To The Class of 2020

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You live in strange times.

You dream of greatness, of achievement, of success. Others have captured their dreams. You’re no different from them. You can earn your desires. You either have a plan or you know you can make a plan, by yourself or through the aid of helpful allies.

But now, at this very moment, your life has been disturbed, uprooted by forces you cannot control. Your carefully crafted plans, your jubilant expectations, your equitable share, all have been stripped from you. Together, they represent a loss you can never regain.

You are not alone.

Why do bad things happen to good people? This is a question long asked by theologians, pondered by philosophers, and analyzed by psychiatrists. Yet, for all the mental, physical, and financial resources devoted to solve its enigma, the query persists, as baldly – and boldly – unanswered as when it was first asked.

Do you find yourself asking this very same question?

You are not alone.

For all the promise of the ideal, life remains fundamental unfair. It is nature’s way. You find yourself caught up in a maelstrom of chaos. You can only wonder, “Why? Why me?”

You are not alone.

Others share your experience – other peers, other generations, other eras. It is this mystery of life that inspired good and bad, everything from churches to cults to movements to revolutions.

It is a living rhythm that plays on forever. Each different group of people see themselves as a unique chord. Successive generations can be heard as a progression of chords. Yet the theme endures as the music plays on.

I can’t say I can answer the question for you. But I can offer you a way out. It’s an escape route used by others in many places across many centuries.

First, know the demons surrounding you. Only by recognizing them can you elude them.

But it requires more than admitting they exist. It demands more than just seeing them. You must become them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to perform evil acts. To paraphrase ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in The Art of War, you must step into the shoes of your enemy to outsmart him.

To defeat those opposed to you, you must know their every move. To know their every move, you must think like them. To think like them, you must feel the sum of their experiences. In other words, you must empathetically walk the same path they have walked.

There’s another saying that captures this same sentiment: Only saints know more about sin than sinners.

Why is that so? It’s not because saints must first commit a sin before they can become enlightened. No. It’s because, by knowing sin, saints have identified a way out, a way to avoid sin, a way to live the ideal life – the life of their dreams.

Here’s one of those demons stalking you right now. It’s the demon of boredom. It rips you of your dreams by tempting you to be complacent. It satisfies your immediate thirst only to rob you of the drink of long-term prosperity.

Are you willing to sacrifice your future for a quick smile today? If so, you lose all rights to complain about where you are when your future comes upon you. Are you willing to cede control of your life? This demon voraciously desires that you will.

And here’s when you’re most vulnerable: that instant immediately after the completion of a big achievement. Maybe for you, that would be right now. If it is, watch out!

The enemies that seek to shackle you are always there. They come in many forms. They can be the person you’re sitting next to. They can be your favorite digital device. They can be your family, your friends, your co-workers.

Each can help you grasp that dream you have. Each also, sometimes without intent, can divert your attention down a dead-end street. Sure, it might sound fun and “woke” at the time, but is it really moving you closer to what you want? Or is it moving you closer to somebody else’s dream.

Carpe Diem. “Seize the Day.” That’s a call to action that can work both ways.

If you treat it as an opportunity to explore, to build, to move one step closer to your lifetime dream, then grabbing control of each day is a useful strategy.

If, on the other hand, you use it as an excuse to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die,” then you are allowing this single day to control you. Again, is this an epithet you seek? Do you want your tombstone to read: “Here lies Suzie. She traded the dream of her life for a single day”?

The demon does. And it’s coming to get you. Every. Single. Day.

There’s a way to throw rocks at those pesky demons, and carpe diem offers a useful hint: opportunity.

Stop reading this for a moment to consider what opportunity you can take advantage of right now.

Are you back? Did you think of something?

Rather than carpe diem, you should carpe potestatem (“seize the opportunity”).

A better way of describing this productive tactic is occupandi temporis (“seize the moment”). Each moment is rife with opportunities. All it takes is an attentive ear, a watchful eye, and craving to connect dots in ways most people don’t.

How does this work? It’s easier than you can imagine

If life tells you to go to your room, go to your room. But once you’re there, take a paper and pencil (or your computer) and spend some time in solitary doing something you’ve never done because you never thought you had time to do it. Just because life is telling you to go to your room doesn’t mean it’s telling you what to do once you get there.

If life tells you to eat your vegetables, eat your vegetables. But mix them in a stir fry pan with spices and sauces so they taste like your favorite dish. Feel free to throw some meat or pasta on the platter. Just because life tells you to eat your vegetables doesn’t mean it’s also telling you not to eat meat or pasta.

If life tells you the store is closed, don’t shop there. Shop online or at another store that’s open. If they don’t have your favorite brand, try a new one you’ve always wanted to try but that convenience and habit had prevented you from doing so. Just because life tells you your favorite store is closed doesn’t mean you can’t shop.

In each case, you’re seizing the opportunity presented at that very moment. You’re not idling away your time alone in your room. You’re not moping at the kitchen table complaining about your vegetables. You’re not throwing a tantrum because other stores are open but your favorite store is closed.

No. You’re doing what you want to do. You’re moving one tiny step closer to your lifetime dream.

After all, it is your dream.

Seize it.

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