Reality Check for New Graduates

I have a soft spot in my heart for Minnesota Public Radio, having spent four years living in Garrison Keillor country back in the early 1990s. If you have that much snow and sub-zero weather in your life, maybe you have to have both an enduring, and slightly wry, sense of humor about things. Or maybe you don't. But ... you betcha ... it certainly helps.

In any event, this piece by Bob Collins of MPR--full of wry insight and humor--is well worth the reading. It came out of a research project MPR did on the optimism or pessimism of current college students, but it would make for a great commencement address, if any college out there is still looking for a speaker.

Collins' point is that while college students may be terrified of the uncertainty they're facing, heading out into the world right now ... their predicament is hardly new. Life has always been uncertain, and the path to one's dreams has never been easy or straight. And--even more importantly--that's okay. A good thing, even.

"It's supposed to be hard to make the transition from college to the working world," Collins admonishes the project's students. "The dream has never been accomplished by taking one giant step, but by taking a series of small steps, some of which can be missteps. That's just how it works. It's the late '90s that were the exception. Don't make me tell you about my first $110-a-week-six-days-a-week job I got out of college."

Navigating your life one step at a time. Collins argues, is both what we end up doing anyway ("Raise your hand," he says, "if life has gone exactly the way you thought it would,") and important if the journey is to be meaningful. "Your mother was a hippie and wants you to be more concerned about settling down than she was? Fine," he says. "Ask her if she'd be a hippie again if she had to do it all over."

Collins acknowledges that humans--himself included-- tend to get more conservative and risk averse as they age. "But," he cautions students, "you're far too young to be 50."

In short, Collins makes a terrific argument for young people to stop worrying about security so much. Or, as Marmee once counseled a restless Jo in Little Women, to embrace their freedom and enjoy the ride, uncertain and challenging as it may be. And while Collins' primary audience may have been college students, there's a spoonful of tonic in there for the rest of us, too. A reminder that a vibrant life is not a pre-planned, predictable, and totally safe Disneyland ride. It's an uncertain journey. Always has been, and always will be. Regardless of what else may be going on in the world.

Perhaps Minnesotans are particularly good at accepting life in all its uncertainty and challenge. This is a place, after all, where it's been known to snow in every month of the year, and people have to shovel their roofs as well as their walks. I'm not kidding. I've done it, myself. If you want an easy ride in life, with palm trees and year-round sunshine, you don't settle in Minnesota. But whatever the reason, Collins' advice is a valuable reality check--not only on the current economic situation, but on how all of us, media included, can or should respond to it.