The beginning of the end/the end of the beginning

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The same thing happens to me every year.

I’m heading to work in the same sleepy way I start pretty much every day. (I wish I could say I WAKE UP EVERY DAY READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD! but that would be a dirty lie. Plus, annoying.)

So there I am, riding the train with all the other groggy commuters as we all zone out, staring at the free paper the guy pushes in our hands on our way in, or at our various depersonalizing digital devices, or at nothing at all, eyes unfocused until the conductor calls out our stop.

Eventually, my stop is called. I get up, moving forward slowly with the zombie-walking masses onto the platform and up the escalator.

As I emerge on to the main level of the station – which just so happens to double as a footpath through campus – I remember that it’s not a routine, mundane day at all.

It’s graduation day.

And every year, the sight of those no-longer college students, those-not-so-young-anymore young adults, dressed in their grown-up best with black polyester gown flapping open in the late spring breeze, gets me.

Now sure, I may also have been known to tear up at a really well constructed Coca-Cola commercial, BUT STILL. It’s a pretty amazing sight.

I mean, think about everything this moment – wearing the respectable yet still-uncomfortable heels Mom insisted you’d need for job interviews and carrying the mortarboard hat you stayed up until 2am decorating with scrapbook material from Target – represents.

It doesn’t only represent the end of your childhood. It represents the beginning of the rest of your life – the part where you start down the path you’ve chosen over the past 4-6 years, and continue down that path until…maybe…forever? AND EVER? Let’s hope you made the right choice (nervous laughter). BUT NO PRESSURE. Enjoy your day!

Oh right. That’s where that glint of terror in their eyes comes from. It’s hiding behind the breathless anticipation of all the pomp and circumstance, sure, but it’s there.

There’s an exuberant finality to this Hallmark-approved milestone that makes graduation both really, really exciting and really, really scary, all at once.

When I was a kid, I always thought of adulthood as this time where you’d become A Thing – a doctor, a lawyer, the president, a rock star – and then you did that Thing for the rest of your life.

But speaking as a Certified Grown-Up (GU-C) myself, I think we need to rethink our thinking on this. Mentally committing yourself to one profession for the rest of your life at the age of 22 feels a little like preparing for years to climb Mt. Everest, finally making it to the top, and then pitching a tent (presumably a very small one) and staying there FOREVER.

Yes, graduation day is exciting. But it’s really just the beginning of the rest of your life – just like every day is the beginning of the rest of your life. (Except this one comes with a really good party and thirty years of loan repayment.)

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re not sure you’ve found your Thing by the time you’re standing there with that heavily decorated cardboard square on your head, don’t let it get you down. Even those of us who thought we’d found our Thing by the time we graduated from college, or grad school, or insert-milestone-here, later realized that the person we’d become wanted to do another Thing altogether.

Because that’s life. Life is evolution. The person we are at 22 might not be the person we are at 30, or 40, or 55. Each of those people has learned some new stuff about themselves and the world, and the super fun thing about all of this is that each of those people gets to decide to change course and start doing a completely different Thing if they feel like it. It might not be easy, or cheap, but it’s your choice to make.

So with that, here’s to all my soon-to-be-former patients: enjoy the party, tell Sallie Mae I said hello when she comes calling, don’t forget to get that repeat Pap in 6 months – and in the meantime, just do the Thing you think you’re meant to be doing, right now. The rest will sort itself out in the end.

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