Unsolicited Advice for Graduates
By now you've asked the question, "What should I do with my life?" Or, someone you know has asked you, "So, what are you going to do with the rest of your life."
No pressure, right?
At this time of your life everyone older than you loves to ask hard questions and give advice. They'll tell you things you might not understand or agree with. And they may, inadvertently, pressure you into thinking like them, or doing what they did, because, you know, it's the best way.
Well, I'm here to tell you that there isn't one best way. Why?
Because you are you. And we all of us walk the path ourselves. What works for one person, won't work for everyone. The only real true universal life advice is that we're all different and we'll each one of us experience a life unique to us.
With all that said, I'd thought I'd join in the advice giving. But I want you to know, this advice comes from my own unique experience. And it's just three brief nuggets you can mix up with Uncle Frank's or Aunt May's and see what you get. Ok, here goes:
1. Remember to always ask, for every decision you ever make, "What does God think of this?"
How can anyone know the mind of God, or what he thinks? Does God, who is spirit, even have a brain that thinks?
As a Christian, I do believe we can know the mind of God, albeit only as far and deeply as our small finite minds can take us. He reveals his mind to us in book of Nature, what we like to call general revelation, and in his Logos, the man Christ Jesus as communicated to us through the Holy Scriptures.
All that can seem intimidating. But all we need to do is ask, seek, knock.
Growing up, whenever I'd ask my mom and dad for advice they'd ask me a question right back: "Well Tim, have you prayed about it? What does God think of it?"
It frustrated me at times. I just wanted told what to do. Give me the answer. Which way do I go, left or right? Do I go to college or put it off for a year? Do I take this job now that I've graduated from college? Do I marry this person I've been dating?
And besides, when you're 18 or 22, it's not always easy to understand what it means for God to have an opinion on things. How am I supposed to know? Is God going to text me his thoughts on the matter?
No, he isn't.
My parent's advice pushed me into very mysterious spiritual waters. Waters that were too deep for me. But they'd push me out into those waters every time I asked for their advice. And each time I floated out, I understood better how to swim in them.
I learned that God isn't going to necessarily send me a letter, telling me what to do with my life. But he will affirm something in my heart that I'd been feeling, sensing.
What does God think of it? It's a question that can also jolt you back onto the spiritual path.
On more than one occasion when they asked me that question I was forced to admit to myself that I really wasn't seeking God in much. I wasn't "walking" with the Lord.
This idea of "walking with the Lord" can sound a little like Christian jargon. But it's not. It's actually a beautiful way to describe the uniqueness of the Christian faith: its relational quality.
The idea that you and I can walk with, commune with, talk with the God who created the universe is quite staggering. We should never brush such an idea aside because our parents use it.
Often, I was just using God, or my faith, as a crutch. No real intimacy, just a plastic relationship. More transactional than anything.
The question forced me to evaluate my relationship with God.
And let me tell you one thing that is true for everyone. When you are walking with God, and you ask him something. He may send you in a direction that is totally unexpected; a direction that might look foolish to your parents, or to your family and friends, and even to you.
But you will know in your heart if it's where you should go. How?
It will resonate with a desire God himself has planted in your heart. And when you feel that resonance, it's an incredible and scary feeling. But it also affirms your direction.
2. The best advice doesn't tell you what to do, it teaches you how to think.
I am always suspicious of people who tell you exactly how you should do something; especially when it pertains to your life.
If there are people in your life who love to lay out how life works for you, beware. Listen to them, for sure. But keep in mind that some of the best advice you'll ever receive will be in the form of a question (see number 1).
It will help you think better about the opportunities before you.
Over the years I've had the pleasure of offering advice to some very dear people in my life. Close friends who were looking down the road of life. Often, they'd ask questions like, "What do you think I should major in?" or "What do you think about this opportunity?"
I found myself asking a question back to them: "Well, what are you passionate about?"
It's a question we seldom ask in this get-it-done-I-need-to-make-money world of ours. But it's a question that cuts to the core of many questions that concern vocation. It forced them to remain true to who they were as an individual.
Rather than telling them to do this or that, I simply asked them what resonated with their passions.
So, be wary of people telling you to do this or that. The best advice doesn't tell, it asks.
3. Follow Your Heart, Not The Unsustainable Version of Success the World Wants to Sell You
Yeah, I know, "follow your heart" sounds cliche. And that's fine if you think that. But before you brush me aside as a hopeless romantic (and you'd be right about that by the way) let me explain.
If your heart is God's, then there can be no better compass in your life. (Again, see #1)
Earlier I spoke of that resonance between what God puts in your heart and your own desires. If you can figure out how to discern the ocean of wonder and power that is YOUR HEART you will be on your way to answering many other questions that will surface in your life.
The world will hold all these shiny objects in front of you: a car, a big house, a crazy bank account, status, gaudy vacations. You name it, they will hoist it in front of you as your life-carrot. "Here," they'll say, "chase this, and your life will be complete."
But don't you see what they've done?
They've removed you from your passions and desires, the ones you feel sizzle in you when you pray, the true ones. And once they get you away from your God-filled heart, they will say, "So, if you want all this, then you must ... go to college, get a good paying job, open up a retirement account, and so on and so forth."
They will try to fill your heart with false infinites, as C.S. Lewis liked to put it. Things in the world that will seem like they can and will satisfy but that will only keep you pining for that special something.
So I ask you. Who's reality is that? God's? Or the world's?
I was kicked out college at the age of 20.
It was embarrassing at the time. Now, I'm kind of proud of it. But when it happened, I thought my life was over, because of course, college was something I had to have in order to succeed.
It was a scary time. And it was the months following my expulsion that I actually gave my life to Jesus.
When I did, I felt his joy in me in very tangible ways. When I read Scripture, the words seemed to jump inside of my heart.
God climbed into me, and tore me up, then rebuilt me. And that rebuilding process sent me on a 14 year odyssey!
That's right. It took me 14 years to finish my undergraduate degree. Every time I stepped out of it to do something I knew God wanted me to do, people told me, "Be careful Tim, once you leave college, chances are you won't go back."
And I'm sure they said other things about me that I didn't hear.
Says who? I thought.
During those 14 years I toured the country playing in a band. I pursued something I always wanted to do: write, sing, and perform music. It was an invaluable experience, one I still draw from now as a father and husband.
What if I had heeded all those people telling me to turn a deaf ear to my heart. It was through that touring experience I met my wife. My life today would not even exist.
While many of my friends were already settled into marriage, and "real" jobs, I was touring the country in a Ford Econoline van and working in a screen printing shop making no money.
And you know what? I loved it. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.
One of my dear friends played nearly two decades in the NFL and we are roughly the same age (he's older, ha!). I kid him and say, "While you were winning Super Bowls I was growing my hair out and living like a gypsy singing music."
It makes me smile because he and I both look back and see the hand of God in our lives. And we both couldn't be happier with where God's taken us. Two paths, unique to us both. And all part of God's plan for our lives. All part of listening to that nudge on the inside. All part of stepping into opportunities God places before us.
I'm not sitting here telling you to skip out on college. I mean, for crying out loud, I recently received my PhD. Trust me, I believe in college, and graduate school.
What I am sitting here encouraging you with this fact: When God has your heart, and you trust all the joy and wonder and mystery he's poured into you, you're life will look a lot different when you follow it, rather than whatever the world wants to sell you.
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