Congratulations you have crossed the finish line. As you know, your route here was filled with tears of joy and sorrow, dreams shattered and fulfilled, moments that dispatched you to the arms of a beloved, remarkable beginnings and ends sealed with generous promises.
Closing this chapter in your life offers a time of reflection on you. In fact, the day you were born the world became more luminous. Chances are along the way you forgot this truth. At times it was overshadowed by fear or dismissed as insecurity, but I am here to remind you that it is still present. It is something that is uniquely yours, and can’t be outsourced. In fact, there is no end to your luminosity.It is there amidst the lump in your throat and misty eyes. It is there in your sweaty palms and confused mind. It is there deep in your belly and lined in your heart. It is there.
And so I am thinking of the very word ILLUMINATE and asking you to use it as you move forward. Let it become a part of your being, your manifesto if you will. I am thinking of the very letters that make up this bold ten letter word.
Friday was the last day of school for my two daughters. They wore special outfits, I took pictures, lots of excitement.
The last day of school is always bittersweet to me; it’s fun to head into the summer, but it’s always a little sad that another year is over. I’m always reminded that“The days are long, but the years are short.” (The one-minute video I made about this feeling is probably the thing, of everything I’ve ever written, that resonates most with people.)
The end of the school year is also significant to me because I still measure my own life by the school calendar. September is the other January–which is why, for my second happiness project in Happier at Home, I did a project from September through May. September is a new beginning, and the June/July/August season feels separate from the rest of the year.
So now that school is over, my summer has started–but fact is, my summer is a lot like the rest of my year. We go on some family trips, and my daughters’ schedules are different, but my work and routine, and my husband’s work and routine, don’t change much.
But I want the feeling of summer in my life, and so I’ve made a resolution: every weekend, I’m going to read a book for pleasure. Pure pleasure! I read a lot, all the time, but often I read books for research, or because they’re interesting to me in some way, even if they aren’t exactly “pleasurable.” But on summer weekends, I’m going to read only what I LOVE. Books that I can’t put down, books that I’ll race through in a few days. And if I don’t love a book, I’m going to stop reading it (another new resolution for me).
In The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies, Davies wrote, “Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather. Circumstances have not allowed me to make a good summer for myself this year…My summer has been overcast by my own heaviness of spirit. I have not had any adventures, and adventures are what make a summer.”
Reading is my adventure, it’s my cubicle and my playground–and this summer, I’m going to make sure to spend a lot of time on the playground side.
How about you? How do you plan to “make your own summer”?
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Who would have thought President Obama had such a witty and irreverent speechwriter?
Far from your typical political rhetorician, former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett is also far from the rote, uplifting commencement speaker most colleges opt for. This year’s graduating class at Pitzer College got a taste of real talk, mixed with testy humor, inspiring personal anecdotes, and even a few curse words just to keep it real.
Did Lovett leave anything out that you think college graduates need to hear? What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone right now who is graduating from higher education?
As I enter the autumn of my life and you the springtime of yours, I want to leave you with seven skills in self-awareness that I have learned and that I hope will serve you well no matter what profession you choose, or where your life and destiny take you.
Skill # 1 Become the best listener you can be. Learn to listen with the instruments of the body, the feelings of the heart, the logic of the mind, and the stillness of your soul. As you listen deeply, reflect on the following questions: What am I observing? What am I feeling? What is the need of the moment? What is the best way to fulfill this need?
Skill#2 Bond emotionally with friends, family, professional colleagues, and those you interact with daily. Understand that each of us is part of a web of relationships that is nurtured through love, kindness, compassion, empathy, and joy. Emotional bonds create effective teamwork where nothing is impossible because you have a shared vision for service, contribution, and success and because you complement each other’s talents and strengths.
Skill # 3 Expand your awareness by knowing that all human beings have a hierarchy of needs that start with survival and safety and progressively expand through stages that include love and belonging, true self esteem, success as in the progressive realization of worthy goals, creative expression, higher consciousness, and self-actualization. As you expand your awareness learn to harness your spiritual gifts that come in the form of the powers of intention, intuition, creativity, imagination & conscious choice making.
