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Go Forth and Fail. Advice to a new graduate

On Tuesday I attended the funeral of my cousin, Steve Larkin who left us at the tender age of 64. He zigzagged through life charting an unlikely career path while pursuing his love of music.

Unlike religious funerals I’ve attended, his was a celebration of life with stories and music from his family and members of his church where he was the musical director.

I had a few moments to speak with my cousin’s niece. Technically, she’s my first cousin once removed, and since we barely know each other, our DNA connection is a mere formality.

She’s graduating from college in a few months with degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry. Just that piece of information should tell you that we are VERY DISTANTLY related.

My entire knowledge of chemical reactions comes from the whispered side effects following pharmaceutical ads.

I asked her what she planned to do after graduation. The pained look on her face told me that she was slightly embarrassed about not knowing where her path was leading.

I gave her some advice that made her smile.

The things you are working on 10 years from now don’t even exist today, so don’t get too hung up on making big decisions. You can’t know where the road is going, so try to make the next best move that feels right.

In 1999, I got a job in Internet advertising and my wife asked me if I was going to keep this job for a long time. I explained that the entire Internet advertising industry didn’t even exist five years ago, so to expect this job to last for the next 30 was unrealistic. I’d do it as long as I could. Since then, I’ve changed jobs 4 or 5 times and I’ve changed industries twice. And I’m not finished.

Don’t worry about what your friends are doing or where they are going.

Let them live their lives while you live your life. You’ll hear that a classmate landed a great position, or got into a graduate program, or is working on something remarkable. Part of you will say that I should be doing that too, or maybe I should try that.

Dont. What’s right for them is not necessarily right for you, and the surest way to unhappiness is to live someone else’s dream.

On social media, you rarely read about all of the struggles, angst, rejection and disappointment that go into the bright, sunny posts that you see.

Everyone is like a duck on water. Acting cool and confident above water while churning, kicking, and sloshing below the surface.

There are no mistakes, only choices.

If you follow your own voice and do what speaks to you, you’ll begin to find yourself. You’re going to do hundreds of different things in your life, and you can’t predict how they’ll turn out.

I remember my father being very angry at Steve for pursuing music instead of keeping his part time job at UPS and having job security, good benefits, and a retirement program. How different would Steve’s funeral have been if he followed my father’s advice and lived his life delivering boxes instead of making music. The destination wouldn’t have changed, but the journey would have been very different.

And so, my dear graduate, go forth and fail.

Try things that make no sense to anyone but you.

Fear not the criticism of family, friends, and society for that is the truest indicator that you are moving in the right direction.

Steve may have made many mistakes, had numerous disappointments, and maybe had a few regrets. But he did not make the grievous error of going to his grave with his music still in him.

May the same be said about you and me.

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