Last evening the Piedmont high School class of 2015 graduated and my son, Tristan, was among the crowd of talented, hopeful and excited students (free at last).
For me, the feelings are far more bittersweet (tissue please).
On the one hand, I am an extremely proud parent and on the other, I'm not quite ready to say 'goodbye.' So I've been struggling with constructing some meaningful "pearls of wisdom" to pass along to this bright young man, whom I will miss profoundly, and who now stands at the precipice of a life unexplored.
Like any loving parent, I want my son to live his life well (however he defines that), to make a difference in the world, to discover his true passions, to find and give love, to follow his dreams, and to be of service to others. That's more easily said than done.
I've known many of these boys and girls since they were tiny tykes and now, they've all blossomed into young, beautiful adults who really haven't a clue . . . It's no small order, this business of growing up and striking out on one's own. As parents, we know that a GIANT LEAP into territories as yet unexplored, requires tremendous faith and trust, and quite frankly a tool belt few of these kids have yet acquired, let alone mastered. (We hadn't either at their age.)
Our older son, Case, who recently graduated from college, is wrestling with many of the same issues as well, but they are far less esoteric and much more about paying the rent, doing the next right thing, and putting one foot in front of the other as he diligently tries to figure it ALL out and become a full-fledged adult.
That works too. . . .
(News flash: you're never going to figure it ALL out so let that illusion go and enjoy the ride.)
What's more, if our kids don't carry compassion, care and consideration into their next four years and far beyond, they'll have gained nothing, irrespective of what they achieve on paper. Truly, an astute moral compass will move our children further than any ambitious career direction they may have mapped out for themselves.
No matter the journey, walking through life with a modicum of grace for most of us will be our greatest struggle. (I'm still trying to accomplish that BIG feat.) Seriously, it takes years, if not decades, to accomplish "grace under fire" which often requires disciplined consciousness here in the real world.
Having the advantage of experience over youth, I've come to believe that life is composed of a series of hurdles we learn to navigate. Some gates you will jump with ease, others you will run around, and a few you will run straight through in your race to be the swiftest and fastest. Regrettably, some of these hurdles will trip you up and slap you down. Some will absolutely knock the wind right out of your sails. That's okay, the toughest lessons prove the most important. In fact, your failures will undoubtedly shape you much more than your successes.
But in that rareified moment in time, for our young princes and princesses of Piedmont, it was all about the cap and gown and excitedly moving forward to the next chapter in their young lives - college. (Uhh, or Grad Night.)
While my husband, Cliff, set a course and then faithfully stuck to it, I'm not embarrassed to admit that it took me a much longer time to find my stride and a lot of painful missteps along the way. False starts, misdirected efforts, and restless energy probably best describe my wandering youth and yet here I stand - a contributing member to my community and to society at large - in spite of every wrong turn dead end, or bump in the road I managed to hit along the way (and I hit many.) I'm proof that no experience is ever wasted.
What I want both Case and Tris to really truly understand (deep down at their very core) is that most of the attributes you will need in order to succeed, come from walking through the tough times with integrity - not from a fancy degree (although that never hurts - fo' sure). Never underestimate the power of simply showing up and persevering. A strong work ethic, a sense of humor and TENACITY will move you much closer to your goals than any degree will ever provide - no matter the pedigree.
"Don't be afraid to make mistakes and take risks," Cliff reminds our kids, "That's where the valuable lessons lie." And so they do.
Earlier this week, I was struggling with a couple of difficult closings, a stressful marketplace, a fight over semantics, and lack of sleep when I remembered that there were times when my phone didn't ping quite so often, when referrals were few and far between and when I worried incessantly about whether or not my boss was going to fire me for lack of sales volume.
Which was why I started writing this column all those years ago. More important than what I sought to say to you, it helped me sort through the challenges specific to buying or selling a Bay Area home and lit the way . . .
As it turns out, those challenges are universal, regardless of the circumstances. Through both good and bad times, it's evidently the human condition to struggle with fear in all of its unwelcome forms: anxiety, stress, uncertainty, irritability anger, resentment and defensiveness, just to name a few . . . Because while young graduates are excited, they are also worried and scared (embrace the fear).
Last night, my sister, Jill, sent me this passage that probably best sums up the journey of "finding oneself" and like most great quotes that resonate (for me anyway), it comes from a beloved children's book.
"It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept . . ."
So be fearless kids, develop a thick skin, and give yourself time; you have the advantage of having years of it before you. There's a great big world out there just waiting for your contributions so go find your own way up the mountain (your path needn't look like anyone else's.) and most importantly, be of value to others.
If I know nothing else, I know this: your choices matter, your decisions matter, and your actions matter (not your intentions, your actions!). That's how we each make a difference in this big scary world - we do it one person at a time. Go find the person you were meant to be!
How can I help you?
(Trivia Contest! What book is this quote from and who wrote it? Free lattes to those of you with the right answer!)
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.