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Dear College Senior: You Don't Have to Have Everything Figured OutElizabeth Spencer
For a long time I thought that life lessons, the really good ones, showed up like a cast iron skillet to ba-DOING me on the side of the head with unmistakable clarity.
I thought the “a-ha” moments offering perspective and hope were supposed to come to me unbidden, just like the disappointments and tragedies did. If the bad stuff that I didn’t see coming had the capacity to T-bone my existence, why wouldn’t the elegant life lesson, the meaning in the catastrophe, emerge equally unsolicited?
Turns out that, even as disaster and loss can rain down on your life without warning, the meaning you make of it, or finding the purpose it serves in the grand scheme of things, requires acts of creativity, reflection, openness and focused pursuit that are as nuanced as frying pans are crude.
Turns out we’re not supposed to sit around waiting for the epiphanies to dawn on us. We actually have to go looking for them.
The good things that are hiding behind, under or inside of the bad things are rarely things we trip over. We don't find gems in their cut and polished form. The gems that turn pessimism into optimism are cloudy emeralds nested inside unassuming igneous rocks, and it’s our job to mine them.
First, we’re tired. Bone tired. Tired of uncertainty. Tired of adapting. Tired of keeping our morale from sinking too low, and tired of helping those around us with their own drooping morales.
We are fatigued from months (and for some it is a lifetime) of struggle and challenge and bad news. I mean, really, who wants to go looking for life’s treasures when all you want to do is hide under the covers until the world makes sense again?
The second thing that makes it hard to mine treasures right now is that, with so much uncertainty and hardship, it feels like any possible gems are getting buried under daily deluges of new rubble: illness, financial insecurity, political volatility, economic depression, an unending horizon of new bummers you never even imagined exist. It’s hard to crouch down and look for the emerald buried in rock when the earth keeps shifting under your feet.
For you, and for your college student, it’s important right now to remember that, despite these awful and uncertain times, the gems are there.
Your young adults, pissy or distant, dependent or whiny, troubled or confused as they may be, they are treasures. And to them, though you may be nosy or over-involved, demanding or disappointed, boomer or hipster, you are their treasure.
Feeling better when you’re buried under rubble is no easy task. Some days it might just be about holding still and letting yourself cry until you get so parched you realize you’re more thirsty than sad. And if you can find a clean glass and some clear cool water, there’s your treasure. Or if you have a box of tissues to sop up your tears, that’s your treasure. Or if you have someone to call who will just listen to you cry, that’s your treasure. Or the next time you look at a cast iron skillet and the word “ba-DOING” comes to mind and you smile ever so slightly, there’s one.
Those tissues, the water, the friend to call, the tiny little moment-of-a-smile. All those gems are out there for you. In fact, they’re waiting patiently to be excavated, so take your time. They’ll be there when you’re ready to dig them up and love them up.
And just like you let yourself have your cry, let them have their cry. Attend to their bummers with empathy. Nobody wants to hear that at least you’ve given them a roof over their head while they’re feeling trapped and lonely. It helps them when you hear the despair, or make room for how stuck they feel. Yes, online classes stink, I hear you. Yes, I hear how much you miss socializing normally. Of course you miss being on your campus. It’s totally unfair that you’re on lockdown here. And yes, the degree of uncertainty is profoundly unnerving.
You might even tell them you want them to enumerate every single thing that's rotten about life right now so they can get it off their chest. And when every bummer has been accounted for, you wait. And listen. Maybe even sit in silence together to let all that sink in.
And then, you can tell them the story of how last week you woke up feeling bereft and just lay there in bed and let yourself feel bad until you realized how nice and soft the sheets were.
It’s time to celebrate with the perfect gift for your new grad!