My social media pages have been inundated with loads of friends’ pictures from their kids’ kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, college or post-graduate graduations this past week – and I love every minute of it! I also had the opportunity to visit and celebrate with the two incredible young women I have mentored all year from the SMU Cox School of Business, Keya and Natalie, who also graduated this weekend. So of course, given the nerd that I am, I wanted to look up a formal definition of the word, “graduation” before I wrote about it:
1 : a mark or the marks on an instrument or container indicating degrees or quantity
2 a : an act or process of graduating b : the ceremony marking the completion by a student of a course of study at a school or college
I read these definitions over a few times and thought to myself, “Wow, these definitions seem so FINAL; like an ending to the story.” That is definitely NOT the message I was getting from the posts that accompanied all those pictures on Facebook and Instagram, nor was the idea of a definitive ending on the tongues of Natalie and Keya. If anything, the word, “graduation” was merely a passing-thru place that was a launch-pad of sorts for their respective, “what’s next.” What new adventures lay ahead? Who would I meet along the way? What have I learned in the last “x” years that will serve as lessons in the pathways ahead of me?
Wait…aren’t those the very same questions I have asked myself just this year as I contemplated on my “what’s next” and considered what adventures I might embark on in my 2nd half-century on this earth?
When I look at it this way, I realize that the answers I gave on those panels/interviews I have done where they have asked, “If you were to give advice to your 21 year old self, what advice would you give her” are the same for my SHE-self at 21 as they are for my SHE-self at almost 50 years old:
Follow your passion and, regardless of the number of detours and diversions, use those stepping stones, combined with that passion to find your “what’s next.” I love people, I love the strategic aspect of business, I love the psychology of building relationships, I could talk to a wall for hours, helping others is my passion and I believe in the healing power of yoga. Those passions, amidst life’s detours, have led me to the stepping stones of practicing psychology specializing in children for 11 years, working as a Development Consultant in aiding nonprofits that specialized in children and/or education, helping run a yoga studio, writing a book, speaking professionally across the country and founding a now 10-year-old WIB (Women in Business) Program that includes building networks and mentoring college-aged young women, all as an SVP at Veritex Bank. My vitae reads like a woman who is not sure what she wants to do with her life; my soul is joyful and my message to my 21-year-old SHE-self is that you can do and be whatever you want.
Life WILL throw you detours, curveballs, diversions and sometimes more than just a few “lemons”—don’t be afraid of them, but be prepared for them. I married the wrong guy the first time around, but have the most amazing children from that choice, so no regrets. I lost one of my best friends to suicide almost 17 years ago and still think of him often. My son almost lost his life at the age of 7 due to a bizarre staph pneumonia for which he was hospitalized for 2 weeks. All of this, while trying to build a business and raise a family. Sometimes life hands you lemons but why stop at just “making lemonade?” You can do this – so get up, brush yourself off and go build an entire franchise of lemonade stands with those lemons!
Don’t be an angry woman. Society, the media, social media, maybe even one of your professors or someone in your circle of friends and family will tell you that the world is unkind to women or that your climb in the professional world will be much like climbing Mt. Everest. Yes, 21-year-old SHE-self, some people in some companies and/or in some parts of the world will not be fair to women. But many are fair and supportive. You are strong, you are intelligent, you are strategic, you are empowered, you are engaging, you are feminine and proud of it and you are wise beyond your years. There is no need for anger. There is no room for anger. You will conquer the world if you will just get out of your own way.
True transparency might chase away a few folks, but it will always draw the ones that were meant to be your truest of friends even closer to you. One of the first lessons I taught my children after the very public spectacle that happened in our little world over 10 years ago was to “take the elephant out of the room.” I modeled to them that by making a simple statement of gratitude for the care and concern others offered us, followed by another simple statement about what had happened to us, any tensions or uncertainty could be dissipated. Then a funny thing happened…some of the people in our little circles did not like the transparency or the ugliness of the situation at hand. They preferred the “kick it under the carpet” method, which was not in my nature and not the life lesson I wanted to teach an 8 and 10 year old. Those people drifted outside of the circle (and I cried but I let them drift), the true friends stayed and inched ever closer to our hearts, and even a few unsuspecting new friends who had been on our circle’s perimeter “leaned in.” I learned a LOT about true friendship in the wake of an ugly tragedy.
Give back. I don’t necessarily mean money (although that is always an option!). Give your time, give your talents without getting paid, give your smile because it is the gift that keeps on giving and give your heart without fear. Which leads me to the last piece of advice for my 21-year-old SHE-self who, by now, is rolling her eyes and wondering how long this lesson is anyway???
Love fiercely. Loving fiercely, however, does not mean holding on to others too tightly. It does not mean being possessive, it does not mean “helicoptering.” Loving fiercely means to love unconditionally, to love confidently (because I’ve learned that confidence is sexy!), to love respectfully, to love enough to allow independence to flourish. Whether it is your significant other, your growing children or your aging parents…love fiercely, without fear and without anger. There is truly no greater love.
So, SHE-friends, this is your opportunity. What advice would your own SHE-self today give your 21-year-old SHE-self from “a few years ago.” You see, the beauty of this exercise is that there are no right or wrong answers. Only YOU know the lessons you have learned and, most importantly, only YOU know the SHE you were at 21. How far have you come? How far do we all still have to go? I hope that you will both share at least ONE of those pieces of advice in today’s comments section and then, if you see fit, SHARE this with the graduates in your life. After all, aren’t we all leaving something behind and embarking on a new day tomorrow? And isn’t graduation really about new beginnings on the journey of your personal evolution of SHE? Happy Graduation and have HOPE—there is more in you than you know!!!
Note from the SHE files: The Evolution of SHE is a series of events, milestones, adventures; a series of graduations!