Two weeks ago, I flew to Philadelphia to give the keynote address at a college orientation. The title of my address was the title of this post. This is not a copy of the actual speech (as several have requested), but this is the basic stuff.
The advice given to college students is constant, often conflicting, and mostly overwhelming. In my experience, college-centered advice is rivaled only by the many messages of the health-food industry. Lots of sound bites. Little substance. Do this. Eat this. Try this. Get this. Go here. Do that. Get that.
The problem with all of it is this:
It’s externally focused.
It’s what I call “fixing the outside form.” It’s like trying to change a movie plot by rushing up to the screen and shouting to the characters what they should do next. Very tiring. Not very productive.
As a college student, I spent most of my time shouting at that screen. I had no idea that I could turn inward – in fact that I should turn inward. I had no idea that my insights and delights mattered – that they could be honored, and so become keys to my life success. I learned that a few years later.
Many of the college students I now meet remind me of me at that age. I find myself wanting to infuse them with the wisdom I’ve gained since I left college — a path that started with me trying to do everything the adults told me to do, and only finding happiness and financial success once I began a “risky” career that had absolutely nothing to do with my major and everything to do with my passion.
Here are the five things I now know for sure because I chose to take that risk. They are also the five things that I wish I had known when I was in college.
1 – Your life is your canvas. You are the artist. This is the true meaning of creativity.
It’s that simple.
It sounds froo-froo, I know.
But the deepest point of all creativity is what you choose to create in your life. In other words, no one can make your life better than you can. No one can make choices for you. No one can know your heart like you do.
Being the painter of your canvas means that you have the power to change directions, change your mind, drop a class, change a major, and even change schools. It means that your authenticity matters. It means that your preferences are more than just “whims,” as adults will often suggest.
It means that you have to learn to trust your ability to create this life of yours.
Not many people have learned how to live like this. They don’t trust their own insides. This is why they have to rely on all that externally-focused advice. And why they, consequently, spend the bulk of their lives shouting at the screen.
2 – 25 is not old
When I was in college, I thought that twenty-five-years-old was ancient.
In my world view, you hit 25, you got married, you had all the answers (which is, after all, why you chose to have kids), and then life would pretty much plateau.
Many college students – like me at the time – believe there’s a THERE they’re reaching for. They believe in that illusion of a plateau.
Even though it’s funny to remember when you thought 25 was old – the deeper point is this:
There is no old. There is no plateau. And there is no THERE.
Every time you reach one THERE, there’s another THERE that stems from your current THERE. You’re always in movement. You’re always beginning.
3 – Be. Do. Have. (In that order.)
Most of us learned this backwards. Most of us learned it like this:
Do [big successful thing]. Have [big successful stuff]. So that you can BE [cool inward state.]
Contrary to most advice – that whole equation needs to start with BE.
This is where many parents get scared about trusting their children’s choices. Discovering “who you are” conjures up images of hippie girls leaving home to hitchhike the country with guys named Ocean.
In other words, most people don’t trust that you can live a successful life and do it in the Be Do Have order.
What I’ve learned is this:
When the BE and the DO are connected in that order – the HAVE is a natural result. (See my article Creating vs. Getting for more on this topic.)
So then, how do you find out the BE part of this equation?
Well, were there a University of Christine, this is what college would be all about. Finding what you ARE, what you LOVE, and mastering that above all else.
But in the absence of said institution, here’s what you can do:
Start honoring your delights. And start noticing what you do because you “should” or because you’re not listening to your heart. Your delights are like breadcrumbs along the path. They show you yourself.
For instance, in college, I tried hard to live the party scene, to go shopping in the city and do the stuff everyone else did. I ignored the messages from my heart and my body that dreaded going along on these things. At one point, I took Business Law because my boyfriend told me to. (Shocking that the relationship didn’t last, no?)
My biggest delights were always when one or two friends and I (Deeper connections equaled delight) went to the New England coast and spent the day in nature. (Time, space and beauty equaled delight.) I dismissed these delights as just me being stupid – and besides, “How can anyone make any money connecting with people in nature?”
When I actually did start paying attention to this delight, it shaped so much more than how I made money. It shaped where I chose to live. And it shaped how I socialized and with whom. It shaped the topics of my songs and writing. One of the reasons I started doing women’s retreats stems from honoring the delight of deeper connections.
Some people delight in numbers and equations. Some delight in organization and systems. And someone, somewhere delights in Business Law, I’m sure. That’s excellent, too. Too many people, however, try to mold themselves into someone else’s idea of what they should delight in, or what they should be.
It will be so easy to dismiss your delights and preferences all throughout your life. But they are the beginning point of the BE DO HAVE equation.
Stay tuned! Part 2 is next!
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