cause you can believe in — something bigger than yourself. Volunteer for it. Support it. The sooner you figure out you’re not the center of the world, the better.
4) Know you will fail. Before you walk away from the failure, look back. Humble, willing folks learn most from their failures.
5) Think ahead. Plan now to create a life with enough margin to enjoy hobbies, loved ones, and life.
6) Own up to your mistakes. People will respect you a lot more if you say you’re sorry. And mean it.
7) Find a mentor — someone who does what you love. After you’ve learned from them, find someone you can mentor too.
8) Listen to people older than you, even if you think they’re clueless.
9) Be thankful. The happiest people are grateful people.
10) Step onto the road best for you with confidence.
Do this, and you’ll have fewer regrets than most.
Take it from someone who’s still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up.
Rewards aren’t at the end of the road.
Rewards are on roadsides and pathways of the winding, stretching, journey.
A journey chosen with passion.
A journey all your own.
And that, my dear graduate, is what makes all the difference.
(This column originally appeared in the June 2, 2010 issue of the Zionsville Times Sentinel.)