May 13, 2014

Graduates, what is most important to you?

Dear graduates:
By now your people-giving-you-advice sponge is saturated and dripping.  I know.  But could you
tolerate a tad more advice?  If so, here are six things that I didn’t learn in high school or college. The pillars that supported me were always there, but I was about 35 before I was mature enough to recognize and articulate this:
     “Figure out—sooner than I did—what really matters to you.  And then, design a road map to get you to where you want to be. “   Remember the adage: “Overnight success usually takes about 20 years.”  
     As you think about your future, I share what’s important to me:

1. Faith

     In America, we have the right to choose our religion.  I was blessed to be born into a home where Christianity was a cornerstone.  The power of prayer was manifested, day after day.  Choose what’s right for you.  And don’t fail to have faith in yourself, your fellow man or your country.  Faith won’t keep you from being disappointed, but I’ve found faith to be a reliable ballast in rough waters.

2. Family

     You can’t choose your family, but I couldn’t have chosen better.  I know I’m lucky.  My dad once told me, “I never heard ‘I love you’ from my father.”  But I can’t count the times my father expressed his love for my mother, my sisters and me.  My parents instilled in us that there’s nothing more precious than family.  Coach Bear Bryant’s words to his football team still resonate with me.  He said, “Call your mama tonight.  I wish I could call mine.”  

3. Friends

      If you are dying and can count five friends who are unconditionally loyal to you, consider yourself very fortunate.  I treasure my friends.  Some have been by my side since our diaper days.  And I hope they know I’m there for them, too.  Family and friends are the only true wealth you ever accumulate.  When it comes to my family and friends, neither Bill Gates nor Warren Buffett can buy what I have.

4. Fitness

     What you put into your mind is just as important as what you put into your mouth.  We have one body and one mind.  It’s up to us to be good stewards of both.   I know how easy it is to be lazy when it comes to exercise and diet.   I struggle.  The challenge is discipline to keep your fitness—mental and physical—in good shape.

5. Finances

     You can’t live without money, but we must remember that greed is as destructive as gluttony.  The biblical Good Samaritan is remembered for his good deeds, but his financial wherewithal funded aid to the stranger.  My dad was more than conservative with his money.  He was tight, but generous—within his means—with our family.  He preached: “Live below your means, and you’ll always have enough.”  When I keep my priorities straight, the money has a better chance of working out. 

6. Fun

     I enjoy work, but I play as hard as I work.  The effort comes in balancing the two.  Years ago, our older son said, “Dad, you never have any fun.”  Now that Alan is a father, he understands how much fun it is to watch your children having fun.  Sitting in the boat and seeing a grandson reel in a broad-shouldered bream is better—for me—than holding the pole. 
     The evangelist Billy Sunday supposedly said, “Very few souls are won after 20 minutes.”  I’ll end my preaching with Winston Churchill’s advice: “Never, never, never give up.”  
     The world is depending on you to make a difference.