Let’s all take a moment to walk through a little journey, shall we…
Imagine the culmination of 12 years worth of time spent working towards a goal. Late nights, long papers, racking your brain, test after test, day after day. You have put in your time, your energy, and all your efforts and now was the time for all that hard work to be celebrated. Celebrated with all the people you have worked along side with to get to the finish line. And then, BAM, you’re hit with a ton of bricks and have to stop what you are planning and have to make an about-face! To the Graduating Class of 2020, we see you, we honor you, and we want to support you!
You see many young men and women are experiencing such a loss right now, at such a pivotal moment in life. Gone is the final dance at Senior Prom. Gone is the signing of your yearbook with all of the parting notes that we (the adults reading this) have been able to enjoy as we dive into our memory bins from time to time, reflecting on the snippets that our friends bestowed upon the pages of our final yearbook. No Senior Ditch Day. No Senior all-night party. No final walk through the halls. And worst of all – NO GRADUATION. None. Zip. Zero. Nada.
If you have a graduating senior, you feel their pain. We have had to sit with our son as he described the frustration, the hurt, and the unexplained disappointment that has come of his final year of High School. Our son and COUNTLESS of other graduating seniors (High School and College alike) have been thrusted into this chasm of not knowing exactly how to feel because they are filled with so many powerful emotions. They have all worked toward this final moment. The accolades. The chance to feel like they have arrived. The accomplishment, and complete coming of age as they cross that stage in front of 100’s of family and friends. To proudly grab that diploma and wisk that graduation cap in the air, celebrating a “job well done.” Parents and students both are forced to navigate waters that neither have had to experience, and we as the adults have to somehow look our children in the eye and speak with a comforting authority that will help make sense of a situation that deserves an explanation.
“This sucks” he said, sitting on the edge of the couch, cupping his hands into his face.
“We understand son. We are with you. Right here, experiencing this right along side of you.”
What this tragedy of events has placed in our laps is a delicate balance of understanding the immediacy of life and emotions that come from a young 17 year old mind that has worked so hard to get to the finish line, only to be emailed a diploma; all while knowing and taking into account the seriousness that our current world situation is having to go through. All of it seems so unfair. But, as unfair as all things may seem, we are faced with a choice. A decision on how we will walk this fine line of our own feelings, yet remaining sensitive to the world around us. A decision on how to teach and guide a young person through waters that we ourselves have never encountered. Graduation is a milestone, and for many it feels like it has been reduced to almost nothing. A great achievement that feels overlooked.
This is the story of life though, is it not? All too often we place expectations on things, people or events – only to be terribly disappointed in the end, because either our expectations are totally false, or we have somehow fancied up the idea that nothing will go wrong in our own “created” world. Now I am not minimizing what 10’s of 1,000’s of graduates are feeling, nor am I suggesting that we have the “right thing to say” through all of this that will somehow bring the BIG ANSWER to all of you. What I am suggesting is that we take respite in knowing that there are some steps that we CAN take to help our young men and women through something as difficult and unfair as this all is…
Below are 3 things you can use to help walk through challenging conversations (for the now, and if they are good enough, you can re-use these in the future…
1) Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Prepare your mind for the unexpected. This seems easy at first glance, but can be tricky if taken too far in the wrong direction. No, this is not “disaster thinking,” but more about an understanding that we truly do not control every single aspect of life. Knowing that there will be things along life’s journey that do not always work out as you thought. This preparation in our mind, will ease the frustrations that come with unexpected events and help pave the way to more seamlessly pivot through times of uncertainty. This preparation can help us cope with the complexity of life as we navigate a near global quarantine, all the way down to the simplest of things like running out of dish soap while right in the middle of doing the dishes. Extreme ends of the spectrum? Yes, but when you are faced with a mountain of dishes after a large dinner, and you are cleaning up at 1:30AM with no soap, it no longer is a simple thing. You’re tired, and maybe even cranky – you can see how this could go real bad, pretty quick. The bottom line is that having a certain level of understanding that things can go awry and unexpected things can and DO happen – will help prevent that rigid and immovable thinking of “This isn’t supposed to happen to me!!”
2) Be empathetic. For some, this may or may not be so simple. You know, some of us have been raised not to cry. To NEVER show our emotions. To just pull up boot straps and get over it. You can’t change it so why bother thinking about it kind of mentality. Yes, there are moments where that is reasonable, but there are also significant times where reflection and understanding should take first place. Empathy is not a patronizing thing, but a true and genuine reaching out to someone else, affirming how they feel is ok for the moment, and that you can also understand and feel a similar sense of emotion right along with them. Empathy is a powerful way of being able to communicate and support someone in need – all forged from a place authentic care for another human being.
3) Listen. Wow, no kidding. But seriously though, just listen. That means stop talking, and cease from giving your perspective on things and your “know-it-all” answers to everything under the sun. I mean come on, we have all been guilty of this at one time or another. I know, I know, sometimes with all of our infinite wisdom, we may want to dive so deep into our own story and infinite knowledge that we can lose sight of what is in front of us. We end up sharing our personal experiences of Uncle Jim and his crazy shenanigans, and completely lose the interest and openness of the other person. They begin to realize how disinterested you are in helping them, and that perhaps you are more interested in hearing the sound of your own voice. Listening requires intentional action, and minimal response. Nod your head. Engage with small responses like; “I did not realize you felt that way” Or, “Can you tell me more about that?” That is an engaged form of listening that allows the speaker the freedom and space to feel safe, and validated in the conversation. This openness gives way to healing as their own hurts and disappointments come to the surface and can be talked about aloud. It brings about hope, a renewed sense of purpose, and maybe even a new found space of creativity!
So make some shout outs to your loved ones who are graduating High School, or College, or Nursing School… go decorate their car, make them a banner, find any way you can to honor them, to support them, to encourage them, to listen to them. And the next time you or someone you love are walking through disappointment or something that has NOT gone the way you thought or planned, try to journey through with a little laughter, and maybe…juuuust maybe, the way you handle these challenges may just give you the chance to prepare someone else for the unexpected twists and turns of this thing called life!
Cheers to us all! Go make it a great weekend!