To the graduating class

What defines success? A better question, in my opinion, is “who” defines success? For most of us, the simple answer is “someone else,” someone else defines our goals and ambitions. Call it peer pressure or societal expectations or a parent or role model saying “Go to college, get a job, join the military,” we all get steered in life’s journey to some degree.

Many people, maybe most people, never take control of their own lives. Instead, they allow outside influences to control them. Sometimes we need steering, and life immediately after high school is probably one of those times. But please know that as you build life experience, the power to control your life is in your hands. This is a scary concept because suddenly there is no one else to blame for our perceived failures. But truth is power, so relish your failures, dust yourself off, get up, and try again.

Define your success carefully, because the basis for that definition will largely determine the course of your entire life. Question your definition of success thoroughly and often, because it will probably change to some degree over time. My definition of success changed dramatically when we had children, and it continues to change with life circumstance.

Here are four short pieces of advice to help determine and shape your individual definition of success.

First: Embrace challenge. Some challenges will be chosen, but many will not. Accept that life is not fair, look challenge squarely in the eye, and live with enthusiasm.

Second: Express yourself. Whether if it’s by singing a song, painting a picture, writing a story, or speaking about meaningful things with friends and family, listening to yourself communicate is a wonderful way of determining what rings true and what does not.

Third: Don’t quit. This does not mean never alter course or change strategies. Effort is measured in inches and feet and miles, but success is measured by the will to keep trying.

And finally: Laugh often and loudly. Be true to yourself and be courageous in showing the world who you really are. Thank you.

June 8, 2015, Oak Harbor, Washington.

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