Congratulations, graduate

Though I find it hard to believe, twenty-five years ago today was my high school graduation day. Besides making me feel pretty darned old, it also leads me to reflection. If I could go back, what would I say to my 17-year-old self, assuming she would listen to me? Who knows, but here goes.

  1. Don’t sit on the sidelines; participate. Ask questions, get to know people, build relationships. The high school model of learning–listen to a lecture, do your homework/write a paper/take a test, move to the next one–won’t get you a good grade in real life. You might pass, but you won’t excel. Whether you go to college or to work or anywhere else, get to know people. Connections count; you never know where or when it might make a difference. And no matter what happens, those relationships will enrich your life experience.
  2. Explore, explore, explore. I wish I had known myself as well at 18 as I do at 40-something. Unless you’re particularly gifted with self-awareness, it takes trying a lot of things to know which ones really trip your trigger. You can always make a change, but it’s a whole lot harder to make a career change once you’ve settled into a particular lifestyle. Figure out what you like to do, then figure out how you can make a living doing it. Even if it doesn’t make you rich, it will make you happy.
  3. No matter what people tell you, you can’t have it all. You can be a mom and have a career–and be successful at both–but there are always trade-offs. I wouldn’t change either of those things in my life, but it would have been a whole lot easier to have known that going in.
  4. Never, never, never give up what makes you YOU for anyone else. I’ve seen so many relationships falter–including my own–because the people involved tried to become what they thought the other person wanted, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Either way, it never ends well. Without those essential components of yourself, you’ll turn into a washed out shell. Your real self–the one who wasn’t trying to conform–attracted the other person to you in the first place. Don’t ever forget that.

These are some of the most important life lessons I’ve learned in the 25 years since I accepted my high school diploma. I only wish it hadn’t taken so long.

231 thoughts on “Congratulations, graduate

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    1. Amazing one.. I gave the farewell speech at my graduation recently.. Could actually connect to this, Felt like you were actually saying this out loud to me..

  1. Good thoughts. We have to make sure that we retain our identity in a relationship, because our identity is part of what makes the relationship work. Congrats on being FP 🙂

  2. Wow. I was brought here when my eyes chanced upon your the heading of your blog entry on my Fresh Pressed site.

    What you wrote in the second point speaks aptly what I’m thinking at the moment. It’s like the advice I’ve been waiting for since my mind started thinking of exploring new things in life.

  3. Helpful advice. The part about exploring really hits home for me, since it took five years after graduation to find out what I want to do in life.

  4. I second the part about participating. Even just do something and do it poorly. Learning to enjoy looking foolish is a big part of life. No one starts off and instantly becomes an expert. It is through struggling and working hard through the good and the bad times which will lead one to the path of success.

  5. I enjoyed your post. I have given this assignment to clients many times. It usually proves to create healing, empathy and understanding of their experience. Allowing oneself to give advice or talk to the younger us can create a space within ourselves to heal from trauma, gain a different perspective, heal shame and create a new relationship between the past and present experience.
    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Aah! This is exactly what I needed. I just graduated from college and I’m really confused about life and what to do next, what not to do etc. I am mostly afraid that I will analyze myself into paralysis and not do a darn thing.
    Thank you for you marvelous, inspiring and very genuine post!

    1. Thanks for reading! Good luck in whatever you do, and don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Fear of failure has left me paralyzed more than once. The ability to accept it and move on is liberating; it frees you to try so many things.

  7. Awww! If we could only turn back the clock! Important thing is you did learn the lessons along the way. I think the best thing about being a mother is that I am able to teach my child some of the things that I wish I had learned earlier in life. Fortunately, he is a good listener and realizing the importance of what I am saying. Loved your post. You Matter! Smiles, Nancy

  8. We have a saying in greek : “better later, than never” (κάλλιο αργά παρά ποτέ)

    plus, I think Life is like one big high school, so the things you wished you knew as a 17year old are things you need to keep reminding yourself and applying them even after you’ve learned them. e.g. just doing your job is not going to get you anywhere, you have to keep participating, making connections.

