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Life Lessons from a Millennial

My niece, Sam Raeder, graduated from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) this past weekend.

Don’t worry. This isn’t a nostalgic post about what an intelligent, talented, funny and beautiful woman she is. All that is true, of course, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

With my adult hubris, it never occurred to me that I would learn from her. So the first thing I learned—or was reminded of, again—is that life lessons come to us from all people of all ages.

The second thing I learned from her is to just get your stuff done. From time to time, I’m a procrastinator. One of the things that has impressed me about Sam is that she doesn’t create a lot of unnecessary drama when it’s time to get stuff done.

There’s no avoiding a dreaded task by cleaning the bathroom (for sure, there is no cleaning the bathroom), complaining about how hard it will be or opting to take a nap. She just dives in and gets it done. Her philosophy, so far as I could tell, was straightforward:

You have a test, you study for it.

You have a paper due, you write it.

You have lines to learn for a play, you memorize them.

You put the time in, do the work, and the outcome is usually pretty good.

This isn't rocket science, but for some reason, I forget it every time I face a task that is onerous. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t waste a bunch of time avoiding the task in front of you. Which leads me to the other lesson she reminded me of:

“Go all in.”

She chose to write an English thesis. She didn’t have to. She would’ve graduated anyway with the same grade point. But she chose to do it—for the intellectual challenge of it. For the experience of conducting a long-term project and undergoing all the trials and tribulations that come with such an endeavor: finding a topic you’re passionate about; pursuing ideas that turn out to be dead ends; wrestling with how to incorporate feedback from teachers and mentors who have conflicting opinions.

She also went all in on her friendships. She didn’t hold back. She opened herself up to making deep connections. Sometimes, as adults, we forget how to do that. We shy away, hold a piece of ourselves in reserve, don’t take risks.

And what does that get us? A life that hovers between okay and fine.

I just came from her house where she’s sitting in a living room full of her friends saying their last good-byes. When I got to the house, her eyes were red and puffy from crying. She is going to miss college, her friends, the routine. She’s slept five feet away from her best friend for the past three years, and now that friend is moving to Hawaii.

This is the part that people don’t talk about: College can be the greatest experience of your life. And then it ends. Ouch.

It hurts.

Yep. It sure does.

That’s what it means to love. To love what you do, who you are with, to love your life and squeeze the most living out of it. As Thoreau put it: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

She didn’t shy away from any of it. She embraced it with her whole heart.

It wouldn’t hurt so damn much if she hadn’t gone all in. And what’s the point of that?

For those of us who forgot what it was like to dive in or who gave up on our dreams a long time ago, or who just plain got tired... what’s stopping you from going all in now?

I bet I can take a guess. For most of us, it’s fear of some kind. We are afraid of failing or afraid of succeeding or afraid of someone not approving of our decisions or afraid of losing friends or getting too busy or… but in the end, it boils down to fear.

When I live my life to avoid what I am afraid of, though, I’ll tell you what happens: I get cranky and depressed.

But when I dive in and just get shit done without worrying about the outcome and what it all means…I’m a whole lot happier. And a whole lot easier to live with.

Going all in means opening up. Being vulnerable. Risking your own failure and facing your fears.

But I can tell you the price you pay if you don’t.

A life that hovers between okay and fine.

The choice really is yours.

If you’re feeling confused about what the next steps are for you in your career, email me to set up a free mini-session by phone.

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