As I sat there, listening with interest to the many stories being offered, I got thinking about the lessons I have learned since finishing high school - the ups, the downs, the heart aches and the heart breaks that come part in parcel with the journey of life. Although I could see merit in the words being offered to my students, I felt that there were other lessons that they failed to cover, that I wish I were told when I found myself in the graduation hot seat almost 11 years ago.
Lesson 1. Nurture creativity
Through university I spent so much time and energy writing scientific papers and lab reports that I lost a good part of my ability to write creatively. Back in school, I remember finding great joy in writing short stories, and had a talent for it. That’s not all, I also recall doing well in painting, graphic design, craftwork and more.
Now, after 5 years of university studies and ‘real world’ experience, I find that I am now learning how to be creative all over again. I have had to relearn how to write creative rather than factual, how to paint and draw again without rulers, protractors and stencils, and how to express myself freely instead of following a predetermined path.
Now that I’ve experienced life outside of the classroom, I realise that creativity is a lost skill in adults. Of all the skills I learned, I never thought creativity would be one of the skills I miss the most.
Lesson 2. Take time to explore
For a while, I followed a typical formula for life - high school, university, career. It’s a well known formula for ‘success’ that is used by many young school leavers, and one that I thought would suit me as well. Looking back, I see that following a structure for my life prevented me from being able to explore life, and determine what I really wanted.
While I was going through university and high school, I was so focused on getting good grades to lead towards a successful career, that I didn’t give myself the opportunity to explore a world outside my classroom. I had it in my mind that I was to be a scientist, so that is all I knew, and all I expected. It was the combination of my experience in the workforce of my studies, and a volunteer opportunity as a teacher, that made me realise I was meant to be a teacher, not a scientist.
Looking back, I would encourage people to explore alternatives. Work different jobs, volunteer, join social groups, and be part of more activities. It was my willingness to explore ideas outside what I knew, that led me to discovering my passion. Don’t be afraid to explore beyond what you know.
3. Failure is part of the game
That’s not how it really is though. Those who’ve been through the hurdles know that a big part of life is failing hard, then learning how to pick yourself up again. For me, I’ve experienced failure in the form of relationships, many times over. Some guys have used me, some have made promises to me and never delivered. In all cases, my heart and my dreams, were left shattered. You can’t let that stop you though, and neither did I. It was tough, but the reward of failing - discovering what it is I didn’t want - paved way for the discovery of what I really did want.
Sometimes in life you need to find the wrong ways, before the right ways become clear. There’s no need to avoid failure. Expect and embrace this important piece in the game of life.
4. Enjoy the journey
A few years ago, I was so focused on what I wanted in the future; a nice home, a family, the ability to travel and just generally enjoy life, that I missed out on what was happening in the moment. I was always pushing for the next thing, waiting for the future. But I was never happy in the present.
When I had a boyfriend, I wanted to get married and have kids. Then I had a good job and savings, so I bought a house. There was always something in my life that needed improved or fixed. It wasn't until I got rid of the dead beat boyfriend and sold my property that I realised life was always going to make me miserable if I didn't find joy in the now.
The sobering fact is that you never know when your life is going to be over. If you’re always chasing the dream of a perfect future, there will be no joy in your life. Your destination is the sum of your journey. Take time to enjoy it.
Life is about learning. Embrace the unknown.
I have heard a lot of advice over the years, but the advice that has made the biggest difference in my life (and a common theme for all points above) is to find joy in every day and pursue the things you love.
Life’s too short not to.
Over to you: What are some lessons you’ve learned in life so far? Are there any you’d tell your younger self if given the chance? Share in the comments below...