This is the commencement address you probably won’t hear.
It’s my life’s work to help others find their work life freedom. I believe that work life happiness and work life freedom go hand in hand. In terms of the work choices available to new graduates and their willingness to seize their work life freedom, not a lot has changed in the 35 years since I’ve graduated college.
New graduates with technical skills can generally find higher-paying entry-level employment. But this message is for well-rounded, right–brained, Bachelor of Arts grads – the modern day generalists and renaissance men and women. You are dubiously blessed with many interests and the ability to do a lot of things well. Who you are, what you can do, and the options available to you are what seem to make your employment prospects gloomier.
In 1973, I was you. Much like today, it was a tight job market for new graduates. I had just graduated with a degree in Political Science that I suspected I’d never apply to my actual career. Social unrest and the Vietnam War had soured me on ever working in politics.
I began to look for work. After a few months, my options were between two lousy choices. I could enter the management-training program of a national steakhouse chain, or I could take a self-employed position selling life insurance on straight commission. I often wonder what turns my life may have taken if I had chosen differently? I was young and ignorant, yet I accepted the insurance opportunity simply because of the work life freedom it offered. As long as I sold enough, no one told me what to do or where to go – and I found that deeply appealing. I made an important decision based on what I valued, even if I wasn’t even aware of the concept of values until much later in life.
That’s my point. Even though you may be unaware of it – your life is speaking to you right now. Are you listening? To do so, you’ll need to tune out all the chatter of well-meaning folks who want you to conform and take the best job you can get. But is a job really right for you? At what price will you compromise your freedom and your happiness?
If you are one of those uncertain renaissance folks, I want you to know that you are truly more fortunate because you don’t exactly fit any existing employment positions. I know this can be a very scary time for you. Many of you feel that getting a job means growing up and surrendering your freedom. Well, you’re right about that. I can understand your hesitation; who in their right mind voluntarily surrenders their freedom?
I also understand that a lot of fear around the lack of money comes into play in all of your decisions. You may need to temporarily put your dreams on the side burner while you create a small financial reserve. But even if you go for a job for only financial reasons, allow your heart and soul to have some say in the decision. Every choice you make has consequences. Even some for-the-money-only jobs are better for you than others.
I’ve seen a lot after 10 years of work life happiness coaching. I’d like you to consider this. What if you didn’t have to give up your freedom? What if you could be paid well just for being yourself? Would that be appealing? What would you do if you knew, beyond any doubt, that the following three statements were true and would turn out to be true for you?
1. Even now your life is trying to speak to you through your available options. It may be hard to get your attention, but somewhere among your options is a choice that will ultimately serve you well because it will put you on the path that is a better fit for who you are. It’s your duty to choose the option that will make you feel most alive.
2. It’s more likely that you’ll find your work life happiness and freedom in a self-employed opportunity of your own creation than in the higher paying, but much more restricted, life of an employee. Your parents and most everyone else will want you to be cautious and go for the steady, more stable financial situation. This will calm their fears, but they aren’t the ones who could end up slaving away in uninspired work for the next 35-40 years. You are. It’s your life and your choice.
3. You may not think that you have what it takes to be your own boss own right now, but your suitability to life and work will increase sooner by boldly claiming your freedom now. The longer you wait to be the person you really are, the more difficult it will be to choose what makes you happy. Even if you miss badly, the experience of going for it will ultimately pay off for you.
Life is challenging. However, by being genuine and by making authentic choices, we get more competent at living. Meeting challenges, and not just going through the motions, is the only kind of life worth living.
“Self-esteem fully realized is the experience that we are appropriate to life and to the requirements of life. To trust one’s mind and know that one is worthy of happiness is the essence of self-esteem.” Nathaniel Branden
You are worthy. You are capable. Who you are is enough to create a life of freedom and happiness. Get started today. You can be true to yourself now or you can believe in the “make money first” myth and hire a career coach like me after two decades of uninspired living. The choice is yours. It’s your life. Be happy now.