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8 Life-Changing Lessons I’ve Learned Since Graduation

by Frank Powell

I received my college diploma thirteen years ago. It feels like thirteen-hundred years ago, though. I’ve lived multiple lives since then, some of my own choosing, some not. 

Graduation is a crossroads. It’s one of life’s biggest transitions. 

The most important lessons you’ll learn are in front of you. Some lessons, however, I can tell you now because I’ve been there. These lessons, if you soak them in, can keep your life free from a lot of unnecessary suffering. Why do some people seem to thrive in the years to come and others don’t? How do you experience capital-l Life? I don’t have all the answers. But these might help. 

Because I’m a sharer, here are the most important lessons I’ve learned since graduation. These are true, by the way, whether you’re a graduate or not. 

Here we go. 

1. Nothing is wasted. Everything matters.

In the years to come, you will experience days so good and full that you will reach the end of them and ask, “Can life get any better than this? Surely not.” I’ve had a few of those days. You might think those days occurred in the big moments of my life. The day I got married and held my kids for the first time. And they did. But I also had them in otherwise ordinary settings. Hold onto these days. Soak them in. 

Because you will also have hard days. You will have really hard days, days where the suffering is so intense it feels tangible, like an actual hand is choking the life from your bones. Since graduating, I’ve been diagnosed with cancer. I’ve changed careers twice. I held my dream job in the palms of my life only to be told I wasn’t the man for it. I lost a family member to suicide. My parents divorced. I lost a child. Oh, and I developed a chronic illness that sucked the life from my bones and left me in language-less pain, bed-ridden for almost three years. 

It’s easy to look at the highs and the lows and the plateaus and assign them a moral value. This day is bad. This day is good. And so on. It’s natural to look at the failures and disappointments and setbacks and assume those days are a hindrance to your life’s journey. 

Don’t do this.

Because everything matters. God uses all of it. Every single moment of your life matters. The good, the bad, the ordinary. It all counts. Even our mistakes. Yes, God even uses our sin. Somehow and for some reason, he uses it. 

2. The world is not caving in. 

We need your optimism and hopeful naivete right now. The optimism that believes in the future. I hope you believe in the future. We need that so bad right now. Most of us no longer believe in our future. We’ve listened to too many talking heads, too many fear-mongering news analysts whose only objective is to sell us fear. They’re good salesmen (and women). We’ve bought it. 

We believe the human experiment is reaching its end. It’s not, though. Here are the facts. At this point in history, we’re experiencing all-time lows in infant mortality, poverty, famine, and violence. When COVID threatened to destroy us, we developed a vaccine in months and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Humanity is NOT on its last leg. The human experiment hasn’t failed. 

The best is yet to come. We need optimism that hasn’t been tainted by the suffering and cynicism of life. We need you. So give it to us. Show up and show us how we should live, with energy and passion and hope. 

3. Your integrity is more important than your accomplishments. 

In the days ahead, you will build a career and maybe find a spouse and build a family. You will face decisions of all kinds. In your decision-making, remember this: your integrity is the most thing about you. It’s more important than your job title. It’s more valuable than all the money in the world. Protect your integrity at all costs. 

Here the thing, though. Protecting your integrity will cost you. I don’t know how. But at some point, money or recognition or success or even friends or family will ask you to compromise your integrity. One or more of these things will ask you to make a decision that goes against who you are. Don’t do it. Whatever you gain is temporary. It’s fading, even as you acquire it. And what you sacrifice is far greater. You’re sacrificing the chance to live untethered from your true self.  

There’s great freedom in integrity. This is the only way to find freedom, by the way. Don’t give it away for a few coins or a fleeting title or false security.

4. Take care of yourself. 

I lived the first twenty-seven years of my life unconcerned with my body. I pushed myself at work. I pushed myself physically. I stayed up late. I ate too much. I didn’t establish boundaries in my relationships. I didn’t prioritize number one. 

When I turned twenty-eight, the years of neglect cost me. I began experiencing nausea and body aches that progressed into pain so severe I struggled to stand or leave my house. I became bed-ridden. 

Thankfully, I found a program that gave me my life back. I would’ve never lost it, though, had I taken care of myself. 

Self-care is not selfish. Make the decision now that you will prioritize yourself, your well-being. Take breaks. Pace your days. Get plenty of sleep. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are no medals for finishing first. Walk the marathon as often you can. 

Listen to your body. Your body speaks to you. If you listen to it, you could save yourself years of pain and suffering. 

5. Make mistakes. 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid of anything. If you’re going to fear something, though, fear the status quo. Fear comfort. Fear a life that reaches its end having accomplished nothing. Failure is not bad. Failure is a sign of life.

The mistakes you make provide the greatest opportunities for growth. As strange as this sounds, you must make mistakes to find capital-L life. So, don’t be afraid of them. Take risks. Fall down. When you do, get back up. Learn. Repeat. 

6. There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary life. 

There’s a toxic message that hovers in the atmosphere of America, a message that says your life is worthless unless you live in the spotlight. You must cure cancer or amass thousands of TikTok followers or whatever. This is a lie. The allure of fame is huge. The payoff is not. 

There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary life, a life where you love the people around you and care for your community and prioritize your well-being and make the right choices. This is the good life. This is where you find joy and peace and hope. 

7. Live in kairos time, not chronos time. 

Time has two systems of measurement: chronos and kairos. The first is clock time. It’s the hours and minutes and seconds as determined by the thing on wrist. Most people are enslaved to this time. This is not the way God created us to live, though. It’s a mindless existence. We go from here to there, and never stop to ask why we’re doing what we’re doing. It leaves no space for the presence of God. 

Always leave space to experience the presence of God. This is kairos time.

Kairos is transformative time. It’s God time. Kairos is time outside the clock hands. When you live this way, you’re not enslaved to the hours in the day. You can stop and ask questions. You can look for God. You see opportunities. You prioritize what you value most. 

You don’t have to live in the shackles of the clock. You can choose a different path. This is the path all the great ones choose. It’s hard. It requires awareness and intentional decisions and sacrifice. But living in kairos time is the only way to experience True Life.

8. Never stop learning. 

Most of your life, teachers threw assignments in your face and told you to read this or that book and come back the next time with the right answer. All that is over. 

Congrats. Now, I would like to welcome you to the classroom of life. This is your most important class, more important than all your previous classes combined. You never graduate from this class. You have no assignments or textbooks, and there are no wrong answers. The only way to fail this class is to refuse to show up, to live your coming days in willful ignorance, indulging every selfish desire.

A lot of people stop learning after they graduate. I pray you don’t. This is the surest way to waste your life. The world has so much to teach you, so many beautiful and amazing lessons. If you press in, you can experience a life you never thought possible.

Visit new places. Read a lot of books. Learn from different people. Stay curious. This is your task for the remainder of your life. It’s a humbling and exhilarating task. 

_______

Here’s to a new season. May you learn and grow. May you find peace and love and joy. Good luck. 

Grace and peace, friends.

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