Skill #4 Remember the importance of action. Learn to be action oriented and know that there is no power higher than love in action. Remember that love without action is meaningless and action without love is irrelevant.
Skill# 5 Assume responsibility for your own well being in all its various facets. Your well being encompasses every aspect of your life – your career, your social interactions, your personal relationships, your community, and your financial success. Take time to rest and play, to be with your family and friends, to exercise and nourish your body with healthy food.
Skill# 6 Empower your self with true self-esteem. Learn to be independent of the good and bad opinion of others. Recognize the power of presence. Do not allow yourself to be distracted. Know your life purpose and the contribution you want to make to society.
Skill # 7 Know your true self. Your true self is not your self-image that is dependent on the labels you and others have given yourself. Your true self is the innermost core of your being that is beyond all labels, definitions & limitations. All the wisdom traditions tell us that the human spirit is a field of infinite possibilities, a field of infinite creativity, love, compassion, joy, and profound equanimity. Know you can only give to the world that which you possess in that innermost core of your being. Remember that you will create peace only when you are peaceful and create a loving world only when you have learned to love.
I entreat you to not lose your idealism with the passage of years. That idealism is connected to your knowingness of the good that can be created and the power to manifest it. In you lies the potential for a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthier, and happier world. Remember that the goal of all other goals is to be happy. I am reminded today of an assignment that John Lennon was given by his elementary school teacher when he was seven years old. He and his classmates were asked to write a short description of whom they wanted to be when they grew up. John Lennon wrote down that he wanted to be always happy. When his teacher complained that John did not understand the assignment, John’s mother told him to tell the teacher that he did not understand life.
But what do we really know about happiness? Recently there has been a lot of research on the dynamics of happiness. Most people think that if they are successful in achieving their goals or have good relationships or if they are healthy, they will be happy. In fact it is the other way around. If you are happy person you are likely to have healthy habits, and nurturing relationships, and great success in life. Social scientists describe what they describe the Happiness formula: H=S+C+V
H stands for happiness
S stands for set point in the brain
C stands for conditions of living
V stands for voluntary choices
“S” stands for the set point in the brain and refers to our mechanisms of perception. We all have a semi-fixed place on the happiness spectrum based on our outlook on life. Happier people see the opportunities, where unhappy people see problems. The set point for happiness can be upregulated, or shifted toward greater happiness, through self-reflection on limiting beliefs. The set point determines 50% of our happiness experience on a daily bases. The ‘C’ in the formula is the conditions of living and refers mainly to material success and personal wealth. It determines about 12% of your daily happiness experience. If you win the lottery you will be extremely happy for a few months, but after one year you will return to your set point.
Voluntary choices represents choices that we make on a daily bases. Choices for personal pleasure bring transient happiness, while selfless choices bring inner fulfillment through purpose and meaning, e.g. by making other people happy meaningful relationships bring more permanent happiness. So to be happy it’s fine to have material comforts around you, but that will only account for 12% of your happiness. To really be happy you need to expand awareness and overcome your self-limiting beliefs and then choose selfless actions, or ways to be of service to others. This leads to true and lasting happiness and wisdom.
Finally today, more than any other day, remember to be grateful. Gratitude opens the door to abundance consciousness. Express your gratitude today particularly to your parents, teachers and fellow students, all who have helped bring you to this threshold of life.
You are now ready to embark on the hero’s journey, the hero’s quest. Good luck and God speed.
Have you ever wanted to give up on something that you really, really wanted because it was just too darn hard to keep trying?
You can’t run one more step, write one more word, endure one more dead end? Join the club.
Can I Sit Down Now?
But, before you throw in the towel, there’s something you should know.
People who succeed at getting what they want in life aren’t smarter, more talented, or luckier than you.
They just might have something psychologists call grit: the ability to keep going no matter what. Grit, it turns out, may be one of the most powerful ingredients in your success recipe.
I’m not talking about trying endlessly to reach a goal where the chance of victory is close to zilch, like opening an ice cream shop in Antarctica. Although never say never.
I’m talking about the grit you need to stay on your healthy diet, save money, or start that business. Grit is different from willpower, the ability to focus for snippets of time, say, just long enough to resist that cookie. Grit is willpower’s big brother. It’s endurance for the long haul; the stamina to keep going even when you stumble.
