June 10, 2010

Graduation: Living a Life on Purpose

by Heather Peters

After all the running around you did this morning, stop for a second. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath . . . and let this moment sink in.
Just breathe.

Here you sit on the verge of what I think is one of the most exciting and yet scariest moments of your life. Exciting -- because you are about to step into the world and make your own decisions. Scary --because you are about to step into the world and make your own decisions. As of today, the training wheels are off. At least when your parents were making the decisions you sort of had someone to blame the results on. And there is some comfort in that. But now, along with the freedom of decision comes the responsibility of the results. Now is when you get to put into practice those things your parents and teachers have tried to instill in you all these years.

Cast your mind back to the first day of high school. There you were, a little freshman, wandering the great big halls of Geneva High School. Think about who you were, what you thought was important, who your friends were. Sometime, during those opening days, I know you thought about what it would be like to be . . .

a senior, graduating and moving on with your life. What were your thoughts then?
Do they match who you turned out to be now?

Time is a funny thing. We think it is a constant, but that isn’t true, not really. Sure there are the same number of hours in a day now as there were when you were 5, but think about it in terms of relativity. When you were little, summers were endless. It felt like it would be FOREVER before you were a grown up and could make decisions for yourself. But look at the last four years of your life. They flew by didn’t they? And the thing is, they will continue to fly by even faster, the older you get. Don’t believe me? Ask your parents how long ago it seemed that you were learning how to crawl. Ask your grandparents how long ago it seemed that they were you, sitting where you are now.


So what’s the point? Every moment you have is precious, because you never know how many of them you are going to get. And the real winners in life are the ones who figure out how to make each of them count, and I mean really count.

There are so many moments in my life that I wish I could go back and replay simply because I didn’t really live them. Oh, I have great memories of these moments, but I wasn’t really aware. Put enough of those moments together and you wake up 10 years later wondering how you got where you are. I believe the key to living well is to be an active participant in life instead of a bystander. That’s why what I want to talk to you about today -- living your life on purpose.

How do you do this? Start with the founding principle: living life on purpose is about making an active choice in everything you do. Too often, people take what they think is the next step in life simply because it’s the next step, not because it was the right step. Be mindful of who you are, who you want to be, and what the implication of that want is.

Everyday you choose whether you are going to follow the path that gets you closer to who you want to be, or not. Don’t be overwhelmed by the weight of that statement, it actually simplifies life. It amplifies the fact that knowing where you want to go is huge, but getting there happens one step at a time. Everyday, you wake up to a choice. Stop and think for a moment. Ask yourself if what you are about to do that day gets you closer to your goal. This includes actually choosing your friends; don’t just fall into the crowd or hang out with people simply because they are there. Who you hang out with is one of the greatest determining factors in how you will make decisions. Actively choose people who are going to be a positive influence on you. If their influence isn’t positive, be brave enough to walk away.


Once you realize that everything you do has an impact, remember this: living life on purpose means not getting distracted by the daily business of life. Our world moves at an incredibly fast pace. Technology helps us do more at the same time, supposedly for our benefit. Ask yourself. when you are at home, IMing, Texting, doing your homework, watching TV and telling your mom about all the wonderful things you learned at school that day, which one of those activities have you really committed to? I know, you all are amazing multi-taskers and can now rule the universe. But put aside your perception of those moments and look at reality. How much more would you get out of each moment if you actually dedicated your full attention to any one of those tasks? How much fuller and more rewarding would your relationships be if you actually cared enough about someone to give them your full and undivided attention?

That’s why living life on purpose also means learning to prioritize. Actively cultivate an ability to determine what is really important,
and do that first. What is important? Work. I don’t mean just a job, but whatever it is that will move you towards your goal each day. And when you work, work hard. The only way you will get where you want to be is to be diligent. Success doesn’t really come any other way.

Sure, sometimes incredible opportunity falls into people’s laps, but they are the exception, not the rule. Realize though, that you are on a daily plan, so that means that you don’t have to accomplish all your goals in one day. Do what is truly possible, and let the rest go. It will still be there tomorrow. Then, when you are done working, rest. Our world is 24-7 and humans were never meant to function that way. Give yourself the gift of planned rest. If you have worked hard, you deserve it.

Finally, living life on purpose means developing patience. Enjoy the stage of life you’re in. If you’re constantly hoping for a different time you’ll never be happy now. There is a time for everything and an order in which it is supposed to happen. Don’t fall prey to the message that you have to hurry up and be something other than what you are. In the words of the great Morrie Schwartz, “there is a time for being 22, and a time to be 70.” Now is your time to be 18. Do the job of being 18, and revel in it. Soon enough, you will have your own place, and your own job, and many, many more responsibilities. Practice being responsible with the job you have now, and when the next stage in life comes, you’ll be ready. And remember that living life on purpose is about choosing your moments -- so choose wisely.

I am so excited for you as you begin this next stage of your life. I am proud of the hard work and dedication you have shown. And I am thankful that living my life on purpose meant I got to spend a little bit of it with you. Good luck --I know you are going to be amazing.

Heather Peters teaches English at Geneva High School in Geneva, Illinois. In 2008, the senior class chose her as the graduation speaker since she is well known for her “life lessons.” Heather is also the sponsor of the school’s literary magazine, The Skaldic which received a Superior rating in the 2009 NCTE Literary Magazine contest. When she isn’t solving her student’s problems, she spends her time reading, quilting and playing with her son, Ben.
© 2010 by Heather Peters. All Rights Reserved.

Posted on June 10, 2010 1:03 PM
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