Graduation 2009: A few bits of wisdom | Angie Vogt

The flurry of graduations are upon us.

Some are petrified by the unknown future that awaits, while others can’t start the next chapter fast enough.

There’s a curious blend of nostalgia, too, as I am brought back to my own various graduations from high school and college to my swearing in as a young Air Force officer. That was so many years ago.

What would I have done differently with the tools and sense of self-understanding that I have now? Didn’t someone once say “youth is wasted on the young?” I offer a few bits of wisdom, without judgment or expectation or even a hint that I have mastered them.

1. Know thyself. Socrates is credited with this tidbit, so we know it's tried and true wisdom. Self-understanding is never completely accomplished as our desires and motivations evolve with the circumstances of our lives. In either case, taking the time to examine your hidden motivations will spare you from spending energy trying to impress others, or trying to hide who you really are, either of which will keep you in a perpetual slave state.

Using the religious spin, the only way to understand God’s will for your life (which is where your ultimate happiness lies) is to spend time reflecting on your unique gifts. God equips each of us for the journey he has assigned. Don’t know what your gifts are? Ask your family and friends, then come to your own conclusions based on what you know is true in your heart. They can tell you what they see on the outside (which by definition you cannot see), but only you know what desires God has placed deep in your heart.

2. Serve others. You will gain great insight by paying attention to how others experience you. What words do people use to describe your acts of service? If you pay attention, you will start to notice that they use the same words. The words they use are clues to your gifts. “I feel like I can tell you anything…” is different from “you are so efficient…I could never get all that done so quickly,” which is different from “you really help me to understand things better….” Just as teaching requires different skills from accounting, our personality qualities assist us in a different ways for different purposes.

The other purpose of serving others is to put yourself in an environment that you are unfamiliar with. This will teach you a lot about human nature and the situations that other people face in this world. I learned more about human beings in one year of serving as a prison minister than I did in an entire graduate program about ministry. I learned that people are not as helpless as many want us to think. I also learned that everybody, no matter what bad things they’ve done, need penance and they need love. Most people today talk a lot about love, but not about the need for penance.

3. Accept the possibility of failure. Don’t expect to avoid it. Often what looks like laziness is avoidance. To understand the difference, go back to number one. Are your motives based on wanting things easy, or are they based on not wanting to experience failure? Every successful person — that is every person you’ve ever met who is making a living at something they love doing — has experienced failure once or twice. Instead of avoiding it, embrace it and move on to the next stage. It just means you’re getting closer to success.

4. Last but not least, it’s all about relationships. In “The Millionaire Next Door,” author Thomas Stanley studied wealthy people and their habits and made a list of the most common traits that these people shared. He interviewed friends, neighbors, family members, work clients and employees. At the top of the list, the word “integrity” kept surfacing. Integrity to a near obsessive point is what enabled these people to establish strong, trusting relationships. No contract or lawsuit can accomplish what cooperative relationships can accomplish.

Very close to integrity, at the top of the list was the quality of “a strong marriage.” Integrity is something that shows up in all relationships, not just one or two. It seems to suggest that the beginning of any great life will begin with good, meaningful relationships. These don’t happen by accident, but by intention.

To my oldest, on your graduation, know that you leave the nest as we all do, as God’s great work in progress. Our human love for you is but a shadow of God’s love… we hope we have served you well.

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