I Want Some Grit, Please
When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, an intense research project that was my final step before getting my PhD, I needed a giant dose of grit.
That’s because the dissertation experience can be pretty grueling. I’d met students who were in dissertation-anxiety support groups, and I’d watched exhausted graduates–sporting newly spawned gray hair–lumber down the aisle to finally accept their diplomas, some after ten years. It was clear; I was going to need some serious stick-to-itiveness if I wanted to make it to graduation before my social security benefits kicked in.
Santa To The Rescue
My own grit arrived in an unexpected flash of inspiration. In the midst of a late night writing session, I suddenly remembered a television show my brothers and I watched every year at Christmastime called “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town.” In the show, there was a song I never forgot called Put One Foot In Front Of The Other.
I suddenly realized that to complete my dissertation, that’s exactly what I needed to do: put one foot in front of the other. Rather than looking at the enormity of the task ahead of me, I needed only to write one word, one paragraph, one page at a time. If I could do that–over and over again–I could find my grit and finish my dissertation.
To remind myself, on the wall over my computer, in big blue letters, I taped the words “Darlene, Put One Foot In Front Of The Other.” When I felt my spirits sag or there was a unexpected detour, I looked up at those words on the wall. I pushed ahead–one step at a time–and made it all the way to graduation day.
You Can Do It!
Are you chasing a dream that feels distant? Or do you want to improve your life in some way, but it’s hard to stay on track? I know it’s tough to keep going when you’re alone on your path or the road ahead is unclear.
That’s why I want to share with you the 3-minute video clip that inspired me. Watch it, and remember its simple message: put one foot in front of the other. Those words were so encouraging to me, they’ve since become my personal mantra. No matter where you’re headed–one step at a time–that’s how you’ll get there.
Today as you celebrate this major milestone in your life and commence a new stage of your life journey, I ask you to reflect on the gift of life itself. And life, in essence, is nothing but awareness. Furthermore human life, considered the pinnacle of biological evolution, is not just awareness, but self-awareness. Amongst creatures on this planet, we human beings are not only aware; we have the capacity to be aware that we are aware, to be conscious of our consciousness. In that self-awareness lies our potential and power to direct our own future evolution and the future evolution of civilization.
Biological evolution has been summed up in the phrase of “survival of the fittest,” but with overpopulation and over-consumption of resources, the future belongs to “survival of the wisest”. It is imperative for the future of humanity that wisdom becomes the new criterion for sustainable life on this planet. And wisdom is that knowledge that nurtures life in all its dimensions not only for us but also for the generations that follow us.
Today’s age is frequently referred to as the Information Age. The hallmarks of this age are the gifts of science and technology that have created the miracles of molecular medicine, real-time imaging of cellular function, instant accessibility of global knowledge, and social networks. Yet despite this emerging global brain, paradoxically we are beset with the same scourges of war and terrorism, radical poverty in 50% of the world’s population, irreversible climate change, along with deepening social and economic injustice! Furthermore, humanity suffers from massive malnutrition in which half the world suffers from hunger and the other half from obesity leading to inflammatory disorders, increasing the risk of chronic illnesses including many types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases while the hungry die from compromised immune function and infectious diseases. The information revolution has not led to the wisdom needed to solve our world crisis in health and well-being.
If ever humanity had the power of mass self-extinction on planet earth, it is today. And if it happens it will be because we allowed our emotional and spiritual evolution to be outpaced by the evolution of our science and technology. Nuclear proliferation, biological warfare, eco destruction, the extinction of species and the poisoning of our atmosphere, our rivers and waters and the very food that sustains our life and all life loom before us as imminent threats. But just as in other critical phases of transformation, while there is disaster looming on one hand, there is on the other hand the potential to create a radical reorganization into something much greater than was conceived of before.
Today, I ask you my young friends, you who are the future hope of humanity, you who are the future leaders of the world; today, I ask you what Mahatma Gandhi once asked, “Can you be the change you want to see in the world?”
