As graduation season comes into view, I have some advice for those who are entering a new phase of life called adulthood. The advice is good for the rest of us as well. If you know a grad, think about including this column in the gift or card you give them in recognition of their achievement.
Social scientists today tell us that adolescence, once a description of age 12 to 18, now is expanded to age 30 in terms of behavior. It used to be understood that children were raised to take the step into adulthood after graduating high school. That meant intentionally putting away childish attitudes, emotions and behaviors in order to take one’s place in adult society. While this transition may have been gradual, it was nonetheless intentional. At least it used to be.
But that’s changed. Statistics prove that many “twenty-somethings” are unsettled in their lives, careers, relationships and even addresses until into their 30s. While having adult bodies, they continue to think and act like children. Tragically, this is having a negative effect on our society.
So, for all the grads out there, here are some thoughts on leaving adolescence behind in favor of a satisfying adulthood. To make them easy to remember we’ll call them the 4 C’s.
Character: More than anything else, invest in who you need to be. Character is the result of convictions combined with courage. It is knowing right from wrong, and courageously pursuing right regardless of the consequences. It is being faithful to the highest values, persistent in their outworking, and consistent in ways that make others look to you as trustworthy, and capable of handling greater responsibility.
No amount of talent, energy, or position can put in what character leaves out. Understand that this world is not easy, and those who fail to form a solid ethical foundation will most often end up with empty lives, no matter how large their portfolio.
Competency: With character as the foundation, successful people are diligent in the pursuit of excellence in all areas of life. Good enough is seldom good enough. In the world of sport, it is usual for those who have just won an important game or match to tell the media that they can still play better, prepare better, and reach a higher level of performance.
In a world that changes its expectations daily, and invents new technologies, systems and ways of thinking every week, those who become complacent with their present level of competency will soon find themselves outmoded. What’s more, it is the passionate desire to get better that keeps the mind hungry for knowledge, and the heart radically focused on improvement. While contentment is an ethical position that allows us to enjoy the moment, complacency is never something you should allow to rent space in your life.
Chemistry: Here I don’t mean the class in organic processes, but rather the ability to get along with people. At its center, life is about relationship. We were created by God to gain emotional and spiritual life from what others contribute to us. But, if you are arrogant, or cynical, or mean-spirited, or lazy, or mean, or angry, or simply unable to engage others with courtesy and authentic interest, you’ll never amount to much no matter how you score success. You’ll never be part of the team because people won’t want you around!
The best things in life have never been things, or the wealth that can buy them. People matter, and those who understand this, and collect friends as though they were diamonds, will have happier, more satisfying lives.
Capacity: For most, adulthood is much longer than we realize when we take our first steps into that world. What you will be at 50 depends on how well you build a capacity for change, growth, knowledge, and flexibility. Regardless of the world you’re entering in now, I can guarantee the world will be significantly different in 30 years. Don’t get left out because you’re happy with who you are and what you can do now. Grow your capacity to be valuable in the future by committing to be a life-long learner.
Every year thousands of diplomas are handed out to smart, industrious graduates. But, sadly, too many of them think the journey has ended, and the marketplace owes them a lucrative position. But the converse is truer. Graduates owe the marketplace, and our society, the debt of starting a new journey in adulthood with humility, respect for those who have gone before, and a radical desire to look out, not only for their own interests, but also the interests of all of us. So, to all the grads … congratulations! Now, get to work and prove to us that you really did learn something.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.