    And I couldn’t agree more about the part of being yourself, for yourself. You’ll never regret anything if you stay true to yourself.

  9. Hey Tammy, great stuff. I recently wrote something similar like this one on my blog. Do you mind if I mention you on my blog? I am going to repost this article there. thanks tammy. lets be blog friends 🙂

  10. Great post! The self awareness piece is key to fulfillment in everything. The challenge is “society’s plan” rushes people into commitments and responsibilities before they have a clue who they really are. A foundational reason relationships are tough to maintain and employee disengagement is in the area of 70%. More young people need to hear this message!

    Jason K.

  11. Great post! I especially liked this part: “The high school model of learning–listen to a lecture, do your homework/write a paper/take a test, move to the next one–won’t get you a good grade in real life. You might pass, but you won’t excel.” I wonder though, how you convince an 18 year old about the importance of excelling — not in the sense of getting ahead of others but just in sense of knowing your potential, the steps required to fulfill it, and the rewards that await you if you do.

    1. I wish it were simple to convince people of lessons like these through telling; most of us seem to have to get there via experience. It never hurts to try, though!

    1. You’re right. It’s amazing how little some of the stuff we used to worry about matters as the years pass. 25 years ago, I never would have posted that pic for the world to see!

  12. I LOVE number 2. I’m only a sophomore in college, and I made four major changes until I finally settled on a Psych/Philosophy double (originally came into school Bio/Pre-med). I get a lot of jokes about the philosophy major–but without it, I would’ve never discovered my passion for writing, and done things like created my blog! In your words, it trips my trigger, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  13. Thanks for this! I’m a freshman in High School and just went to my first graduation as I’m wrapping up the last week of school. This post couldn’t be more applicable to my life now. thank YOU!

  14. It’s 9 nine years since I finished high school, but one instruction I’d give past-ME is

    ‘Trust me, you’re woefully wrong about a lot of things you’re sure of. Be slower to judge. And kudos on landing a pretty girl. She’s just getting prettier everyday.

  15. These are tips I should taking note of. It’s kind of the same things my parents told me. I’m in my first year of university/college, and I feel like I still have a long way to go til I get properly assimiliated.

    1. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. You’ll get a lot more out of college–all of it, not just the classes–as a participant rather than an observer. Knowing that now, I wish I could go back and give it another shot!

  16. the big question is- would you have listened to yourself, or would you have anyway gone through the same experiences in order to learn these lessons?
    And how about now? Do you listen to the same, very good (even if a little Holmark-y) advice or do you just point it at an imaginary you-at-17?

    1. Great questions. Experience is always the best teacher, of course, but I think I would have appreciated someone giving me similar advice to use as a rudder. As for today, I try hard to live what I’ve written. Though I occasionally fall into old habits, I eventually circle back to these things that are true. Thanks for probing deeper.

  17. Some great tips (: I’d love to hear some more (; It’s funny because a school project (currently progressing at a great rate) is what brought me to wordpress! I love reading all these blogs, and receiving feedback is indescribable! (:
    Any tips for wordpress either? It’d be helpful in this project as well most likely!

      1. I don’t have any /specific/ questions, but it’s the ones that I don’t think of, and once I read them I reflect on how I act in those situations.
        It was a good read (:

  18. Point number 2 resonates with me. I believe it takes time to find out what you love and there’s so much pressure to figure it out early and get qulaified and go out and do it. Take some time to explore, but there’ll still be unsuccessful forays and mistakes but fortunately there’s time to do all this and still get back on track. Nice post and congrats on FP, I bet that’s fun!

  19. You say that it took 25 years. But the understanding and self awareness now must make it seem like everything in those 25 years happened for a good reason or atleast makes sense. I think when you can look back and not regret, that’s probably a good place to be.

    Great post!

  20. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! This post resonated strongly as now that I’ve reached (ahem) 50 something I look back on the journey and realise that I have learned so much about myself, other people and life generally but realise that there is still so much more to learn; it never stops! A great post, thanks for sharing.