In fact, there can be no social or world transformation unless there is your own inner transformation. Today, I ask you to face a fundamental truth. Today, I ask you to consider that there is no ‘you’ that is separate from the world. The gift of life, your own self-consciousness is your key to inner transformation and wisdom, and that in turn is how you will transform the world. Today, I ask you to acknowledge that you are the world and that your transformation of consciousness will be the future of the word. This self-transformation is the wisdom for our planet’s survival.
As I enter the autumn of my life and you the springtime of yours, I want to leave you with seven skills in self-awareness that I have learned and that I hope will serve you well no matter what profession you choose, or where your life and destiny take you.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in which I outline the seven skills of self-awareness!
My youngest daughter graduated from college this week. With a head full of memories, I watched the baby of the family march proudly across the stage to publicly receive her degree. Smart kid. Focused kid. Her steps across the large stage were the metaphor for moving forward with life.
This is the process of life. We take the first 20 or so years to discover who we are, what we are good at, passionate about and what matters to us. We use this time to discover our world – to see how great, grand and large it is. Then we’re tasked with using the rest of our days to find or create opportunities that allow us to connect the true us, with places in our world that need what we do best. We find our fit, our way, to make our personal impact in our world. This how we own our lives. This is how we build our world.
All this ran through my head as my daughter donned her cap and gown and lined up with many other graduating seniors. I thought of the following five things we did to help her be at this very moment: successfully completing her degree, 2,500 miles away from home, blazing her own trail.
Start early to help your kids discover what they are great at. Our unique abilities and preferences are hardwired in us early in our lives. As we help our kids try things, they start to see what they rock at and what they stink at. It’s especially important for us, as parents, to remember that no one is great at everything. But, we are each amazing at some things. Helping our kids find these things early in life allows them to align themselves to events and roles that need what they do best. We help our kids become successful by guiding them early to discover their unique abilities.
Introduce your kids to everything you know about your world. Every event in life is an introduction to a great and large world. Take the time to explain things to your kids at every age. They remember the events and the information and, as a result, become more aware of the opportunities and possibilities. At some point, they will be required to find their place in this world and knowing more than less about their world prepares them to choose more wisely. Take vacations, develop hobbies, talk about world events, share articles and stories. Each of these expands their view of all that is available to them in their world.
Hold kids accountable and responsible for their decisions. All decisions have consequences. We all must learn not only to own the results of our decisions, but to realize that our lives are ours to invent. Owning their decisions earlier in life helps them learn to make better decisions earlier in life. They respond more wisely when choices and opportunities, both good and bad, present themselves each day.
Support them in becoming authentic, true, and happy. We have our definition of a great life; they have theirs. As they become aware of their unique abilities, their world and become more accountable, they start making decisions that are right for them. Support their decisions. Realize their lives are not our lives. What matters for them may have no connection to what matters to us, or what we think matters to them. After all, it is their responsibility to wake up happy each day, and only they can determine what that is. This is where we move from parent to coach to mentor.
Be part of everything they do. When we help our kids find their true selves, and let them show up fully present to the events in their lives, we are welcomed in. We share their roads with them. We get to see another remarkable human being discover his or her place and live life on his or her terms. And to share this, just like being at the graduation, is powerful for us. We get to spend time with people we adore.
Kate’s graduation, for me, was an opportunity to watch her boldly take her place as the next generation into a life ownership role. Her work will change the world. Her life will change the world. It will change her immediate world, and who knows, it could even change the larger world.
A quote I often use that seems so appropriate here is by Winston Churchill.
To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.
We spend our early lives discovering what makes us great, and then spend the rest of our lives sharing what makes us great with our world. Help your kids soar. Their soaring helps our world soar.
I will graduate from college soon and like many of my classmates I am worried about finding a job after I graduate. I interned for a few places as an undergrad, including an artist management company that I really clicked with. They even said that they’d never bothered with interns before but after hiring me they didn’t know how the office would run without me there. It’s been six months since then, and I still keep in contact with the guys from the office, hoping it will turn into a full-time gig after I graduate. They recently told me they aren’t sure they have the funds to hire me as a full-time employee, but that I could come work for them part-time and sign the bands I really love – they’ll teach me the ropes and I’ll get commission once those bands start making money. However, I’d need another full-time job to be able to pay my bills and survive.
