I debated whether or not to share this with the masses. It’s a letter I gave to the founding members of the club of which I am the advisor. After several days of contemplation, and since I’ve already given it to my girls, I thought I might go ahead and take the risk and share it to encourage others to connect with our youth.
There is no garbage can for human beings. I’ve come to the conclusion that adults are really just children who have aged on the outside. They may or may not have grown on the inside. As somebody who has experienced brokenness and has had to rebuild and grow resilience, I’ve also learned that we can’t force people to learn on our schedules, they must do it on their own. As teachers, it is our job to be patient and give them repeated opportunities to learn without judgement. We can’t understand somebody else’s journey if we haven’t walked in their shoes. All we can do is practice empathy and patience with an open mind and give them every chance to succeed. They won’t always succeed. But they’ll remember that we believed in them. My husband was always trying to teach me that. I finally did, when I was ready.
May 19, 2017
Dear Founding Members,
Next week you will graduate from high school and begin your lives without the constraints of mandatory K-12 education. As exciting as this feels right now, it should not be the end of your learning. I believe that we should all be life-long learners. There is no such thing as knowing everything. While this doesn’t necessarily mean your learning always has to be through traditional means, having a college degree will give you privilege that others won’t have. It will open doors of opportunity, fill your mind with knowledge, connect you with people, and help you grow as a person. Find what you are passionate about and immerse yourself in the study of it. Then go find more things that you are passionate about to learn. There are an infinite amount of things to learn. Spend more time reading than you do engaging in passive activities. Participate. Participate even when you can’t see why or how it would benefit you. Participating leads to learning.There is always something valuable about experiences, and everything you do today will prepare you for the person you’ll be in all of your tomorrows.
Keep being the champions of great causes. Help people. Be bold, but remember a leader has to inspire others to take action. Build relationships. Be fair and compassionate with people. You never know the burdens they carry, just as they don’t know about your burdens.
Take care of your health. You only have one body. Develop healthy habits that will stack the odds in your favor for living a long, happy life.
Say yes to something beyond your comfort zone, and start saying no to the things that no longer serve your heart.
Live in a way that stays true to the woman inside of you. Don’t let society, relationships, friends, careers, laziness, addictions, tragedy, setbacks, friends, lame excuses, or anything else prevent you from living a purposeful, meaningful, balanced life. Life will attempt to bury you under a pile of B.S.. Life is pretty freaking hard, Ladies. Be more stubborn than all the odds stacked against you. Don’t let yourself get buried. The longer you wait to unbury your true self, the harder it will be. You may get lost. That’s normal. Take the time to check in with yourself. Journal. Spend time alone. Think clearly. Focus on your goals and do the best you can. We all make mistakes. When you make a mistake, fix it. Learn from them. Don’t repeat. Never, ever, ever, ever give up. You have too many important contributions to make in this world and in history. Humanity needs you.
Know that your past does not determine who you are today or tomorrow. You always have choice, and you can choose to live a happy life. Happiness is a direction, not a destination. Only you can make yourself happy. Only you can destroy your happiness.
Know that feelings are temporary. They aren’t meant to stay. Let yourself feel and then let the feelings move on. It takes hard work to keep a clear, focused mind. Invest the time to think. It’s worth it. Keep your impulsive instincts in check. It’s so easy to react when you are young. Impose a waiting period on your actions when necessary. Learn to trust your gut.
Keep an open mind about people. People are weird and annoying. So are we. Don’t write people off too quickly. When you can, give them the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t be quick to burn bridges.
Do your research in life. Research the heck out of everything, from cars to schools to jobs to how to fix things around the house.
Save your money. Don’t waste it. Strong women are independent in many ways, but financial independence is the hallmark of a strong feminist. Only then are you truly free.
Don’t fall in love with the first anything. That includes significant others, cars, houses, whatever. If you fall in love, don’t get one-itis (where you have tunnel vision only for that person). Always ponder the statistical odds of meeting “the one” at the age of 18 and that should help you put life into perspective. You live in a vast ocean with many fish to choose from. Guard your heart. Be choosy about who deserves your time and attention. Not everyone is worth your time.
When you do find that special man or woman to share a life with, if that’s what you choose to do, make sure that person supports the woman you’ve always been, the woman with hopes, dreams, and goals. You should never have to sacrifice that woman for anything or anybody, if that’s who you really are. You’ll know Mr. or Ms. Right is the one when they would never ask or want you to be anyone other than yourself.
Travel as much as you can. Once you have experienced a new country you won’t ever want to stop seeing the world. Once you witness with your own eyes and ears and senses that there isn’t only one way to live, it opens your mind to a world of possibility and opportunity.
If you want something, you’ll make it happen. Don’t wait for your dreams to knock on your front door. You must manufacture your own destiny.
Too much of anything is never a good thing. Knowing how to strike balance in your life is a skill you can develop, and it is something we all must work on throughout our lives. It’s not a one-and-done. You’ll have to calibrate, make adjustments, add, cut, and more over time. That’s what is so beautiful about life. You can wake up every morning to the smell of possibility.
Don’t cheat your way through life. You only cheat yourself, and you will have to pay the consequences at some point. At the end of your life nobody will be standing there high-fiving you for fooling everyone with your cleverness in taking shortcuts. People can spot the inauthentic vs. authentic people. They may not tell you, and you may think you’re getting away with the dishonesty, but it stains your reputation. At the end of your life it will just be you and the emptiness you allowed to grow inside of you. Don’t be that person.
At this age you probably feel invincible. You’ve got wide open space in front of you and lots of time, or so it seems. Know that time is an illusion. Ten years may seem like forever. But now that you’re out of childhood, ten years will pass as quickly as a blink of an eye. In ten years you will lose loved ones. Your body will change. You may or may not have a family of your own. You may have traded your tube tops and ripped jeans for t-shirts and yoga pants. You will not have all of the same friends. Your favorite band won’t be your favorite band anymore.
