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Your Commencement Speech (Class of 2013 Dreamers)

Ladies and Gentleman, Fellow Dreamers:

This is a heady time of year, what with all the young adults graduating from high school and college. They’re off to do big things, and even though you may share with them your words of wisdom, the benefit of your hard-won experience, and all the love in your heart, they probably won’t listen.

You didn’t listen at their age, either.

Think back to your high school or college graduation day, when you were going to take the world by storm, fall in love with your soul mate, build a successful life, and surround yourself with supportive, interesting people. You were going to paint, write, explore, create, design, or build. Most of all, you were going to be happy and fulfilled.

And why not? You were a fully fledged adult then with the world at your feet. You knew you’d never end up like the people you knew from your parents’ generation: too tired to play, too scared to take a risk, and too trapped to follow their own dreams.

“I’ll never be like that,” you said.

“How could she let that happen?” you thought.

“It’s as if he likes to be miserable,” you mumbled.

It was so obvious to the younger version of you why people self-destructed on their own dreams and goals, and you were dead certain that would never happen to you. Your glory days were ahead of you, and you wouldn’t be like those sad people who fed on regret and longing.

You were too driven, too focused, and too full of passion for that to happen to you.

How You Got Off Track

Over the years you started making allowances in your life, concessions to “go with the flow” or “make it easier.” There were a lot more adjustments in adulthood than you expected, and you didn’t always handle them well. They were all little things at the time, but stacked on top of each other, it became difficult to see your original dreams, much less accomplish them and envision new ones.

You took a practical job instead of the one you really wanted. The extra time and responsibility of work and family meant you started giving up the activities you used to enjoy: playing guitar, painting, writing, making crafts, travel, exercising. You spent money on easing your discomfort with life instead of investing in your long-term dreams.

You became more concerned with the happiness of other people than your own. Sometimes you even bypassed your needs just to give in to someone else’s wants.

It didn’t occur all at once. It was a thousand small decisions that landed you where you are now, in a life far different than the one you imagined in your brazen youth. Your big dreams went on the back burner, and regret and longing are two conditions you know well.

Now you’re too tired to play, too scared to take a risk, and feel too trapped to follow your dreams.

The graduates of 2013 might be making those same judgements about you that you did as a young adult all those years ago:

“I”ll never be like <insert your name here>.”

“How can <insert your name here> let that happen?

“It’s as if <insert your name here> likes to be miserable.”

With the whole world in front of you, they cannot imagine why you aren’t living the life you want. And they certainly can’t take your advice seriously if you aren’t using it yourself.

The Right Kind of Example

There seems to be this cut-off, this faulty assumption that reaching age 40 or 50 or 60 means you’ve done all that you’re going to do by now and the rest is just maintenance. You’re here to help the 20-somethings, gifting them with all your ambitions, hoping they’ll complete the dreams you left behind.

But you know what? They aren’t listening to you. At least not if you aren’t living the life of your dreams. They are as dismissive of you as you were of the well-meaning parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and family friends of your youth.

Actions speak louder than words.

Advice for Dreamers

This beautiful, crazy, messy experience of plunging forward into life isn’t the exclusive domain of the unwrinkled and untested, you know. (tweet this)

There is no official age when it becomes inappropriate to act on your dreams, challenge yourself, make friends, and try new experiences.

You have a lifetime of experience and wisdom to back your efforts, not hold you back. Whether your dream is ten small things or one big thing, you can make it happen.

You may say, “but I’ll be 50 before I finish!” So what? You’re going to be 50 anyway. Wouldn’t you rather reach that birthday with a dream under your belt?

You might think, “I’ll be the oldest one there!” Yes, you might be. And so what? One of our most memorable travel experiences was with a 79-year-old woman in Laos. She was traveling alone, exploring the world with a backpack, and making new friends. She was as fit and vibrant as a woman half her age.

You may worry about how much it will cost, but money will always be a concern, no matter how much you have. It’s human nature. I recently read a story about a woman who sold her couch and tables to attend an important conference for the chance to meet one of her heroes, a celebrity who could skyrocket her event planning business. When she came to the mic to ask her question at the end of his presentation, she relayed how she paid for her ticket to show how much she was committed to her dream. She asked if he would take her card. How could he say no to that? (And he didn’t.)

When you change your thinking to how you can instead of why you can’t you’ll transform your life, achieving those dreams that have been sitting dusty on the shelf for years – decades, even! – and go about dreaming up some more.

You will:

  • Run that marathon
  • Build that house
  • Start that business
  • Write that book
  • Volunteer for that charity
  • Cut off your hair
  • Get into shape
  • Take that class
  • Fix that relationship
  • Climb out of debt
  • Declutter your life
  • Release  the soul suckers
  • Learn to paint
  • Climb that mountain
  • Start a band
  • Take that trip you’ve always dreamed of

It’s all available to you, just like it is to the 2013 graduates. Your dream has gotten dusty, but it’s nothing that a little soul-cleaning and action won’t remedy. Besides creating the life you want, you’ll be the best example for the young adults around you who want to live their dreams.

Go Forth and Take Action

It has been a pleasure to join you today, to look out at your smiling faces as you graduate from a life of missed opportunities and delayed dreams promised to your younger self. Your renewal begins today, no matter what your age, by throwing aside the regrets of the past and making a new commitment to your future.

  1. Set your default response to your dreams to YES. No excuses allowed. If you don’t allow yourself a no, you will find a way to make it happen.
  2. Make you future part of your present. Put your goals in your calendar, every day, and give yourself a deadline to make them happen. If your dreams aren’t part of your everyday now, they will never be your future.
  3. Action trumps intention every time. What is the very next thing you need to do to move this dream along? Make the call, take the class, tell him/her, open the savings account, take a walk, get a map, start writing. No matter how small, just do it. And then do something every day.

This is a big step in your life. You’re letting go of “I wish” and moving on to “I’m doing it.” You’re transitioning from “set in my ways” to “setting personal records.” You’re trying new things, shaking up the status quo, and feeling more alive than you have in years.

(You could say that you’ve discovered the fountain of youth.)

Today you graduate to a life lived by your rules, following your dreams, and inspiring the next generation to follow in your footsteps. And besides being incredibly fulfilling to you personally, living your dream is a helluva lot more powerful than quoting someone else’s inspirational words to the young adults in your life.

Now let’s get to it!

Did you get a little misty-eyed reading this? Inspired to do something? Or make you think of someone who’s longing for more? Go ahead and share it via email or on social media with any of the share buttons below. 

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