Last week, my sister graduated from university. She completed a combined diploma/degree in social services, and graduated with honours. I was so proud of her. She walked across the stage and I saw a girl who, only a few years before, really didn't like school and struggled in many of her classes. We all worried for her. The education system can be very unkind to children who don't yet know what they want to do with their lives. It demands to know, when they are still so young and immature, what are you going to DO with your LIFE? That is a terrifying question if you don't know the answer.
I ask myself a lot of questions from day to day, as I try to craft a good, simple, joyful life for us, my little family. Some are directed at us, and some just at me. I believe that honouring your own personal dreams and seeking fulfillment for your own spirit's well-being is so important, if you want happiness for the people around you. You can't pour water from an empty vessel. If your spirit is dry, you have nothing to offer. So I find myself wondering often, what do I want to do with my life? Usually the answers are somewhat the same. There are threads that have woven themselves consistently throughout my entire life- things I have always wanted and continue to want. I want to be an activist. I want to work for social justice. I want to work with exotic animals. I want a simple family-centered life.
Some things change over time, though. I used to want to be a vegetarian. Then I was. Now I want to raise my own animals for food. The underlying values are the same, but the picture has changed.
My sister's graduation ceremony was a celebration of achievement; the marking of an end, and a beginning. She flourished when she found something that spoke to her, and did very well. We clapped and cheered as they handed her her diploma, breathing a sigh of relief that she had found her way, and then taking a breath in anticipation of her life to come. She'll do well, I'm sure of that. Whatever it means for her, I know she will be successful.
So I've been thinking a lot about life milestones lately, and reflecting on where I thought I would be today when I graduated four years ago. I don't think so much about the big obvious markers- house, job, family. I think a lot about the little things, the soil nutrients of my life. Am I content? Am I peaceful? Am I happy? Because really, what is the point of spending a fortune on an education if all it leads to is stress, anxiety, corporate slavery and boredom? My favourite classes were always the ones least related to my major, because I felt free to just learn, for the pure joy of learning. Now I make an effort to keep being a student of the world, to cultivate that fire and excitement inside me.
I feel sorry for kids who don't know what kind of career they want in high school, because they are forced to choose, and made to feel like failing drifters if they don't. And I'm happy that my sister discovered her passion and did well in university.
You don't have to get a 9-5 job. You don't have to be a doctor, lawyer, physiotherapist, plumber, whatever. You have to eat, and sleep, and be happy. Excuse yourself from the watchful eyes of society for a moment, and examine your life with no one looking over your shoulder. Put a sticky note on all the things that don't make you happy, that don't contribute to your sense of peace and joy. It might be stuff, it might be your job, it might be people. Get rid of it all. Don't worry about hurting anyone- you cause greater hurt by being untrue to yourself, by holding yourself back from happiness. Now look at what you have left, at the things which contribute to your goals, your dreams. The things that make you want to get out of bed in the morning, that make you smile. Hopefully there are people on that list, maybe a job, hobbies, your dog. Nurture those things. Guard them against things with sticky notes creeping back in. Strive to live a life with no sticky notes.
Today is your Graduation Day. What are you going to DO with your LIFE?