  21. I look in the mirror and see my mother. I look at my daughter and see myself at her age. I think you just have to get there yourself. Well written. Congratulations on being freshly pressed.

    1. I love the idea of seeing your future and your past through your mother and your daughter. It’s powerful imagery that can be comforting or spur you to action. Thanks!

  22. Thanks for this great advice. I’m graduating from high school this year and i always hear so much talk that pertain to my future. It’s nice to know some good advice for the present, something that seems to be ever-changing, especially in my last few days as a high schooler.

  23. I so agree with number four! I had to find out through experience that that one was true, unfortunately.

  24. I agree with your post. Learning is easier and more pleasant when we are really active, when we go beyond the lessons, when we are able to question them. Travelling teaches a lot of things about the world and about … ourselves. Satisfying everyone is obviously impossible, we always have to make choices. Winning the love of the other must not return to either lose oneself.

  25. i was once asked to write a letter to my 13 year old self. i decided to make a paper airplane. then, she (i) might fly it one night and really see the stars and her (my) own stardust nature. 🙂

  26. I totally agree! I had my first child when I was 19 and then had to bypass college to work. I had two more after that and my goals and dreams started being pushed to the side so I could focus on my kids. Now I’m about to turn 30 and I find myself reflecting on my past too. I’ve decided that I’m still young enough to start over so I’m heading back to college…yay! Good blog!

  27. Very well put. Especially the one about tradeoffs. Growing up I always realized that for women the definition of success is way more complicated. Just having a career or a happy family isn’t enough in society’s eyes. Its about striking the perfect balance. How easily said than done.

  28. I loved the way you’ve written such simple yet significant lessons that are necessary for life. 🙂 All 3 are so relevant. I could identify and agree with all of them. My personal favourite is No. 2! Because that’s something I firmly believe in, too. Anyway, awesome post. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  29. In my quite humble opinion, this is the most important thing you wrote in this post:

    “Whether you go to college or to work or anywhere else, get to know people. Connections count; you never know where or when it might make a difference.”

    Connections always make a difference. And the best way I’ve found to make those connections is to try to help someone.

    I know I can’t make them happy, or necessarily please them, but I can do something small to take an interest or make a difference in their life. When you give a bit of your time to another person, you give something profound to yourself.

    Looking back, I was most happy when I was connected, working together, proactive. I was the least happy when I was disconnected, focused on myself, defensive.

    Looking forward, I know that giving more of my time, or giving it better, will make more connections. And make a difference.

    Take care,


  30. Came across this on Freshly Pressed and wanted to let you know that I love this post! As a recent graduate who is just starting to pursue her International Teacher career, I appreciate any and all forms of life coaching (my hobby), haha. Great blog!

  31. I am a grad student and if there was one thing I wish I had done differently, it would be:
    Not being stuck at dreaming myself a glorious career, but having the strength to translate them into actions!

  32. Wonderful words of wisdom. I have my very own graduating in a mere couple of hours and so they hit home as I find my own words of wisdom to pass on

  33. Celebrating my 20 year reunion this year. Ahhhhhhh! Terrifying. It is so interesting to think about what I might say to myself at 17. Thank you for making me think. Great post.

  34. before few days, i was finding the word which can help me to understand my self and my moms thinking.
    your words are so useful to me. its help me to understand the power of association, the power of relation.
    great explanation… 🙂

  35. I agree with your words of wisdom. I wish I hadn’t been so fearful when I was young. I did move away from home but each move was well thought out and planned carefully because of my fears. My youngest just turned 21 years and my oldest is moving to Australia for his job later this summer. I hope my husband and I have dispelled some of the fears we were raised on in our kids.

    My 35th High School reunion is later this month. Happy 25th High School memory to you.

