Graduates: Rules and Tools for Your Life

One of my favorite Internet hoaxes is a supposed MIT commencement address given by Kurt Vonnegut. It was actually a column written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune that had such sage advice as "Wear sunscreen," "Do one thing every day that scares you," and "Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't."

Schmich's column began with an intro that didn't follow the rest of the hoax around the Internet saying, "Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who'd rather be Rollerblading." and she encouraged "anyone over 26 to try this."

Although not world-weary, I am over 26 so here's my Guide for Grads:

Wear comfortable shoes. Grin.

Don't worry about terrorist attacks and airplane crashes if you don't wear a seatbelt every time you get in a vehicle.

Stretch a lot, both your mind and your body.

Learn to differentiate roommate problems from spousal problems. Stuff such as dirty socks on the floor or pantyhose in the bathroom or the toilet seat being up or down are things that cause trouble between roommates. Deal with them immediately just as you would in a dorm or apartment. Don't let them coagulate over the years until the problems get so clotted only a judge can decree a fix.

Don't make babies unless you really want them, and the toddlers, kids, and teenagers they will grow into. Wear appropriate attire, but always remember that people who are impressed by clothing aren't worth impressing.

Buy good tools, but only buy them if you'll use them again. Otherwise, rent good tools and use the money you save to buy the tools you truly need.

Happiness is an attitude. You don't find it with money or a new job or anything else outside yourself. Move sometimes if you aren't happy. Change jobs. If you still aren't happy after a couple different places, then your problem isn't the city or the climate or your friends. Look inside yourself.

Money will buy happiness for some people. They aren't the type of people who will improve your life. It may even buy happiness for you for awhile, but economic growth is like physical growth. After a certain point, you're not getting bigger, you're just getting fatter.

Don't burn bridges. You never know when you may need something from someone. Even if you'd never again work for the boss you hate, after a year or decade your coworkers may end up as people hiring or recommending new folks and they'll remember how you treated everyone. Here's one from an essay I read in Reader's Digest. Make a list of 50 things to do before you die. Review the list occasionally. The worst vacations, the rain and mud or lost luggage, will be the ones you remember the best. Don't get attached to plans.

A life change such as graduation never seems to change anything too much. A situation may get altered: new teachers, new classes, new bosses, but as the Eagles put it in the song Lying Eyes, "You're still the same old girl you used to be." True spiritual, intellectual, or emotional growth always occurs on the inside. The external markers of time and effort such as money, cars, jobs, and diplomas are essentially tools which are only as good as the job you use them for. You can use them merely for your own comfort, or can use them to make yourself a better person (and the world a better place). Graduation is just one day. Your life is how you spend your time. Spend it wisely.