Dear Graduates: Advice from a Millennial

Dear Graduates of 2017,

Congratulations! You made it! You could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but now you’re out of the tunnel completely! You’re done. You took all the tests. You wrote all the papers. You did your time. On to the next chapter, friends.

Transitioning out of high school is so very exciting because it’s like pushing the reset button. No matter what your high school experience was, you can move forward in a different way if you want to.

Didn’t have a great time in high school? It’s all water under the bridge!  Felt forced into a particular stereotype for the past four years? Done and done – break free! Bullied or teased? Take care of yourself – get the help you need, and do the hard work of healing. But also, move forward!

Pushing that reset button can also be terrifying – if you don’t know who you want to be. There are so many options! We have so many voices telling us who to be, what to do, what to believe, and how to act in society, that it’s really hard to decide at your age what’s next for you.

You may or may not know exactly what you want to do when you grow up, and that’s okay – my path isn’t anything what I thought it would be when I was 18. You may not know exactly who you are just yet. And that’s okay too – it gets better; the 20s are way fun! But today I’m going to give you a little bit of advice – as if you haven’t heard enough advice the past month, I know. And really, a millennial giving advice seems a bit much, doesn’t it? But despite what Boomers and GenXers with a chip on their shoulders like to say, I – a Millennial who received participation trophies as a child – have learned a few things over the years.

Tattoos are permanent.

You really only need to know two things about me: I’m a control freak, and I love the Beatles.

After graduating, I found myself caught in the rat race. I was stressed and anxious, and I never felt like I was good enough – perfectionism was my drug. This kind of lifestyle left me feeling completely out of control. And really, that’s one of the first lessons I learned as an adult – a lot of the time, I am out of control. I can’t change most things in life – what I look like, my IQ, most of my circumstances, the list goes on…But feeling out of control drove me crazy. So naturally – as any good Millennial would do – I got a tattoo.

“Let it Be.”

This was my perfect reminder that I just needed to let go and realize that I couldn’t be in control all the time.

Extra piece of advice: Y’all. Don’t get a tattoo while you’re in distress. Especially when the tattoo artist rolls his eyes and calls you “so original” when you tell him what you want tattooed on your body.

As much as I loved that tattoo – and I actually still do – looking back, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it if I really thought about the consequences further down the road. I knew what I was getting myself into – it wasn’t my first tattoo. I knew it was permanent. But I don’t think I fully grasped the concept “permanent.”

Our smallest and insignificant choices can actually turn out to be extremely permanent. What you post on Instagram, what you say to someone about someone else in confidence, what you decide to eat today. All of these little tiny choices add up, and if we keep making thoughtless and careless choices, it’s going to come back someday.

Keep in mind as you’re navigating through life that your choices matter. How you spend your time, who you spend your time with, how you spend your money, what you put in (and on) your body, it all matters. These choices all have lasting consequences.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I got into an argument. I was hell-bent on changing his mind and having my way, and I got all flustered about it. I could feel my face flush, and my words jumbled together. I was clearly out of control. In the middle of my sentence, I saw a sly smile creep across his face, and he said to me, “Melissa….just ‘let it be.’”

I can never win an argument ever again in my life because I have a tattoo that says Let it Be.

Tattoos are permanent.

Ovens are better than microwaves.

During the first couple years of marriage, our “go-to” meal was a burger patty and a sweet potato. While Bill cooked burgers on the George Foreman, I usually got the sweet potatoes ready. When we first started doing this, I tried a few different ways to cook the sweet potatoes. I boiled them, then I tried baking them in the oven, and I even made sweet potato fries once (but Bill ate all of them about 15 minutes before we went to Crossfit and got pretty sick, so that was the last time I did that).

But as life got busy, I started just microwaving them. Because it’s a lot quicker and easier. I can peel them if I want to, put them on a plate, pop them in the microwave for 15 minutes, and go do something else. And about the same time the burgers are ready, so are the sweet potatoes. No planning required.

Have you ever seen a microwaved sweet potato? It’s…weird.

It looks like a pencil eraser or some kind of sponge. Some of the extra water seeps out in weird ways that make it look like a milky film, and I can count rings on it like you do a tree. And I eat it not because I enjoy it, but because I’m really freaking hungry. I’ll tolerate it because it was easy.

