Graduation is Just the Beginning

I’ve seen dozens of Facebook comments about and photos of college graduations over the past few days. I’m happy and excited for the new graduates and their families. I remember our younger daughter’s graduation last year, and our older daughter’s graduation four years ago. This summer our older daughter is getting married, and in the next year, she will graduate from graduate school. Both daughters are excited and terrified at the process of becoming adults (and learning that the process comes in sputtering fits and false starts). They are both remarkably mature young women though, and in truth, they seem so much older and wiser than I was when I was in my early to mid twenties.

It seems like a century ago since I received my Ph.D. I was a new mother then, and learning to be both a parent and attempting to find a place in academia, a place I never found. But that is OK–because it gave my other opportunities. I am a different person now, more confident in myself.

Recent articles, such as this one in The Atlantic, have discussed the confidence gap that many women feel. I know my own lack of self-confidence and self-doubt have probably influenced the tract of my career (or lack thereof). I sometimes grimace at some of the things I said and did when I was younger. At the same, I am comfortable with the decisions I’ve made and with who I am. I suspect I am fortunate in this. I have also tried to learn from my mistakes. I have found that to some extent the old adage about wisdom coming with age is true. Not that all elderly people are wise necessarily, but rather that life experience helps to teach us, IF we want to learn. In a comment on someone’s blog recently, I mentioned how I learned from giving a really awful presentation—I learned to trust my own judgment about what should be in my presentation, not what others, who are not experts, tell me they think they want me to discuss.

At the same time, I know I need to push myself to do things, such as presentations. And sometimes, I just have to DO them and take a risk, and ignore the “what ifs.” (Every time I push the “publish” button for a blog post I’ve written, it is preceded by a few seconds of “should I?” doubt.)

There is also the curse of perfectionism. Maybe I need to add one more thing. Maybe I’m not good enough to do this?

I love this quote by Anne Lamott:

“It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. (Wait, forget the prowling satanic lion — your parents, living or dead, almost just as loudly either way, and your aunt Beth, and your passive-aggressive friends, whom we all think you should ditch, are going to ask, “Oh, you’re writing again? That’s nice. Do you have an agent?”)”

And I’ve faced this, too–the people who think I don’t work because my I write from home, and my schedule is flexible. Sometimes. Thank goodness for deadlines, right?

So new graduates, I have no advice for you. Because really, who am I to give you advice? All I can say is this: Live your life. Be the best you that you can be. You will make mistakes, but continue on, and learn from them, if you can. Oh yes, and one more thing, cherish your friends and loved ones. The ones who truly love you will love you even when you make mistakes. They will also give you confidence boosters and an occasional “go do it already” kick-in-the-butt—which, let’s face it, is sometimes the thing we need the most. Well, along with coffee, chocolate, and wine.

I’m pushing “publish” now. Let me know what you think. And now I better get to work.