I have seen a lot these decades on earth. I witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtain, an apartheid free South Africa, an African-American U.S. president, a recession unlike any other, and the return of 1980s fashion. I have lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and traveled abroad. I bought my first home at 31, was laid off six months later, my father’s untimely death three months later, my granny passed a year later, and I put my house on the market before the housing bubble burst. They say the five most traumatic events are death of a loved one, divorce, moving/buying a home, major illness, and job loss. I experienced three all within a year. However, as broken as I felt when they happened, I am here to re-assure you. You are stronger than you know. In spite of the deepest feelings of loss, you will laugh and love again. Here are my top five lessons learned thus far (still living and learning will update in a few years).
1. NEVER STOP LEARNING.
Graduates, just because you earned a degree does not mean you are finished learning. It is only the beginning of the process. Living is learning. When I was young, naïve, and thought I knew it all, my father would look at me and say, “just keep on living – life will teach you a thing or two.” I have learned that as much as I know, there is so much more to learn, discover, and explore. Do not be afraid of failure or mistakes. Failure is an option and it is okay – just keep trying. Your worst moment can be your defining moment. As my dad said, “it’s okay to make a mistake so long as you learn from it and do not repeat it.”
The minute a person feels that he/she has done it, you end the process. You stop learning. -Maya Angelou
2. YOU ARE YOUR BRAND. REPRESENT YOURSELF APPROPRIATELY.
Remember that you are your calling card. Your actions, in person and online, are a documentary revealing to friends, foes, strangers, employers, and potential partners exactly what you are about. Spouses have been caught cheating via social media. Employees have lost jobs due to unsavory and off color remarks or pictures online. Need I mention the now infamous elevator footage of Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Solange? If your social media pages would jeopardize your job, livelihood, or make your future grandchildren cringe, it is probably a good idea not to post it. The internet is a permanent archive of your good, bad, and ugly. The delete button is only the pill the “Matrix” gives you to make you think you have privacy and control.
Remember the movie City Slickers with Billy Crystal? He has a mid-life crisis and wants to know the key to life. What he really wanted was how to achieve balance. How do you balance work, love, family, hobbies, friends, faith, and every other thing life throws at you? The person you were at 18 is not the person you are at 21 nor will be at 31. There should be growth and maturity as you maneuver this maze of life. Your priorities will shift based on your life changes (marriage, children, home ownership, starting a business, caring for a loved one, loss of employment). It is important to know what your core values are. Although you are growing and maturing, the essence of who you are – your core values – never change. You just adjust to life’s twists and turns. In order to achieve balance, find your center. What is essential for you to feel good about the person you are? I am not talking material possessions. If you were told to evacuate your home right now, not knowing if you could return, what things do you need to still keep your center? Trends and fads change. The real you is timeless and follows you from childhood to adulthood.
4. BE ADAPTABLE
We humans hate change. We loathe moving and swear that our neighborhood or city is the best in the world even if we have not visited others to make a comparison. Just like in the wild, if you do not know how to adapt to changes in life, you will not survive. Life will consume you, instead of you living life. I read one of my older posts titled Transitions 2. In it I quoted two things from a devotional: (1) “Welcome new experiences. If you’re moving forward in life your surroundings will be constantly changing. If they’re not, you’re going in circles. Clinging to the familiar just buys you comfort today at tomorrow’s expense;” and (2) “Let go of what no longer works. There are trade-offs. For everything you gain, you usually have to give something up. The trouble is, we hate giving up what we do well. So we focus on ‘doing things right,’ end up not doing the right things, and wonder why we don’t succeed. When your season changes, be open to a new strategy. Letting go of what doesn’t work anymore frees you up to focus on what does.”
5. RELATIONSHIP KARMA
What goes around comes around. At some point, your previous deeds (good, bad, and ugly) will come to revisit you. Make sure you are sowing the right seeds for harvest. Never treat common courtesy and kindness as a highly valued commodity on the stock exchange only affordable to those that you think can help you. Common courtesy and kindness should been shown liberally. I am not saying let people take advantage of you. However, a good morning, good evening, good night, or nice day never hurt anyone. It is cliché, but “treat others as you want to be treated.”