The melody of Pomp and Circumstance begins to fill the school auditorium, barely rising above the excited conversations of family and friends. Gowned and capped individuals file in one after another, filtering into their designated seats of honor. Someone approaches the podium and begins the ceremony to celebrate academic accomplishments. Speeches and honors are given, diplomas bestowed, and the crowd erupts in cheers as graduates move their tassels. Now what?
Like many commencement keynote speeches will tell you, commencement is a right of passage, not an ending. It's a launching point into your professional life, transitioning from being a student to becoming a colleague.
And there's no roadmap...
...because every journey is different.
Think about a road trip across the continental United States. There are infinite routes you can take to accomplish the same goal, but will vary depending on your preferences. For example, if you want to take your time to see major cities, important sites, battlegrounds, museums, state capitols, etc. Maybe you want to accomplish this goal as quickly as possible. Your route will look very different than someone who wants to explore certain attractions. No one way is right!
Many people may have expectations about what happens next with an elaborate 5, 10, or 20 year plan. Yet, life rarely works out that way. There will be surprises, both good and bad. Depression and anxiety can develop when reality does not match expectations, or when you encounter unexpected detours. This distress can be prevented by continually evaluating whether your expectations are realistic and whether your life circumstances are positioning you on the path toward successfully reaching those goals. Having goals is a positive thing that drives us to be better and do better. But when we allow those goals to rule our emotions and thoughts, they enslave us.
Give yourself the best gift you can this graduation season, whether you are a graduate or not:
Freedom from expectations, judgement, perfectionism, guilt, worry, regret, and self-hate.
Allow your journey to unfold.
Embrace the challenges as they arise and celebrate every victory, even small ones.
Happy graduation to all graduates, and all the loved ones who helped support them!