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Marolt: Graduation advice from an ordinary guy who loves you

Roger Marolt
Roger This

If asked to give this year’s graduates advice, I would say swallow a grain of salt before listening to famous commencement speakers.

Plenty of famous people tell us if you dream big and work hard, you can be whatever you want. It’s easy for them to say because it amounts to patting themselves on the back. It should come as no surprise that you absolutely cannot become anything you want to be. If it was true, a lot more people would be the smartest person in the world. There is only one LeBron and only one Madonna. To say the millions of kids who aspire to fill their shoes and end up wearing last year’s Nikes instead should have dreamed bigger and worked harder is selling a lot of desire and effort short.

The truth is that we are all on unique life paths, and most of the really big turns we will not engineer. If you doubt this, look at your own life so far. The biggest thing that’s happened is you being born. You didn’t choose the place, the time or your parents, but here you are! Lack of control sounds bad, but it’s not. Accepting it is the fastest way to peace.

It seems no graduation pep talk is worthwhile if you don’t mention a modern icon, such as Steve Jobs. OK, Jobs was a mastermind who changed the world, in part, by eschewing market surveys since they would only tell him what people wanted. He was determined to create something so incredible that people couldn’t know they wanted it because they hadn’t even imagined it.

I bring this up because as you travel down your life’s path, on which there are so many mysteries, you should at least consider that, if Jobs could deliver on his promise to give us something greater than we ever could have dreamed up, the Creator of the universe most likely can deliver incredible things to us even bigger than the iPhone. Don’t let them slip by unnoticed.

For those who believe in God, that’s enough said on this point. For those who don’t, it’s worth some contemplation in your future to at least consider the possibility of God. Call him The Force, Mother Nature or whatever makes you comfortable, but think it over when you gaze at the stars sitting next to a tiny campfire in the middle of nowhere. What you discover could have greater impact on the world than discovering a cure for cancer. Seriously!

I have suggested a map of your life that may look like a predetermined path. “Yeah,” you think, “now I coast.” Not so fast. Your future is not so much predestined as it is composed of uncountable steps that you can’t possibly foresee much less plan for.

It’s a good path, but there are some dangerous detours, too. You have been given a special set of talents. Your job is to discover them, use them to the best of your ability and mix in a dose of passion (yes, you possess that for a reason). This will keep you moving forward.

Here’s the thing, though: You may work hard, follow a passion, use your talents, and still find a roadblock instead of gold pavers beneath your feet and a breeze at your back. Don’t sweat it. Don’t think for a second you failed. It’s only a fork. Consider making a turn instead of trying to crash through. The new path may not look like the one you imagined, but it might be yours nonetheless. It’s part of the adventure. Be patient.

It’s true that to be happy we need to be successful. But I don’t think tracing the simple geometric connection between points A and B is enough. If B is where success lies and your path is long, as I hope it will be, you will spend a lot of time attaining success, which is another way to say “being unsuccessful.” A better plan is to figure out a way to be successful every day along the way.

Finding humility is a good way to start. Understand that the world has worked a long time without you. Realize that there is a whole lot more that you won’t ever know than you can possibly ever learn. Consider that the people who love you unconditionally, forgive you always and are eager to lend a hand are the ones to be admired most.

When conflicted, choose to do what your heart knows is truly good over what your brain tells you is the best way to get ahead. Make it a point to live your life for someone else, and see if that makes your paycheck more meaningful. Work as hard as you can with what you’ve been given at something that feels right. Sleep well. Every morning you wake up refreshed, you will know you have succeeded.

Roger Marolt believes everyone has the right to give graduation advice and nobody has the obligation to listen to it. Contact him at roger@maroltllp.com.


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