Things I Didn't Tell Her

The other day I sent a graduation gift to a girl I've never met.

It's that time of the year — commencement season.

Along with the gift (a book, of course), I wrote a short note. Days later, in my mind, that note expanded. Turns out I was writing to her, and myself, and to many others making their way:

Dear Graduate,

Congratulations! We've never met, but I know your mother has worked hard to give you everything she never had, most notably a loving push to higher education.

That's big. Please step bravely, kindly & with appreciation into this new stage of your life.

Sound preachy? Maybe, but just indulge me for a bit. I'm tendering a few nuggets of advice that may ease the sometimes rocky road ahead:

You don't know everything (and who would want to?)

In the scheme of the universe, you've been around for a split second. The world is wide open, and so is your mind. Try to keep it wide awake and willing. Listen, absorb, ask questions, and listen more. Veer away from hard and fast opinions. Give yourself time. Consider many sides. Know that not knowing is the best knowing of all. 

Keep a secret
(in fashion and in life)

Secrets are good. Not the I-have-a-second-family kind of secret, or stashing-whiskey-in-the-garage sort of thing, but more like this: The Secret Life by Stephen Dunn.

The world is burdened with overshare. In fashion, the stylish are those who choose their emphasis (don't show leg and cleavage; choose one, and then choose carefully), and so you, too, must keep something close, covered. Mystery wins.

Fashion tip No. 2: Showing shoulder is classy; showing breast is not.

Say I'm sorry

You're gonna mess up. We all do. The key is to apologize — without defensiveness or excuses. Don't worm your way through a faux apology ("I'm sorry you feel that way"). No, no, no! Own up and express genuine remorse.  

And while you're at it, learn empathy. This is where compassion and kindness take root. Empathy informs and heightens our sense of responsibility. 

You're not special

Well, yes, of course you are special in that one-of-a-kind snowflake way. But let's not get bigheaded. David McCullough Jr, a high school teacher, explains it best.

Give thanks

I'm not alone in my love of the thank you note. Jimmy Fallon writes one every week. Leah Dieterich writes one every day.

"In the process of opening a note, feeling the paper, seeing the imperfection of the writing, reading the message in another person’s voice, you actually feel like you have a piece of that person in your hand,” says a 20-something thank-you-note-writer in "The Found Art of Thank You Notes."

We all like to feel appreciated, and the act of expressing gratitude increases your connection to others — and makes the recipient feel good too. Bonus points for handwritten notes.

You're never as fat as you think you are.
(But more exercise won't kill you).

I've spent my life feeling hefty. And when I look back at photos, I wasn't fat. The mind can be so cruel.  

I don't know you, but I bet you're not fat. And I hope you've never worried about your weight. But you are female so the chances are good that you've experienced the body image torture that saddles so many.

Let's skip the platitudes and positive thinking. Here's what worked for me: Find a physical activity that you enjoy — swim, ski, bike, yoga, dance, run, paddle — and then have fun doing it. This is a cure for both mind and body. And if, like me, you're always looking for ways to do less and eat more, just do more. Really, it's that simple. And that hard.

And maybe that's the best advice of all: do more.

Don't fret and fritter. Don't delay. Just do more. Love more. Listen more. Feel more. Live more.

That last tip should cover you for life.

With love & hope,


p.s. This was fun. Let's do it again before graduate school.