A Letter to 2019’s Graduates

Published by Chris Oestereich on

I wrote this letter to the outgoing Graduates of GSSE Cohort 2 at Thammasat University’s School of Global Studies. It was intended as fodder for reflection as they head on to the next phase of their lives. But the ideas I shared felt broadly applicable, so I thought I’d share them here as well. I hope it’s somehow of use.

“You can choose Courage or you can choose Comfort, but you cannot choose Both.” — Brene Brown

Graduation is a time of upheaval. You spend four years making college life normal, and then suddenly it’s done. Many people feel great uncertainty at this time. (I certainly did.) Try not to let it eat at you. You’ll have a new normal soon enough.

Now is a good time for reflection — to think about first steps and long-term goals. It’s also a good time to think about expectations, to brace yourself for adversity, and to prepare for greatly expanded control over the matters that are central to your life.

Plan vs. Reality – Dog House Diaries

Those matters will often not go to plan. Circumstances are sometimes different than they appear and they tend to change. People do not live up to promises. Desires change. That’s okay. Learn what you can and decide whether to try again or move on to the next challenge. Some hills aren’t worth the trouble of climbing.

Learn broadly and deeply. Pursue interests until they’re no longer interesting and then pick up another. Creativity is a valuable resource. Foster it in yourself. I look at it as a string art (Yeah, I’m dating myself.), wherein each pin represents an area of knowledge. The more pins you put on the board, the greater the opportunity for interesting connections to arise. Put otherwise, the missing piece to the puzzle may await in an area you’ve yet to explore.

String art by artist Jlrodri.

Odds and Ends

Maslow’s Hammer is the idea that “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” What kind of patterns could you make on string art if you only had 2 or 3 pins?

Sometimes you have to work long hours. Try not to make a habit out of it.

Pursue dreams, but don’t worry if they don’t come true. They’re dreams. They’re worth chasing, but they’re not easily captured and often can’t be. When the time is right, find another and chase that one.

Remember to laugh. Do so as much as possible.

Challenge yourself. You can always learn and grow and surprise yourself. Be amazing. You can.

Use your mental resources wisely. Get good rest to properly replenish them. And take care of your health and overall well-being. Doing so is crucial. If you don’t, you’ll soon wish you did.

Learn something every day. (Learn as much as you can every day.)

Seek divergent perspectives, but be careful who you trust. Look for people who you find to be genuine, and not primarily self-interested (both in real life, as well as thinkers who share their ideas in public forums), and allow their ideas to challenge your thinking. When you disagree, think about why that is. Assume you might be wrong and test your thinking. What underpins your position? Was it facts, values, or beliefs? We often believe things without having proof. Find proof. If you can’t, challenge your thinking.

Passion and Purpose

The Passion/Purpose Matrix.

There was a time when I thought that purpose was the sole driver I needed to have a meaningful, fulfilling career. I learned by doing that this was not the case — at least not for me. Having spent a few years doing work that I found purposeful, but that I was not passionate about, I now believe that I also need to be passionate about my work. If it isn’t pulling me out of the bed and yanking me to the work, I try to avoid it. Anyways, there’s plenty of purpose work out there to choose from. I try to be careful to go after the stuff that sucks me in. As long as I’ve followed that path, I’ve rarely felt like work was work.

What will you regret?

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent years of her life taking care of patients near the end of their lives. She wrote a book where she detailed the common themes she heard around the regrets of the dying. Here are the five most common things she heard from people who knew their lives were about to end:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

It’s a bit grim, but the message is critical. Don’t wait for the end to realize what matters to you. Take time to figure it out along the way and go after it.

With that, here’s wishing you well. The world needs you. Go to it. Make it better. Please hurry.