Dear Graduate, Here’s What Nobody Told You

6 minute read

Dear Graduate,

This is a big milestone moment. I hope you’re proud of all you accomplished. You did good, kid.

Graduation brings up a bag of mixed emotions — the same way that moving away from home, or getting married or having a child does. You’re proud and excited, but you’re also thinking, What on earth did I get myself into? You may even feel like an animal that has wandered onto the highway. You see your future rushing toward you, but you’re paralyzed. You know you have to pick a direction and move, but all you can think is, S—, now what?

Now what, indeed. You’re supposed to know what’s next, right?

You’re supposed to know what your dream job is and how to get it. You’re supposed to know exactly how to pay off all of that student debt. You’re supposed to have a clear vision for your future. After all, these are the days. You’re now supposed to know how to make your parents proud and make a pile of cash, having kicked ass and taken numbers along the way. Right?


The truth is, you’re not supposed to know what the future looks like. Nobody does. Why didn’t anybody tell you this? Because life, post-graduation, is scary as hell, that’s why. And 10 and 20 years from now, it will be just as scary as it appears on graduation day.

That’s right: All of us out here in the working world are scared, too. We’re just better at faking it. We’re mucking it out, trying to find our way as best we can. We have doubts and fears and questions. So many questions. Just like you.

Maybe this comes as a surprise to you. Well, the jig is up. The secret is out: Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. We’re all just winging it.

Even the people who look like they have their s— together don’t have their s—t together, at least not all of it.

Believe it or not, this is a good thing. It evens the playing field and changes the rules. If we’re all just winging it, we don’t need a flawless master plan. We don’t have to have it all figured out to take a shot.

So, take heart: There’s no need to have the future mapped out before you get to work. The best you can do is realize what it is that you hate doing, versus what makes you happy, and know enough to make a career of the latter. If that project you’re pursuing sparkles, go after it with your whole heart. If it feels oppressive, run like hell.

This career thing is less like a straight shot on the freeway, and more like a meandering path through the woods. There are twists and turns, and hills and valleys, and puddles and sunshine. You may even occasionally circle right back to where you started, and that’s okay. That’s life.

You will find your way.

In the spirit of keeping it real, I might as well tell you this, too: You’re going to have a meltdown at some point along the way. It’s pretty much guaranteed. It will happen when you’re lost and when you don’t know what you want, or when you don’t get what you want, or when what you want changes and you have to start this whole walk through the woods all over again.

But here’s how the rest of that story: You survive. You thrive. You pay attention to the little signs along the way. You learn from mistakes. You gather up your lessons and keep on truckin’. You try again. You do better. You get one step closer.

Then, when you’re finally out of the woods, you breathe deeply and soak up the sunshine. It feels so good to finally arrive. Life feels like a big open meadow, yours for the taking. You’ve made it. Enjoy it. Drink it in.

Yet, after a while, you’ll miss the mystery of the woods. You’ll long for adventure. You’ll want to go somewhere else — somewhere you haven’t been before. There’s so much to see and do, and your time here is short. So, you’ll pack up and take off. You won’t know where, just that it’s time to go. Maybe you’ll find yourself back in the woods; maybe you’ll climb. Who knows?

Life is like that: a series of mountains and meadows and walks in the woods. Make your own journey a good one, and find the strength to choose your own path.

This article originally appeared on

Read more 2015 commencement speeches:

Alan Alda to Grads: Everything in Life Takes Time

Bernard Harris to Grads: You Are an Infinite Being With Infinite Possibilities

Bill Nye to Grads: Change the World

Chris Matthews to Grads: ‘Make Them Say No. Never Say No to Yourself’

Colin Powell to Grads: Learn to Lead

Darren Walker to Grads: Build a Bridge to a Better World

Ed Helms to Grads: Define Yourselves

Eric Schmidt to Grads: You Can Write the Code for All of Us

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Grads: ‘This Is the World We Were Born Into, and We Are Responsible for It’

Gwen Ifill to Grads: If You See Something, Do Something

GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Grads: Become a Force for Change

Ian McEwan to Grads: Defend Free Speech

Joe Plumeri to Grads: Go Out and Play in Traffic

Jon Bon Jovi to Grads: Lead By Example

Jorge Ramos’ Message for Journalists: Take a Stand

Joyce Carol Oates to Grads: Be Stubborn and Optimistic

Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed

Ken Burns to Grads: Set Things Right Again

Kenneth Cole to Grads: Find Your Voice

Madeleine Albright to Grads: The World Needs You

Mark Ruffalo to Grads: Buck the System

Matthew McConaughey to Grads: Always Play Like an Underdog

Maya Rudolph to Grads: Create Your Own Destiny

Mellody Hobson to Grads: Set Your Sights High

Meredith Vieira to Grads: Be the Left Shark

Michelle Obama to Grads: Shape the Revolution

Mitt Romney to Grads: America Needs You to Serve

President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

President Obama to Cadets: Lead the Way on Fighting Climate Change

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Samantha Power to Grads: Start Changing the World By ‘Acting As If’

Stephen Colbert to Grads: You Are Your Own Professor Now

Tim Cook to Grads: Tune Out the Cynics

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