My daughter graduated from college last weekend. Both her dad and I were there to celebrate her accomplishments. We’ve been divorced for almost five years now, and though there were a few awkward moments, the overall experience went pretty smoothly. He and I even stayed in the same house (though not in the same room!).
As both mom and breadwinner (even before divorce), a friend reminded me that I needed to celebrate myself too on the occasion of my daughter’s graduation. You can find more on the sacrifice and trust required in a blog post here. But what I found myself thinking about over the graduation weekend was not so much my contribution, important though it may have been, but how grateful I am that she has had the opportunities she’s had and that she has a whole life of possibilities ahead.
Over the past few months we talked occasionally about what happens after college, especially when the panic would set in about student loans or not knowing exactly what she wanted to do. And over the past few weeks, several of her friends have shared similar concerns.
So in the spirit of graduation, I offer 10 tips for grads from the perspective of a divorced mom.
- There’s no magic age when you have it all figured out, and life falls into place. There periods of calm and stability, and periods of turmoil and uncertainty no matter how old you are. Live in the present and learn to embrace life in all its fullness. Stop seeking answers, and learn to live in the questions. In the words of Jon Steward, “There is no core curriculum for life.“
- Don’t worry about what you want to be when you grow up. Be who you are now. Life rarely turns out as we expect. The sooner you learn to let go of expectations, the sooner you can appreciate what you have in front of you.
- Don’t stress about your first job. Work and career paths rarely follow a straight line, and in today’s world, multiple changes are likely. If you don’t know what you want to do, pick something, and give it a try. Throw darts at the options if you need to. You’ll learn from everything, and you never know what might lead you to something you enjoy. In the words of one of my favorite quotes, “Go as far as you can see. When you get there, you will be able to see further.” – Carlyle If you’re alive you have a purpose. You may not know what it is, but trust that you do. A man named Clint H once said that your purpose is where the world’s great need and your passion meet. If you focus on giving from your passion rather than on making a difference on a grand scale, you’ll be a success. Success is in the joy you feel, not in the size of the contribution.
- Life doesn’t start “when,” it’s going on now!. In other words, life doesn’t begin when you’ve found the right job, right boyfriend or girlfriend, right weight, right income level, right house. If you make your happiness contingent on waiting for things to be right, you’re giving away your peace of mind to someday, and someday never comes. Instead, be happy where you are and with who you are, and those other things will fall into place. To do this, focus on what you have and what you appreciate in your life. The more you do that, the more you’ll see the good, and the more good will come to you.
- Relationships require give and take, but don’t compromise who you are for someone else. No one else can make you happy; that’s an inside job. And no matter what you do, you can’t change someone else. But you can become whole and healthy yourself so you have something to give the relationships you choose. And no matter what, you always have choices about what’s best for you in any relationship.
- Live within your means. Don’t set yourself up for struggle by pursuing a lifestyle you can’t afford. If your passions are in areas where the potential for making a lot of money is not great, don’t handcuff yourself to a job you dislike for the sake of a certain house, car, or neighborhood.
- If you’ve got dreams, the best time to go for them is now, before you get tied down by work, children, or other responsibilities. And if you are tied down now, it’s never too late to start again. One of my mom’s cousins graduated with a college degree at age 90, and he was thrilled. As he said, whether he went to school or he didn’t, he would still be 90 in 4 years.
- If you’re faced with a decision—e.g., should I move for work or love? Ask yourself which you would regret more in 10 years if you didn’t do it. Then follow your gut. You usually regret what you didn’t do more than what you did.
- Don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides. You never win. Instead, if you must compare, compare who you are today with you want to be or what you know you’re capable of. Everyone (or at least everyone raised in Western culture) believes they’re not good enough. But the truth is that you are good enough. Believe it.
- Be gentle with yourself along the way. Most of us would never talk to family or friends the way we talk to ourselves. But putting yourself down first won’t keep others from thinking whatever they’re going to think; it will just keep you from realizing your dreams. Be compassionate to yourself, and you’ll have more compassion for others.