Speaking to your past self

Published 9:56 am Friday, June 12, 2015

It’s graduation time. As a journalist and a proud fiance, I’ve already been through a few commencement speeches and anticipate up to two more.

So far, two of the three speakers mentioned that they wanted to keep their comments brief because a good commencement speech is short and inspirational.

Neither of them really accomplished brief, but that’s certainly understandable. How can you say something meaningful in five minutes? Will the excited students even remember it?

Honestly, many of the graduates probably won’t recall it down the road, but hopefully some of them will be paying attention.

Regardless, the art form of the commencement speech is an interesting thought-exercise that can help even the speaker going forward. What people are really getting at is: What would you tell your 18- or 22-year-old self if you could travel back in time?

Don’t hold grudges. We’re generally not a hateful society, but sometimes we let people get under our skin so much that it likely hurts us far more than it does the other. Anger blinds judgment and makes you stupid. And for what? If that person were to drop dead today, would you be any better off? Absolutely not, so don’t waste your time on hate because ultimately it’s hurting you.

It’s all right to be hated. Building on the last one, sometimes people are going to hate you. Maybe it’s something you write in a column, maybe it’s something you don’t say in a story or perhaps it has nothing to do with your work life. When you go against the grain or blaze your own trail, some people are going to hate you. Put your head down, focus, do your diligence and just be your workaholic self. You may not win the party, but ultimately, everyone who was successful ever had haters.

Focus. Keep a list of what you want to achieve and continually put new items on your list. When you accomplish something — such as the birth of a child, an award or finally getting in shape — take a moment to celebrate if you want. But it’s important to move on to the next goal on that list. Create a plan for what you want to do in 5, 10 or even 20 years, and keep those lists updated. Most everyone who watches TV knows “Peaked in High School Rob Lowe.” Don’t be that guy.

Be honest. This one ties in a little with the last one, but I’ve discovered that honesty is usually the best policy. Especially with yourself. It’s very easy and tempting to make excuses when things turn out wrong. Things will turn out wrong, and it will be for a myriad of reasons. That relationship not work out? Did your diet fail? Did you not accomplish a project at work? Part of these failings may even legitimately not be your fault, but don’t lie to yourself. If you don’t take responsibility for your own actions, you may even eventually start to believe yourself. When that happens, you’ll never improve.

Just breathe. It doesn’t take long to realize that life on this section of our planet is pretty fast paced. I don’t know about you, but I could work 24/7 and still not finish everything I’d like to accomplish in my job. Sometimes, it’s tempting to do just that. Other times, when you listen to that constant-work mantra, you start to see the appeal of moving to the mountains to a simple cabin and living off the land. It’s important to remember to strike that balance. To find your center, you’ve got to take some time for you. Otherwise, you’ll probably burn out, and your work definitely won’t be better.

Get over it. Since you are the one going through your own personal dramas, it’s sometimes easy to think that you’ve got it the worst and life is out to get you. For some of us, life might even actually be out to get us, but what are we going to do about it? It reminds me of a song that goes something like this: “Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it.” Adopt a better attitude and let yourself be happy. People with better attitudes usually attract better things around them, while miserable people tend to attract more misery onto themselves.

Without further ado, congratulations Class of 2015!

Cain Madden is the managing editor at The Tidewater News. Or perhaps he would just tell himself to buy stock in Apple. He can be reached at 562-3187 or cain.madden@tidewaternews.com.