“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!”
The “season” of graduation is upon us. Every year you probably know of someone who has completed some significant piece of their education and is moving on to the next phase of life – whatever that may be. Children “graduate” from kindergarten and go on to the big elementary school. Middle schoolers transition to high school. High school graduates advance to college or the work world. College graduates may go on to pursue higher degrees. People “graduate” from online training courses; rehab programs; certificate program; boot camps; PhD programs. Modern day rites of passage, these graduations from what once was to what is not yet.
Graduations of all sorts are laden with a mix of feelings. There’s excitement about completion; anticipation about new-found freedoms or experiences; delight in all the choices that now seem available; pride in hard work completed; empowerment, energy, everything seems possible.
Of course, graduations bring up feelings of loss, anxiety and vulnerability as well. Parting from a group of close friends or special experiences; wondering if the new times will be really as fulfilling as one has hoped for; or if one’s work will really pay off. Insecurity about whether the new experience will be doable, manageable or the doubt of Am I really good enough or ready for this? There’s often the worry of “now what?”. What if people don’t like me? What if I fail? What if I’m still unhappy? How can I make it on my own? I don’t feel ready. I’m scared to death. I’ll be at the bottom of the social ladder again.
Graduation is a time of change. And any time of change involves loss and growth, and some period of uncertainty, vulnerability, heightened anxiety. Often we feel intensified anxiety (and resistance) the closer we get to and just before we reach the desired outcome.
My favorite acknowledgment of the uneven terrain of graduation time comes from Dr. Seuss and his book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” I love his wisdom and acceptance about life that he conveys, and as I read him recently, I appreciated his attitude of Mindfulness that’s present throughout. See if you notice that too…
He starts with “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
He affirms the new things learned and confidence one possesses when they’ve completed a program. He speaks to self efficacy and the power of having choice.
He references the curiosity, confidence, decisiveness – or ambivalence that’s there…
“You’ll look up and down streets. Look them over with care. About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’ With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street. And you may not find any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town.”
“You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the highflyers who soar to high heights.”
He references great heights and opportunities – even if only because they are novel – that are available to those graduating.
Dr. Suess speaks to one’s expectations, sense of completion, universal drive to come out on top, hopes and desires to be the best, striving and sense of competition.
“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Whatever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.”
And then ever so sweetly he touches upon life’s inevitable disappointments and struggles.
“Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.”
“I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that bang ups and hangups can happen to you. You can get all hung up in a prickly perch and your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in the lurch.”
“You’ll come down from the lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a slump.”
He speaks such truth about life’s bumps and slumps. He implies the idea that one has to take whatever time a slump in life might take.
“And when you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.”
He conveys such understanding about the confusion, overwhelm, loss, ambivalence, doubt that we usually face at some point; at some turn in life.
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win? And IF you go in, should you turn left or right… Or right and 3/4? Or, maybe, not quite? Or go around back and sneak in from behind? Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.”
Who doesn’t know this sense of overwhelm or not knowing what to do next? He humorously acknowledges our human discomfort with staying too long in an in-between place – one of waiting for something to happen that is beyond our control; and how we often avoid that place and try to move out of it by going toward the place where something is happening. We are drawn to what seems exciting and resist the place where I think Dr. Suess implies mindfulness might be helpful. There are many moments in life where it’s important to simply be present and be in relation to what is uncomfortable.
“… for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a yes or no or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a Better Break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting.”
He is well aware of our human tendency to focus on what’s going to happen at some future point, rather than being present in the moment that we’re actually in. He seems to suggest that it would be important to just notice and observe without trying to change or improve anything. Or to not look for anything special and just try to be open to whatever arises – Mindfulness principles, to be sure. Or at the very least to not waste so much of our lives lost in those moments of future thinking.
“Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winningest winner of all. Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be, with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.”
“except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t.”
“I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win because you’re playing against you.”
And then of course reality sets in. Everything in life is not as glorious or fun or as exciting as we want it to be out there, or as we believe it should be inside. Nothing really makes us feel completely complete or good enough.
Dr. Seuss includes in the human experience times of loneliness or despair and indicates how we can often be our own worst enemy. He normalizes the human struggle; invites acceptance of our vulnerabilities; encourages being present to all that is.
“All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot. And when you’re alone there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.”
Heart ache. Loneliness. Despair. Devastation. To acknowledge it allows you to go on and builds your resilience muscle. Courage to carry on…
“But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go through your enemies prowl. On you will go through the Hakken-Kraks howl. Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.”
…Yes, even this too… Whenever any of these difficulties happen acknowledge them, feel them and keep moving.
“On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are.”
“You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact and remember that life’s a great balancing act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft and never mix up your right foot with your left.”
Dr. Seuss encourages making connections, getting and giving support, being thoughtful and compassionate, having balance.
And of course his message is ultimately encouraging… Dr. Suess’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” Commencement address/ book encouraged people to look inward with care as they made their way into the world. (Such a lovely and meaningful tone he presented in striking contrast to that of the President’s recent speech to graduating Coast Guarders.)
“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and three-quarter percent guaranteed). Kid, you’ll move mountains!”
And with a bit of multicultural inclusion and flair, Dr. Suess acknowledges the value of the journey that graduates are embarking on. He encourages graduates of all kinds to find the success that lies within them (rather than solely seeking ‘out there’) as they try to navigate the ups and downs of life’s balancing act.
“So… Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray, or Mordecai Ali van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”
…I hope you have enjoyed this abridged version of Dr. Suess’ ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go!” book and have the opportunity to reflect on its meaning and wisdom in your own life. I’d love to hear from you how you might apply this message to your own struggles and life’s journey. Please share your feedback by responding to this post.
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