  36. This is a fantastic post! I’m so glad it was freshly pressed so that more people could see it because it is very inspirational and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to it. I don’t think it matters when you learn the lessons that you mentioned, just that you actually do learn them at some point. As long as you learn from past mistakes and retain the experiences and lessons that they gave you in your memory, you won’t repeat them again. And just remember; we never do stop learning. If we do, it means we’re no longer alive. That’s just the way I see it. But you are a very wise soul and I’m glad that you had the moment of clarity that lead to this post. Consider yourself followed by at least one more happy blogger :).

  37. Congrats on making it to ‘Freshly Pressed’!

    Wonderful post! Your words are not just for the fresh faced graduate that was you 25 years ago. I am in my mid 20’s and these words are meaningful for me too. Especially the part about not having it all. There are going to be trade-offs but being prepared for it can help. Thank you for writing this post! 🙂

  38. wow. so many comments. Only shows how easily people can relate to the post. Congrats for that. Now that my son is 24 I plan to print it and give it to him. I know he won’t listen (he would read surely) but then, who knows… Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They are original and you are creative.

  39. I’m still under graduate but I’ve really enjoyed reading your post. I will try my level best in following a career that I will enjoy and having fun doing it.

  40. Wow, this gets me thinking along so many valuable tangents. Beautiful sentiments and lessons you’d like to pass on. SO true, all of them. I’m so glad I read this! 🙂
    Love from Rach.

  41. Great advice even to those of us well beyond high school graduation (32 years for me) who sometimes forget what matters. I was thinking of #3 myself just this morning. As someone who grew up to the soundtrack of Free to Be, You and Me, I was always told I could (and ought to) have it all. Noone ever thought to add “just not all at the same time”.

    Congratulations on Freshly Pressed!

  42. Great post! There are so many things I wish I could go back and tell myself when I was 18, 16, 14. It’s too bad that we spend so much of our adolescence worrying about what we think others think about us. There are times I wish I could go back to high school, feeling about myself how I feel now and see how different those four years would have been. I suppose that’s why they say that youth is wasted on the young.

  43. Love hearing your wisdom through life’s experiences…it brings deep encouragement hearing your story. I’ve got a question though…when do you stop caring what people think of you? When does the people pleasing end?

  44. Good read. I wish I have read your blog when I graduated fresh from college. 1 – I always have a hard time getting connections 2 and 3 – experience has taught me these two 4 – very true one should never ever forget one’s self.

  45. hi..thanks for such a wonderful i am entering in my mba time for me to learn this..and important thingyou mentioned..never change yourself for anyone..i have been in 2 relationships.and both guys think that they know me more than myself ..but the fact is even at times i don’t know myself..they don’t have a idea of who i am..

  46. thanks for your post.
    it’s really a precious time to build relationships during the school that is benefit for you after the graduation.
    sometimes, i wish i could go back school.

  47. Thanks for sharing your story. As a new graduate from college I have recently been reflecting on many of these things. Hoping that I have made the right decisions in my career choice, and asking myself what I want from my future. Thanks for helping me feel a little less alone in that.

  48. Tammy, I too graduated 25 years ago this year. And My son just graduated this week. Thank you for your blog it was a great reminder for me and new learning for him. I am stepping out into new things too and it sure is true that life is better when you participate and not let fear stop you! Kudos! ~ Lori

  49. Reblogged this on A Jewelry Masterpiece, For You and commented:
    Hello Again,

    I read a really great blog by Tammy Davis. She is a brand new friend. I just saw her Freshly Pressed article on Graduation and thought you all should read it. It really hit home since she and I graduated about the same year and Keith, my son just graduated last week. So, enjoy!

  50. Thank you for writing this post; it is well-said. As a recent college graduate, many of these lessons are things I have been thinking about since commencement. You said: “Figure out what you like to do, then figure out how you can make a living doing it. Even if it doesn’t make you rich, it will make you happy.” I think many students don’t think about this, or if they do, they are pressured by family and society to choose a major which has more “potential.” I graduated with a B.S. in English, which made me happy throughout my college years. I have looked a number of different ways to make a living doing this, but many people doubt that someone with a humanities degree can succeed. Your post reminds me to never give up on my dreams. Thank you.

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