I was writing in a card for my brother’s graduation (spoiler, Lucas) and was thinking about the best advice I could give someone coming out of college and moving into the big, working world. The world where most of us clock in, clock out, spend a few hours eating, cleaning, doing laundry and then repeating the act.
I reflected on my senior year of college and where I was both physically and mentally. Donald Miller came out with his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and I quickly snagged it since I am one of his biggest fans and it radically shifted the way I viewed life.
At a low point in his life, Donald was approached by movie producers who wanted to turn his memoir into a movie. It made him reflect on how interesting his life would be on the big screen, which then made me wonder, would I change the way I’m living my life if someone said they wanted to create a book or a movie about the journey I’ve taken? Am I living the most meaningful life possible? Donald spends most of the book reflecting on story, and what it took for him to create a more meaningful life.
“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.
But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”
After reading this book, I knew I couldn’t take the full-time job offered to me with an incredible salary and cush benefits. I had to go out and experience the world, so I signed up to bike across America with a group of nine strangers who cared about social justice and exploring the country.
It was mind-blowing. Some people know this about my life, while others wonder why the redhead has a bike on her bicep. It was the best and worst thing I’ve ever done. No responsibilities, yet so much responsibility to finding sanity in the hottest summer on record in 2012 (remember that summer?!). It was easy because all I did was spin my legs round and round for hours and it was challenging because my mind was taking me to places I didn’t want to go. But going to those places helped shape me, move me, mold me into the woman I am today.
So my advice to college students (and really, anyone) is:
- Participate in remarkable moments and explore the beautiful world with magnificent people.
- Don’t give an f about what people think or say about you as you live your life.
You get this beautiful, short-lived time on earth to do whatever you want! Live in a tiny house, buy a mansion, be a cruise ship performer, stay home with your kids, do stand up comedy, serve your country. Do what makes you happy and if you don’t know what makes you happy, don’t mope around, try new things! My advice, although hard to truly soak in for myself, is to remember how precious this all is. How much time to you waste living in the past or fearing the future? As Jen Sincero says,
“It never ceases to amaze me the precious time we spend chasing the squirrels around our brains, playing out our dramas, worrying about unwanted facial hair, seeking adoration, justifying our actions, complaining about slow Internet connections, dissecting the lives of idiots, when we are sitting in the middle of a full-blown miracle that is happening right here, right now. We’re on a planet that somehow knows how to rotate on its axis and follow a defined path while it hurtles through space! Our hearts beat! We can see! We have love, laughter, language, living rooms, computers, compassion, cars, fire, fingernails, flowers, music, medicine, mountains, muffins!”
I don’t live this out day to day, but I try to instill these thoughts and truly believe that my life can mean something and that it can be lived to the fullest. And sometimes things get messy and out of whack and I’m off course because I let someone dictate my emotions, but I try my best to come back to the idea that I can create what I want out of life. I am the artist.
When I was on my second bike tour around Lake Michigan, I was a co-leader, so I was responsible for driving the van every few days. This gave me significant time to read while waiting for the cyclists to grab a snack and water. I snagged the book The Fives Regrets of the Dying from a gal pal and was incredibly moved by this book as well (in fact, all three authors in this book are my top five favorites). Bronnie wrote about her experience caring for those who were dying and shared the messages of those who left this earth without peace of mind. Her book is special and I sincerely hope you take time to read it. She states in her book:
“Life is over so quickly. It is possible to reach the end with no regrets. It takes some bravery to live it right, to honour the life you are here to live but the choice is yours. … Appreciate the time you have left by valuing all of the gifts in your life and that includes especially, your own, amazing self.”
So to the graduates, the non-graduates, the people who are punching in and out of jobs, may we acknowledge together that this life is too sweet & too short to waste on people who drain our energy, on jobs that suck, and things we have told ourselves we “should” do.
“Life doesn’t owe us anything. We only owe ourselves, to make the most of the life we are living, of the time we have left, and to live in gratitude.”