The commencement address I remember from high school is the one I’d like to forget. It was given by an incredibly intelligent classmate, and earned national accolades.
No doubt the speech, focused on nuclear proliferation, was visionary. But it didn’t speak to where I was in my life. For me and many of my friends, it offered no insights into our very practical and necessary next steps. It didn’t address the possibilities of life, which are truly infinite when you are 18 and the world is spread out before you like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that my career in journalism began as a fluke. Following an incredibly short-lived pre-med major in which I embarrassingly set my shirt on fire with a Bunsen burner, I studied psychology and sociology, fully expecting to make a living as a social worker or school counselor. My mother’s fight with cancer and a need to return home changed those plans, and I fell haphazardly into a job that turned out to be a passion.
Promotions and awards followed, but I repeatedly second-guessed myself. After all, I was the upstart who didn’t hold a journalism degree and wasn’t privy to all the secret knowledge divulged in J-school.
I turned down opportunities because I didn’t believe I was worthy of them. Worse yet, my professional insecurities manifested in ways that couldn’t be reasonably explained, and I disappointed people who supported me.
Ease up on the eye rolling; I know you find no shock value in any of this. Like most 18-year-olds, you’re convinced your parent is a fool to be disregarded more often than not. (We’ll talk more on this topic when you’re 25 or so.)
At one of my early jobs at a business publication, I was the first woman to join the newsroom. Most co-workers were kind, but there was this one older male editor who didn’t take kindly to “the skirt.”
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I won’t lie and say that I never drove home in tears. I did. Multiple times. But, small victory, I never cried in front of him, and I learned from his over-the-top scrutiny of my work. Despite his vocal opposition to a changing workplace landscape, he put quality work first.
That distinction became important years later when I found myself in a similar situation, and had to acknowledge that my latest nemesis had no regard for me or the work. I had to come to terms with walking away from a job — one that I knew I could do better than anyone else — because the environment was too toxic.
When the entire shebang came crashing down after I left, ending the livelihoods of other workers, it felt like my failure.
By then I was in my 40s and everything I thought I understood about working the longest and the hardest was turned on its head. Don’t let your understanding of common ground take so long.
There will always be people with whom you disagree. There will be arguments and hurtful words that reduce you to tears. You’re going to feel put upon, or unfairly judged. When that happens, take a step back, and search out common ground. Once you find it, make it the banner you carry into battle.
When common ground doesn’t exist, let the war rage without you. And please know: This isn’t merely professional advice.
Throughout your life, in every setting imaginable, there will be people who seek to belittle you. A few of them receive no small dose of personal joy from doing so.
There will always be a person who thinks less of women just because they are women. There will always be someone who questions your clothing choice, or how much you weigh, or what you believe. Naysayers and doubters are more reliable than tax collectors.
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Be healthy. Wear what makes you feel good about yourself. Challenge your beliefs and speak freely about what holds true.
When faced with an unexpected detour, don’t immediately demand to be back on your planned route. Passion, the type that expands and enhances your life, is found on those less-traveled paths.
Take in the view because far too soon you’ll be writing to your daughter as she graduates high school. Tell her that she comes from strong stock — the type that may bend in a storm but survives the onslaught. Encourage her to hustle, figuratively and literally. Let her know in life’s worst moments — days when she can’t find the strength or energy to believe in herself — that you’ve been stockpiling love and pride on her behalf.
This all-you-can-eat world buffet has a lot of amazing things to offer alongside challenges like nuclear proliferation.
Don’t be too self-conscious to fill your plate — or go back for seconds.
• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, email@example.com