Roger Marolt: Who am I to talk?
Thank goodness we can’t be whatever we dream to be at age 18. Had my dream come true, I would have basically missed out on who I am and who I was along the way in getting here. I am not famous. I am not rich. I am a regular guy who lives a uniquely regular life that is satisfying in ways I could not have possibly imagined when I flew, or fell, from the Aspen High School nest.
I actually believed the nonsense they told me at graduation — that all I had to do was dream big and work hard to become a New York Yankee. By the time I turned 20 I figured out that was impossible. Thankfully I figured it out then. I still had plenty of time to recover and become me.
“You can be anything you want to be” is not encouragement. It’s an outright lie. It is usually served up at graduation by someone like a five-time 100-meter dash gold medalist. Hardly anyone remembers their graduation speaker, but almost all of us recall the ubiquitous “never lose sight of your dreams” line in almost all the speeches.
People who hold world records, earn platinum records, and have Oscars on the mantle are the worst people to give advice about dreaming. The rare talents they are — born with combined with a little hard work, maybe a key connection or two, and a dash of luck — are what got them where they are. That they may have dreamed about it, too, is mostly irrelevant.
It’s graduation speech time, a rite of passage, a time when we recall, after we are seated, that cliched advice and captive audiences are an existential example of simultaneous spontaneity. We can handle the truth, so lay it on us. There must be original, honest and truly inspiring speakers. We can at least dream about that.
With this hairy rant off my chest, other advice for graduation speakers comes to mind:
Don’t tell young people to set goals, especially long-term ones. It is true that they won’t ever achieve any goals if they don’t set any, but that is not a bad thing. Show me a goal setter and I will show you a rigid thinker. Does anyone believe a high school graduate can set reasonable goals for their parents? Of course not. Then how can kids set worthwhile goals for themselves to accomplish before midlife crisis?
Setting goals is a clever way to get kids to put blinders on, maybe to keep them out of trouble or on a respectable career path. It’s hard to say. But, think of all that this wonderful world has to offer that will be missed if the direct line from the graduation stage to a single life goal is taken. At every halfway point along the way is a tangent. This theoretically means the possible paths in life leading every which way are infinite. It would be a shame not to explore at least some of that paradox.
Compare “I am going to do this” with “I think I might try that.” The declarer of the first maybe has a better chance of making a lot of money, but I’d wager the sayer of the second has a better chance of being happy. Even if not, they at least won’t be so deep into whatever it is they thought they wanted that didn’t end up making them happy that they can’t quickly sample the next appetizer that looks delicious.
Instead of setting a goal that is bound to be anticlimactic, even if your dream happens to come true, I think the energy of youth is better spent discovering what you really might love doing and start doing it. From there you can enthusiastically ask, “What’s next?!”
I hope graduation speakers spouting their own accomplishments becomes a thing of the past. It’s a waste of time. We’re going to Google you while you are talking anyway. As with any great campfire conversation, just tell a few good stories from your life and let your audience draw the conclusions.
In the end, you are likely the only one who knows the the true joy of living with your soulmate, the rich emulsification of love and satisfaction in raising your children, the awe you felt at what you have seen of this world at the times you saw them, the sense of accomplishments you have experienced in your work, the satisfaction of your hobbies. In the end you may be the only person on this planet who appreciates the entirety of your life. But, in the end, that is all that really matters.
Roger Marolt oftentimes asks himself, “Who are you to talk?” Then says what he really thinks. Email at email@example.com.