Advice to a Graduate

Advice to a Graduate June 2, 2016

My daughter is about to graduate from high school in a few days, which leaves the terrifying prospect that she is now, more or less, an adult, and should know how to do the essential kinds of graduation capthings that adults know how to do. I realize this is pretty much a fantasy, but still, I do think about the crucial things she needs to know, and how I have probably failed to teach them to her. And/or failed to get her attention when I was trying to teach her. In hopes of mending a few of my parenting oversights, here, my darling daughter and any other grads who might be interested, are a few things you might want to know:

  1. There is no kitchen fairy. Dishes do not wash themselves, and garbage doesn’t throw itself away. Same with toilet paper, which never gets on to the holder without some help. Yes, the world is full of magic, but not this kind. Just because you don’t think about it doesn’t mean it will take care of itself.
  2. Price and worth may be related, but they aren’t the same. Buy the expensive paintbrushes. It’s worth it. The $200 jeans are not. More importantly, don’t confuse money and worth when it comes to people. Having a lot of money doesn’t mean you are smarter, harder-working or more virtuous than those who have less. It just means you have more money.
  3. You are going to screw up. That’s not an insult; it’s just a statement of fact. Everyone does. So get good at apologizing. I suggest the following formula: I’m so sorry that I ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­________________. I imagine that you must feel ______________. I know I should have done better, but what was going on with me was _________________. In the future I will try to __________________. Is there anything I can do to make things right? Practice this formula so that you know how to use it when you need it.
  4. Other people are going to screw up. Badly. This can make you lose your faith in humanity if your faith in humanity is based on believing that people will do the right thing. You get to choose whether and when you will forgive. Just remember that there are other states of mind that are a lot more enjoyable than feeling pissy.
  5. Don’t forget to change the oil in your car. Don’t forget to eat vegetables. Don’t forget to call the people you love. (Texting doesn’t count) Don’t forget to say thank you. Most of the big problems in life come from not taking care of the little problems. ALL of the giant successes in life come from attending to the little pieces.
  6. Only spend money that you have. Aside from absolute emergencies, it is only worth borrowing money for things that will go up in value. The only things that go up in value are education and houses. And love. Which I’m hoping you don’t have to borrow money for.
  7. Learn to do things yourself. It is cheaper and more satisfying. You can unclog a drain, paint a wall, mend a seam, tile a bathroom and do your taxes without having to figure out an unreasonable amount. Whatever you need to know is almost certainly available on a YouTube video.
  8. But be willing to ask for help. Nobody can do everything, and people who love you will appreciate your reaching out to them. Well, they won’t appreciate it when you need help with moving, but they’ll come through anyway.
  9. Pay attention. I know this is hard. There are so many shiny things in the background. Also scary things lurking in the corners. I’m not saying you have to ignore the sparklies or the monsters under the bed, but try your best to figure out what matters to you and pay attention to that. You will get a lot farther trekking doggedly after what you love than running from what you fear or wandering vaguely after butterflies. Not that there’s anything wrong with butterflies.
  10. I know that a lot of this adulting stuff seems way too hard. It is hard. Some of it gets easier, and some gets harder. We’re all just doing the best we can. Your best is going to be awesome.
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