I know I’m lucky I at least have one offer when many of my peers are struggling to get interviews – and it really is my dream job, but should I take it if I know I won’t be getting paid? Yesterday I attended a graduation ceremony for my major where we were told it’s not the best time to be entering this market and that we should “cast a wide net” in hopes we can at least get jobs in a related field. Would it be smarter to apply for more a more practical position, where I’ll go in at entry level but at least have a steady pay check or the less stable dream job? I’m torn between following my passion and making the more economical decision.
Sincerely, Practically Passionate
Dear Practically Passionate,
Oh, college graduation! While you may not feel it right now, especially with the stress you’re under, this is one of the greatest times in your life – it just takes a little perspective to see it. It is exactly what your letter describes, a time of choice and discovery and taking risks.
I understand the two factions you are torn between rather well. I grew up with a strict and logical father. Over two decades in the military has a way of training someone to think in very efficient means, and my father advised his children in the same way. Imagine his surprise when his youngest decided she wanted to forgo law school (and following in his footsteps) to try more artistic pursuits in Hollywood. I was optimistic and naïve, thinking it’d be no problem for me to roll into town knowing no one and just get a job as someone’s assistant or just show up in the writer’s room of “General Hospital” (you may laugh, but I’ll have you know soap operas have jump-started the careers several successful actors and writers alike) and get to work.
Of course it didn’t work out like that. I spent months trying to find a job – over qualified for retail or restaurants and not enough experience to land a position at a
full-time company. It didn’t take too long for the depression to set in, which wasn’t helped by the constant emails from my father saying there was still time to apply to graduate school or better yet, “You were always good at math. Can’t you get a job in insurance? There’s always jobs in insurance.” But I was selfish, in a way that only privileged 20-somethings can be, and kept applying. I managed to grab a temporary position at fruit bouquet design store, which bought me some more time before I’d have to return home and forsake my dreams for something more practical, as you put it. I got lucky and landed a job at a new company that allowed me to use the marketing skills I had picked up in school and had flexible hours so I could take writing classes to continue on towards my dream. It wasn’t the glamorous situation, or paycheck, I had imagined when first leaving school but it set me in the right direction so I was only too eager to take it. And it was the first step on the path that lead me to writing this to you.
“I know I’m lucky” – do you, Practically? Do you really? It’s about more than you having a tentative job offer; you’re lucky to have this problem at all. You are in a unique position where you have to decide what will make you happy when so many in this world wake up every day deciding what they have to do to survive. I don’t say that to belittle you, but to remind you exactly of the privileged position you are in and make sure you don’t forget it. Many would kill to be in your shoes, so don’t waste the opportunity you’ve been given.
I’m advising you to be selfish. This is one of the few times in life where that’s an acceptable trait to have because as you get further into adulthood the happy choices
will more and more frequently be replaced by the survival ones. I feel like in your gut you already know that you want the “less stable” dream job but just are afraid of the risk. That’s not weird – every time you turn on the news you see a bleaker and bleaker picture of college graduate job prospects. However, what I’ve learned is that dream jobs hardly ever come for free or in the shiny packages we imagine they should come in. They require work and sacrifice to actually pay off into the dream we’ve imagined. So you may have to get an extra job waiting tables or making coffee at Starbucks but that’s such a small price to pay for the chance you’ve been given, deary. People have had to do far worse for much less.
I think you owe it to yourself, and for all of those who aren’t as lucky as you, to take the risk, to follow your heart, to follow your dreams because you don’t know if you’ll have the chance to be this lucky again.
* * *
Submit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.
Have you ever experienced a bad break-up? We’ve all been there. The tears, arguments, silence, and regret. Even if the break-up isn’t particularly “bad,” it can still feel awful to part ways with someone who has been close to your heart.
And how many of us have watched friends endure painful break-ups? For them it might feel like the world is falling apart. You just want to grab them, open their eyes, and say, “Look! The sun is still shining! Life goes on!” But only the passing of time brings this truth to light.