Don’t be scared of change. You will change. Change is healthy and normal. If we don’t change, we become stale and obsolete and stupid. As we acquire skills and knowledge and experiences, of course we will change! But we are taught to fear change. Instead, embrace it. Own it. The good, the bad, the painful, the joyful. All of it. Because we are human we get to feel everything. And most importantly, we get to learn from it all. That’s the key: make an effort to have a positive influence on the inevitable change you will have in your life. This happens through the choices that you make.
Picture the woman you want to be in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, 60 years, or even 70 years from now. If you take care of yourself you will increase your chances of meeting that future you. Don’t sabotage yourself.
You’re not living by someone else’s timeline. This is your life. You do things when you are comfortable and ready. You must learn to have boundaries and learn to protect your boundaries. This will be important in your careers, relationships, and just life in general.
Make a life that you can enjoy. Find what is meaningful to you. Know that it is possible to live a life that doesn’t feel like drudgery. It’s all about choices and perspective.
The biggest mistake in my life was that I was always rushing from one destination to the other. I couldn’t wait to get out of high school. I graduated from college in 3 years. I couldn’t wait to move out of my parents’ house. To have a career. Get married. Have a child. Have another child. And another. And then my husband died. You wish you could go back in time and savor moments, even ridiculously small moments like trips to Costco, which you’d now give anything to have again. You often realize your mortality when it is too late. But it’s never too late to live fully. Enjoy the journey and appreciate all of your days.
Don’t squander your time. It is not unlimited. You may live 70+ more years or you might die next week. Live with purpose. What is meaningful to you? How do you think you can contribute good into the world? You will do great things. What will they be? What do you want to be known for? Isn’t it exciting to wonder and plan for this?
Each of you recognized a need for a feminist club on campus. Each of you knows that we still have a long ways to go to fight for equality and equity for women and other disadvantaged groups in society. You have the opportunity to continue your work advocating for others. You can do it. I’m picturing all of you as 80-somethings, taking a break from time with your grandkids to go to a rally or perhaps volunteer for a great cause. I envision all of you making gray hair and soft, older female bodies as normal as the sun rising and setting each day in a world that stigmatizes women for aging. We need bold, fearless young women like you to pave the mindset and societal attitudes of the future.
You will feel lots of pain in your life. Some of you have already experienced pain. This is the price of living. But that doesn’t mean you have to live a life of suffering. Look your pain square in the eyes with the audacity of the world’s most stubborn woman who won’t back down. Promise to face your problems head on instead of burying your head into the sand. In life we have two choices: lay down and crumble, or do great things. Your life doesn’t have to be over when you face adversity. There are so many beautiful things in the world, you just have to open your eyes and mind to see them.
Inside each of you is a fighting spirit with her own story. Own your story. You have so many more chapters left. You get to fill those empty pages with plot lines and characters and settings. Some of it will be imposed on you–the universe can be cruel. Still, there will be many choices for you to make. Choose carefully. This is YOUR story. As they say, “edit your life ruthlessly and frequently.”
When it all feels too heavy, don’t give up. People will want you to quit. Sometimes life feels like we’re one of many crabs thrown in a boiling pot of water, the crabs pulling each other down and inevitably everyone gets cooked. Don’t pull other people down, but don’t let them pull you down either. Choose your referent group (the people you hang around) wisely. Remember, your life is your story. You get to pick the characters in your chapters. You are the author. Nobody else.
Thank you for being the founding members of a club that means so much to many students on campus. The 2017-2018 FU cabinet has excitedly been planning next year, and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do it if a group of fearless young ladies who wanted to change the world hadn’t put their heads together to make it happen. You have already begun your legacies–how exciting is that? I’m optimistic and thrilled to wish you all much happiness as you embark on your life journeys.
Thank you for also giving me hope in my own life. The past year was personally difficult as I embarked on my own journey of being a new widow. The hope, optimism, and curiosity I saw in each of your eyes gave me another reason to show up each day even when I felt like things were too difficult. I am a better person because of knowing and working with you ladies. Thank you for choosing me to be your advisor.
I have gifted each of you with a book that I myself have read. It’s about life. It’s about loss. It’s about finding meaning in your life. It’s an easy read, and if you’re like me, by the time you get to the end you’ll be in your pajamas eating your favorite cake and sobbing over the complexity and fragility of life. And then you’ll lift your head high, take a deep breath, and promise yourself that you will kick butt with whatever time you have been gifted. I hope it inspires you the way it did me.
If you ever feel like you need somebody to talk to, you know where to find me. Now go kick butt.
What was the book you gave to your students Teresa?
Very profound words Teresa, I wish I had read something like that when I was 20 (20 years ago), but probably I wouldn’t have taken any notice and still made all the mistakes I made! I have ordered that book, I’m looking forward to reading it whilst I’m on the night shift (like now).
Hi Teresa, I read the above book (in one sitting actually), what words can I say to do it justice? All I can say is that it shows the absolute brutal unfair cruelty of the universe. Here we have an incredibly gifted man, who could have saved 1000s of lives, who could have furthered our scientific knowledge of the brain, but his life was cruelly cut short. In the UK we had a low-life evil person called Ian Brady (The Moors Murderer) who killed 5 children back in the 1960s and lived to the age of 79. It’s hard to make sense of this, but actually you can’t make sense of it. The books effect on me was positive, in terms of: yes life is futile, we’re all going to die no matter what we do or achieve, but even knowing this, we can still strive, strive for perfection even thought we know we can’t.
Oh good, I’m glad you were able to read it!