By Gina Barreca
My best advice? I am eager to offer it. Having circled this racetrack a few times, I’ve learned things. And unlike those who are always dreaming, I’ve taken notes.
For the graduates:
Get a job. You’re offered at least minimum wage and full employment? Take it. Don’t tell me you can’t picture yourself in an office, in a classroom, in a store, in a tech park, in a corporate environment or in any position that won’t permit you to express your creativity. Just stop and listen: Your first job is the one that will teach you how to work.
Having worked part-time through high school and college doesn’t prepare you for what we all know is called “A Real Job.” The reason we all call it that is because you will need to show up at one place, on time, sober and ready to begin your designated and assigned activities for many days in a row. This will be why they pay you.
You will learn to have adult conversations with people you don’t like or respect and that’s an excellent skill; it is not hypocrisy, it’s grown-up behavior. It’s learning how to be emotionally and intellectually continent. You’ll learn how not to overflow everywhere and all over everything, which will make you a better friend, companion and co-worker.
You’ll learn, at your first job, that you’ll not be given time off because you broke up with somebody you loved, and nor will you get to sleep late even if you’re really exhausted.
You can’t cry, get mad, get nasty or sulk at A Real Job. If you do not perform adequately, you will be given one chance (or maybe two, if you’ve mastered grown-up behavior) to correct whatever problem you have and if you can’t, then you will be fired. This is how you’ll learn to do better.
Even if you’ll eventually become the world’s most magnificent poet, DJ, lighting designer, architect, musician, cinematographer, designer, playwright, animator, graphic novelist or inventor, you’ll learn more at your first job than you could imagine in all your solitary brilliance. You’ll also forge relationships you’d otherwise never have and gather stories you’ll tell for years.
For the life-changers:
Expect great things from the new voyages on which you’re embarking, give yourself credit for stamina, optimism and endurance, but understand that even as your perspective and position change, you’ll still be who you are. You’ll simply be even more of who you are.
Marriage, for example, won’t change your relationship in any fundamental way: If you’re happy now, you’ll most likely be happier. But if you’re not very happy now, my dears, your relationship will not suddenly be filled with doves and white roses.
If you’re leaving a relationship, congratulations on having the courage to be on your own, but don’t imagine that everybody who’s shown up in your dreams or on your Facebook feed is going to show up on your doorstep.
Deep breaths, long pauses and a willingness to find laughter in the toughest, most absurd moments is what will see you through the detours and help you navigate the unexpected cul-du-sacs.
For those heading into the distance:
Clean up after yourselves. Don’t leave a mess. I was terrified when my father died. He was a man of secrets and I was scared that we’d discover he had entire other family. He didn’t (sorry Dad!), but I had no idea what to expect and we should have talked about it sooner.
But at least my father made a will, leaving the pots to me and the pans to my brother, designating even the small bits of his life to appropriate family members.
So please curate your lives.
Thank or repay those to whom you owe a debt. Reconcile with enemies if you can. If you can’t, erase them from your heart. Stop wasting time on resentment. Uncage your fears so that they can disappear and disperse your joy so that it’ll flourish all around you.
Keep your spiritual, psychological and emotional passport up to date, as well as your actual one; you never know when you’ll be taking off. And if you can, offer a job to somebody who needs it. Those first jobs are important.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of nine books. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.