It’s that time of year again on social media: the brigade of smiling capped and gowned graduates, so hopeful and expectant as they transition away from the squeaky linoleum hallways of their high school or the lush, green quads of their collegiate institutions. This year is particularly poignant as am seeing more graduating faces who I once babysat for long ago and my friends’ children I have watched grow over the years.
A note of encouragement as I find myself wanting to bend your ears, particularly those graduating from university, to express what, had I know then, would have saved me so much emotional turmoil and chaos. But more importantly, would have enriched my experience now that I often long to be as untethered by responsibility and obligations as I was in my twenties. I do not harbour any regrets as I opened my arms wide to the gift in the lessons they were meant to teach me. My words here are more a reflection, a means of taking note of those lessons and projecting them outward in the hopes that they might bring encouragement or awareness to you.
Within the first week of moving to New York after my college graduation, a stone dropped itself into the pit of my stomach. Its weight felt like I had made a mistake by moving there, but the reality was there were many things I did love about my life there. My job was extraordinary and I did find fulfillment and purpose in it. And there were so many opportunities and experiences to be had that I couldn’t get into a groove to relish in them. One deficit was the nature of the building and neighborhood I had chosen to live in was very commercial and transient. The hours I spent on Saturdays and Sundays with my dog walking through Central Park showed me that I craved green space and nature more than I had ever realized. And, despite the number of friends that I had situated throughout the city, I didn’t have any sense of community. And in that loss of community I experienced a loss of confidence. In a borough of over a million people, I was desperately lonely and completely lost in my attempts to be so grown up when I was really just starting out.
I moved to NYC with the expectation that my life would instantly transform into the Vogue magazine social pages. And it did, to an extent. I worked and moved amongst all of those glittering guys and gals on a daily basis, but always felt invisible in a world that was completely unattainable, and quite frankly one I ultimately didn’t want to be a part of. I loved my work and the contribution I made to my company, but that began and ended as I scanned my security pass in and out of the LVMH building at the start and end of each day. Had I acknowledged what I loved about my time there and then let go of where I thought I was supposed to be fitting in, I would have allowed the space for the experience I was meant to have to reveal itself.
There were some practical things I should have acknowledged and acted upon. I should have found a neighborhood that felt more like a community, with green space and familiar faces and routines as I made my way to work. I would have enriched my time there with many more interesting friends and acquaintances if I had sought out groups or communities that shared my authentic interests rather than trying so hard to fit in with the fashion-crowd in which I had always felt like the misfit. I could have recognized that breezy, leafy green trees and a little grass underneath my feet did my soul a world of good. Would’a, should’a, could’a aside, the lesson is this: had I taken the time to release the expectations and assumptions that I brought with me to New York, who’s to know what I might have filled a memory book with? At the very least, my time there would have been fulfilling rather than fraught with anxiety and frustration.
In the spirit of all of those inspiring Commencement speeches, here is my version:
1. If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean your best course of action is to jump ship or make an extreme decision. Begin the Practice of Surrender and simply name or identify what isn’t working, but conversely, also name what is working and fulfilling. I would tell you to pray about it – you can call it what you’d like, but be intentional about this piece. Meditate on it, journal about it, write each thing on a piece of paper and burn it, find a friend to hold you accountable to talking through where you are struggling. But don’t spin in it. Acknowledge what isn’t working and release it to make room for what is meant to come.
2. If you find yourself seeking a healthy space to clear your head, embrace it. Recognize this pull as your mind and body needing a quiet, reflective space in which to be still and work out your brawling thoughts and emotions. Begin the Practice of Stillness by daily finding a small dose of that quiet, reflective space as life-giving instead of seeking a refuge or escaping. It is in that stillness that you will allow yourself the headspace to feel your emotions without the urgency to act on them.
3. The loss of your expectations is hard. There will be heartache and some sorrow, but this doesn’t have to look like depression or require you to console yourself with any kind of distraction, like booze, or shopping, or sex, or food. Begin the Practice of Grief by acknowledging it and being with it rather than trying to run from the sadness or distract yourself from it.
4. The conflict between your expectations and your reality is the true heart of the matter. As the saying goes, expectations are only preconceived resentments. Expectations has 2 definitions:
- to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of; to wait, stay
- to consider bound in duty or obligated; to suppose, think
Do not confuse these dangerously different sides of the same coin. Dashed hopes are far easier to recover from than failed obligations. Begin the Practice of Honesty by recognizing the conflict between your expectations and your reality and ground yourself in that truth without judgement.
5. Learning the art of self-evaluation and reflection early in your journey will propel you further than any advanced degree. Begin the Practice of Curiosity by being willing to evaluate on the distance between your failed expectations and your reality and reflect on how you arrived there. What motivated your expectations? What specific decisions led to your current conflict and struggle? How might you have approached things differently or seen the with a more open perspective?
6. Do not regret a single one of your decisions, but make amends with yourself for the ones that might have had negative impact on yourself and others. Begin the Practice of Forgiveness by recognizing you did the best you could with the information you had at the time and applaud yourself for being willing to receive the lesson.
7. When you are fully informed and at peace with your situation, only then should you take action. Begin the Practice of Resilience by making sure the next step in your journey is taken in complete confidence and conviction. Your heart, and your gut, should be at ease in any movement forward.
8. The quest for happiness is really about contentment; being confident in your circumstances, even if there is discomfort. Begin the Practice of Joy by acknowledging what you are hopeful for but holding firm to the belief that things will ultimately turn out better than you had imagined it.
Begin the Practice… With Surrender you will unburden yourself of the expectations you are bending yourself around and with each Practice you will find yourself closer to where you are mean to be. At last, in Joy you will find the blooms that were meant to grow from the fertile soil that had been prepared for you. The pressure to have it all figured out will further burden your process, but remember, this is slow growth.
You are loved!