But when I roast sweet potatoes – my mouth is watering just thinking about it. It takes a lot longer, but they taste so good. I set the oven, dice the sweet potatoes and toss them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I place them in the oven for 30 minutes. While I’m waiting, I can smell the sweetness cooking, and it makes me hungrier just thinking about it. I have to keep an eye on them to make sure they get the right amount of crispy, but if I take them out too soon, they’re rubbery. It takes time and a little bit of work.

In a world of microwavable dinners, get rich quick schemes, and this selfish mindset that we deserve to have whatever we want as quickly as possible, it’s really easy to give in to the mentality that I deserve whatever makes me happy right now.

But that’s just not true. We see it all over Pinterest and Instagram, and we hear it in chick flicks and in Twilight books, and we talk about our happiness as if it’s a microwavable dinner – that it’s quick, easy, painless, and that we don’t have to work for it. But it’s quite the opposite.

Long-term happiness and quality of life are actually inversely related to short-term happiness. For those of us who aren’t very good at math, that just means that long-term happiness sometimes comes at the expense of short-term happiness. If your goal is to have a great job someday, you’re going to have to sacrifice some of your down-time to study so you can get the grades. If you want kids, you have to stop acting like one. If you want to be able to retire at a certain age, you have to sacrifice part of each paycheck to go toward your retirement fund, which means living a simpler life right now. If you want to be fulfilled in the long-run, it takes work, sacrifice, and feeling a little uncomfortable now in order to invest in your future.

Short-term happiness is like a microwaved sweet potato. It may look good, and sometimes it even is good, but it’s not as good as roasted potatoes. The roasted potatoes take more work, and it takes longer to cook, but it’s worth it. Your long-term happiness – that I believe comes from joy in the Lord and serving others, not serving yourself – takes hard work and sacrifice. But it’s always worth it.

Ovens are better than microwaves.

Social media is not social.

So I have to admit. I actually wrote this piece a few years ago. The original text said: “How long can a video be on Vine?”

Does anyone even know what Vine is anymore?

That’s my point.

Social Media arose quickly. My high school years began with AIM (AOL Instant Messaging), and by the time I graduated, I was on Facebook. In between those years, I had a Xanga and a Myspace. It emerged quickly, but it has changed even quicker. So while you think your friendships may last past high school because of SnapChat, before you know it, that app will be obsolete. Then what?

We have fooled ourselves into thinking that we have friends because of the number of followers we have on Instagram. Or we measure our popularity and worth by the number of likes we got on our last post. How social are you, really, when you get together with your friends and all you do is pop onto your phones and not talk? What kind of depth is that?

Get off social media for awhile – and I’m preaching to the choir, y’all. Power off and look up for a second. Take in the beauty that is life. Make eye contact. Connect – really connect – with real people. Face to face.

Get plugged in to some kind of community that’s worth more than 140 characters. Talk about something meaningful – figure out ways to change the world for the better. Go outside and enjoy creation. Join a real community that’s going to last longer than the newest social media challenge – anyone even remember the Harlem Shake anymore? Find your identity in something other than the number of followers you have.

Social venues change and evolve through time, but there has been one movement, one community that has stood the test of time. It has endured empires and genocide; political turmoil and times of peace; it spans across time and space; it is not confined to one corner of the earth or one race, gender, ethnicity, or culture. This community – the Body of Christ – brings light to the darkness, and it started changing the world 2000 years ago. The Church is still changing the world today.

It’s bigger than you, and it’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than my small group or your local church or even one denomination. It’s certainly bigger than American Christianity, and it’s even bigger than our current global Christianity. When we join the Church, we join a cosmic movement and a cloud of witnesses who have come before us and will come after us. It’s so much bigger than my plans. Yet it’s small enough that it began in homes. With people. Eating bread and drinking wine together. Laughing. Talking. Singing.

This is the community I urge you to join, wherever you may go. Whether you stay near your hometown or move halfway around the world, you can find this kind of community. Wherever the bread and wine is, there is Christ. And all are welcome at that table.

Social Media is not social.

Dear ones, you have the world at your fingertips. You stand on the edge of the rest of your life, and boy, are you in for a wild ride. You’ve got ups and downs, twists and turns coming your way. You’ll learn more than you ever knew you could. You will meet the most amazing and strange and frustrating and wonderful people. With eyes wide and open hands, take it all in, green ones. You are about to embark on the most fun, scariest, toughest, and most magical days of your life. Here is your fresh start. Push that reset button, if you want to, and be on your way. Whatever your plans are after graduation, choose carefully and thoughtfully, work hard and sacrifice for your future, and change the world through meaningful community.

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