Justin poses this predicament to Deepak Chopra in this week’s episode of Spiritual Solutions (a series on The Chopra Well YouTube channel). Compounding his post-break-up depression is the fact that Justin also just graduated from school. He is navigating new territory and feels alone in his struggle. Justin asks, how do you find happiness in a negative situation when it feels like there is no one at your side? Deepak responds with compassion and a dose of realism.
Although our emotions are largely an internal experience, they paint themselves on our demeanor, as well. Deepak wagers that, by his body language, Justin isn’t as depressed as he says. He may feel alone, but that is probably not the case. Cosmically speaking, there is a bigger picture to take into consideration: 70% of the Universe is dark energy; 25% is dark matter; and the whole visible universe is .01%. Everyone alive now will be gone in 100 years, so we’re looking at odds that don’t speak highly in our favor.
On the other hand, this information can convey a sense of hope. We are a part of a vast, complex Universe. Something that seems dramatically important now, like a break-up, may pale in comparison to our future experiences and sensations. This too shall pass. In the meantime, Justin can take this opportunity to “incubate,” Deepak advises. If you or one of your friends are suffering from the loss of a meaningful relationship, join Justin in asking yourself the following questions:
What do I want in my life? What is the purpose of my existence? How can I improve my relationships? What was the reason for that break-up? How did I participate in the break-up? How can I create a new situation in my next relationship, where I won’t repeat that cycle?
It’s because of this opportunity for incubation, a time for decompression and renewal, that Justin may look back on this time fondly. There is something romantic about being depressed after a break-up. It’s the inspiration for great literature, music, and art. Think of it as an initiation into the world of love.
If you’re still feeling down, here are some more resources to help you heal:
On a quest to find her place in the world, the spirited young heroine in my novel comes face-to-face with some monumental obstacles.
First, being a girl at the turn of the first millennia, her community, and even her family, consider her nearly worthless. Second, she is further shunned and misunderstood because of her unusual appearance.
Eventually, she is cast out.
Being dismissed from one’s community—even for success and high achievement!—can prove extremely difficult. Leaving behind all you know to face the world on your own merits can lead to a conflicting mix of excitement and apprehension.
What, then, can you do to strengthen yourself as you embark on this new and challenging phase in your life?
Anna’s story of struggle and eventual triumph provides three insights that can help you empower yourself:
1) Ask the difficult questions—challenge the status quo. So much in our lives depends on the questions we ask—and, perhaps even more, on those we don’t ask.Humanity depends on those who challenge our assumptions. Without them, the world would remain flat and leeches a cure all. When her father mourned the loss of his son and felt cursed with a daughter, Anna demanded to know: Why is a dead son worth more than a living daughter? At the time, it was outrageous to ask this question. Today we know better. Are there questions that you are burning to ask but do not for fear of upsetting “the way things are”? Are there places in your life where you’re making choices just to “get along” rather than trusting your gut.
2) Remember who you are, no matter who you must become. All of us lead double lives. In one life, we are powerful beings, imbued with creativity, imaginative spark, and mind-blowing physical talents. In the other, we are bank tellers, teachers, high-powered business executives, on-the-go parents, devoted partners, etc. The demands of our second (and third and fourth and fifth) identities often overshadow the intrinsic magic of the first. As Anna grew older, she trained herself to pause at moments throughout her day to remember her inherent self, to honor the miracle of her human existence, and to draw a sense of strength from these reminders. Given all we do in a day, it’s easy to be forgetful of our true selves. Sometimes we even have to remember to remember who we truly are.
3) Spend time with the eternal. To practice the first two insights takes enormous inner strength and resolve. Yet, in our increasingly fast and harried lives, more of our attention is going toward man-made devices such as cell phones, computers, videos – things that are impermanent.
To help restore a sense of connectedness, try to spend a little time contemplating something that is part of the eternal world. The thing itself doesn’t have to be grand or exotic. What matters is not the object, but the depth of your attention. Anna drew incredible inspiration from a single blade of grass. You might do the same from a houseplant. Maybe a bird outside. Or how about opening your fridge? Any fruit or vegetable will do! Contemplate how its life began. Where it draws its energy from. How it is vulnerable or strong. While the practice may seem odd at first, over time, you will feel deeply emboldened by these moments spent communing with what endures. In fact, you may even come to crave them!