Kelly Corrigan | Three tips for graduates

The bell just rang on my girl Georgia’s last high school class. Graduation on Sunday. Got a lump in my throat already.

Some crib notes for her and the class of 2019

As of now, you are officially in charge of you. This is no small assignment so let me give you three tips:

1. It really helps to maintain a clear sense of self. This takes vigilance and guts. You’ll have to face your lesser parts. Fear not. We all have them. They don’t cancel out the good stuff. In a lot of cases, they are related. We work hard on Monday because we watched 11 episodes of The Office on Sunday. We are extra good listeners in the evening because we were hotheaded and impatient in the morning. Self-knowledge allows you to patch the cracks in your character that only you are aware of. 

Keep tabs on what fills your tank and what makes you feel phony. When you find yourself humming along make a note of what got you there. Feeling so absorbed that you forget to eat or check Insta? That’s a clue to what makes you you. When you feel off, take note of that too. If a couple hours in bed with your cell phone leaves you feeling aimless and (ironically) disconnected, maybe stop doing it. If you tune in to your moods, they will lead you to the right people and the right work.

2. Learn how to talk to yourself. It’s an art to hear yourself clearly in the bang and clang of the world. As the voices of your parents fade and in-person interactions switch to weekly FaceTimes, you will need to start a conversation with yourself. Think of someone who makes you feel safe and centered and ready. Not a hype man. Not a finger-wagger. A person who is patient with you, optimistic about your future, curious about how you work. Talk to yourself the way they would. Ask yourself the same questions they would. One of my favorite sayings is “You pick your advice when you pick your advisor.” If you have a good, honest back-and-forth going with yourself, the best advisor you could possibly have will be you.

3. Know what game you’re playing. For the last couple of years, the game has been “GET INTO COLLEGE.” That game is over. The conveyor belt of high school stops right here. You may get off. The new game is not where do you want to go or what do you want to do, it’s who do you want to be. And this game plays out in tiny daily increments. In this game, it’s not all about some future achievement. In this game, today counts. Another one of my favorite sayings is “We are what we repeatedly do.” So, help your granny into the car, take a beat to thank your favorite teacher, share your dessert. You can get from one end of adulthood to the other pretty smoothly if you just commit to do the next right thing.

If the world is not very good at advertising what matters, it actually IS good at rewarding what matters. People are who are good at friendship always win, if winning = knowing the most love. I know you just threw up a little bit in your mouth but I have to tell you the truth and that is it. If you know how to love people with abandon and you know how to let people love you back, you will have a great life. That’s not my opinion. That’s not fake news. That’s what the research tells us.

The better you know yourself, the easier it will be to be really known, warts and all, by someone else. To the extent that you understand and accept and commit to yourself, you are much closer to being understood, accepted and committed to by someone else. And like I said, connection is the great reward in this life.

Speaking of deep connection and great rewards, before I go, I want say something about the people who raised you. I have identified a fundamental difference between parent and child that I think helps explain all the crying and staring and weirdly-long hugs.

So… you were little and then, at some point you came into consciousness and looked over and there we were: the tall people cutting apples the way you liked them. You have never known a world where we were not.

But for us, we were just regular people and then you came and changed the whole thing. We could win the $19 million-dollar California Super Lotto tonight and you would still be the biggest thing that ever happened to us. We love you more than you have yet loved anything.

So yeah, maybe we want to stare at that face a little longer, hang on to that body that we once carried, take one more family photo. Be patient with us. This is hard.

And please take very good care of yourself.

You’re ready. Congratulations. Now go.

Kelly Corrigan is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, most recently Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say.

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