Graduation is Just the Beginning

I’ve seen dozens of Facebook comments about and photos of college graduations over the past few days. I’m happy and excited for the new graduates and their families. I remember our younger daughter’s graduation last year, and our older daughter’s graduation four years ago. This summer our older daughter is getting married, and in the next year, she will graduate from graduate school. Both daughters are excited and terrified at the process of becoming adults (and learning that the process comes in sputtering fits and false starts). They are both remarkably mature young women though, and in truth, they seem so much older and wiser than I was when I was in my early to mid twenties.

It seems like a century ago since I received my Ph.D. I was a new mother then, and learning to be both a parent and attempting to find a place in academia, a place I never found. But that is OK–because it gave my other opportunities. I am a different person now, more confident in myself.

Recent articles, such as this one in The Atlantic, have discussed the confidence gap that many women feel. I know my own lack of self-confidence and self-doubt have probably influenced the tract of my career (or lack thereof). I sometimes grimace at some of the things I said and did when I was younger. At the same, I am comfortable with the decisions I’ve made and with who I am. I suspect I am fortunate in this. I have also tried to learn from my mistakes. I have found that to some extent the old adage about wisdom coming with age is true. Not that all elderly people are wise necessarily, but rather that life experience helps to teach us, IF we want to learn. In a comment on someone’s blog recently, I mentioned how I learned from giving a really awful presentation—I learned to trust my own judgment about what should be in my presentation, not what others, who are not experts, tell me they think they want me to discuss.

At the same time, I know I need to push myself to do things, such as presentations. And sometimes, I just have to DO them and take a risk, and ignore the “what ifs.” (Every time I push the “publish” button for a blog post I’ve written, it is preceded by a few seconds of “should I?” doubt.)

There is also the curse of perfectionism. Maybe I need to add one more thing. Maybe I’m not good enough to do this?

I love this quote by Anne Lamott:

“It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. (Wait, forget the prowling satanic lion — your parents, living or dead, almost just as loudly either way, and your aunt Beth, and your passive-aggressive friends, whom we all think you should ditch, are going to ask, “Oh, you’re writing again? That’s nice. Do you have an agent?”)”

And I’ve faced this, too–the people who think I don’t work because my I write from home, and my schedule is flexible. Sometimes. Thank goodness for deadlines, right?

So new graduates, I have no advice for you. Because really, who am I to give you advice? All I can say is this: Live your life. Be the best you that you can be. You will make mistakes, but continue on, and learn from them, if you can. Oh yes, and one more thing, cherish your friends and loved ones. The ones who truly love you will love you even when you make mistakes. They will also give you confidence boosters and an occasional “go do it already” kick-in-the-butt—which, let’s face it, is sometimes the thing we need the most. Well, along with coffee, chocolate, and wine.

I’m pushing “publish” now. Let me know what you think. And now I better get to work.

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Graduation is Just the Beginning

  1. I started reading this post with anticipation and ended with a smile. One of your best lines I thought was “sputtering fits and false starts” as descriptive of the modus operandi of graduates. But every time I start something new – like blogging last year – I share those feelings though I have put away my graduation tassel a long time ago.

    Unless I stop learning, I will always have to confront self-doubt, which Sylvia Plath says is the worst enemy of creativity. Thanks for promoting the article about the confidence gap in The Atlantic which I have read. Mary Gottschalk (featured on Saturday’s blog post), had a similar commentary on her website recently about this same piece.

    I appreciate too your including the wisdom of Ann Lamott, one of my favorite authors who always tells it like it is. Beautiful post, Merril.

    • Thank you so much, Marian, for your kind and thoughtful comments. I agree that self-doubt is the enemy of creativity. I read your blog post on Mary Gottschalk and then read her post, as well. I had also heard a discussion on about the confidence gap on NPR a few weeks ago, so it was all mulling about in my brain. Again, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post!

  2. So enjoyed this post. Not only do I think of my own youth but that of my daughter’s as she raises her own young, and looks to me for advice and answers I sometimes can’t give. I grew up with a variety of role models, but none of them my own mother. Although we mature, that sneaky confidence “gap” can follow us even into an age when we’re supposed to be the ones who know.

    “Live your life. Be the best you that you can be.” Is the best anyone can advise. And when in doubt, there’s always coffee, chocolate and wine 😉

    • Thank you, Susan. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I am fortunate to have a very supportive mother, although our lives and goals have been very different. And though we can’t always have the answers to our children’s questions, we can listen. I agree with you that the shadow of self-doubt can–and does–follow us through life. I suppose we have to recognize that it’s there, but try to ignore it. And have more chocolate and wine. 🙂

  3. I loved the article, which I’ve arrived at several days late. It seems we share a confidence gap, as well as a recognition of the need to avoid perfectionism (is the latter the solution to the former?)

    But the right answer, really, was that you do the best you can “along with coffee, chocolate, and wine.”

    • Thanks so much, Mary! I’m glad you had a chance to read the post and that you enjoyed it. I will have to think about the perfectionism. Right now, I’m going for the chocolate. 🙂

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