21 Things We Should Have Been Told at Graduation
Advice to last a lifetime.
Posted Apr 29, 2012
[Article updated on 6 September 2017.]
The education that we receive barely prepares us for the challenges that lie ahead. This is what we should have been told at graduation instead of all the misplaced, self-congratulatory platitudes.
1. We strived to give you the best education. But what is the best education? The best education is not that which enables you to make a good living, nor even that which enables you to make a social contribution, but that which enables you on the path to freedom and individuation, and which, in the longer term, leads to the fullest living and the greatest social contribution.
2. Always ask for plenty of advice, but only from people whom you admire or seek to emulate. Best of all, seek advice from great works of literature and philosophy. Plato and Shakespeare are far wiser than anyone you could ever meet.
3. On the other hand, don't dish out advice unless you are specifically asked. On the whole, people won't understand what they won't understand, and when they will they will. If you keep on telling them things they don't want to hear, they will end up resenting you.
4. Keep on asking 'silly' questions. People may look at you funny, but at least you thought of the questions.
5. Be very sensitive to your feelings and intuitions. They are your unconscious made conscious. And they are almost always right.
6. Don’t be envious. Whenever you come across someone who is better or more successful than you are, you can react either with envy or emulation. Envy is the pain you feel because others have good things; emulation is the pain you feel because you yourself do not have them. This is a subtle but critical difference. Unlike envy, which is useless at best and self-defeating at worst, emulation is a good thing because it makes us take steps towards securing good things.
7. Make friends with people who pull you up rather than drag you down. In the long term, you become just like your friends. You are your friends.
8. Never get into a relationship because you are bored, lonely, or insecure, or because society expects you to. Things will go badly wrong.
9. The same also applies to having children.
10. Don’t expect to find perfect love, perfect virtue, or perfect wisdom in this world. Just like perfect circles, these things simply do not exist in their idealized forms—or, at least, not outside our imagination.
11. Given the choice between laughing and crying, go with laughing—although crying can occasionally be more useful.
12. All of the above requires a great deal of self-esteem. Try to cultivate it: it comes from defining and living up to our ideals. And it is incredibly attractive.
13. Never be afraid. Fear is pain. Fear is bad luck. Fear is a mis-lived life. Remember that nothing is more frightening than fear itself.
14. If you don't appear to want something, you are far more likely to get it. More importantly, when you do want something, be sure that it is worth having. We are rich not only by what we have, but also and mostly by what we do not.
15. Never get angry. Just like fear, anger is a superfluous emotion that does far more harm than good. Most of a person’s actions are determined by past events and the cumulative effects of those past events on that person’s patterns of thinking. It follows that the only person who can truly deserve your anger is the one who spited you freely, and therefore probably rightly! This does not mean that anger is not justified in other cases, as a display of anger—even if undeserved—can still serve a benevolent purpose. But if all that is ever required is a strategic display of anger, then true anger that involves real pain is entirely superfluous.
16. Man is both a product and a victim of the world which he inhabits. He seldom chooses to endure the things that he does. Simply being conscious of this fact can help to increase your degrees of freedom, and it only takes one free action to change the course of a lifetime.
17. Find whatever it is that you love doing and get on with it, regardless of what other people might say or think. It won’t feel like work. And chances are you'll be very good at it.
18. Avoid working for other people or, worse, faceless corporations. It's not healthy. And it's not a game you're going to win.
19. Think long term and have a lot of patience. The principal difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich made a plan and stuck with it.
20. When you do find success or, better still, happiness, don't expect anyone to be pleased for you. In fact, many people will actively resent you—even, sometimes, friends and family. Some people are small. Just accept it as collateral and move on.
21. Unless your work is your passion, you work to live and not vice versa. Spend at least half your waking hours simply revelling in the world around you. Never forget that our consciousness and its objects are the greatest gift of all.
So that's it from me. If you agree or disagree, or have anything to add, feel free to add a comment.
Neel Burton is author of Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions and other books.