Dear Graduates: of life, men, and the problem with experience

ID-10046308 (graduate cap)This past Sunday was a busy day. Not only was it Father’s Day, but it was also the day of my youngest daughter’s high school graduation.

As I thought about my hopes and dreams for her, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the hopes and dreams I had for myself at that age, and the hopes and dreams my father probably had for his only son. When you’re 18 and graduating, the questions abound. Should I go to college? Should I work? If I go to college, what should I study? If I go to work, what will I do? Should I do what my parents want, or what I want?

In considering all these thoughts, worries, and concerns, something occurred to me:

Maturity changes everything.

Looking back over my post-high school years, I realize now what I did right and where I went wrong. I can also see multiple instances where there was no right or wrong. Life experience may be great, but it’s also a problem.

They say experience is the greatest teacher; unfortunately, it’s all on-the-job training.  You don’t get a probationary period. You don’t get a chance to learn the ropes, then go out and live your life.  We’re all in the position of tackling the world with only as much information and experience as we have at that moment – and it is only after we fail or succeed that we get our report card.  No matter how much we think we know – we never know what we need to know until after the fact.

Life is a perpetual game of trial-and-error, and I doubt most graduates realize how many ‘errors’ they will end up accumulating over the long haul. This very realization is, itself, one of the blessings of maturity.  Once we accept the fact that we don’t know everything, that we will likely fail as often (if not more) than we succeed, and that we need the knowledge, experience, and support of others to get us through…life becomes easier. And harder.

You see, maturity is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you see things more clearly and understand better how life and the world operate, which allows you to move forward with wisdom and confidence. On the other hand, you see all your past mistakes with laser-pinpoint accuracy – and although it’s helpful, it’s sometimes painful to watch.

Chilli cookoff, apple picking, hair cut October 2010 020The man I’ll never be

I should probably know more about men than I do, considering I call myself one. I don’t know if they have the same doubts, hopes, fears, and insecurities I have…but I’m sure I’m not the only one who believes:

I’ll never be the man my kids think I am, I’ll never be the man my wife deserves,
and I’ll never be the man my father is.

I think it is due to personal inadequacies I have created, based upon the standards I have set for myself…and again, I wonder if other men share this concern. I don’t think I’m a bad person, but could I do better? Could I spend more time with the kids, teach them more, listen to them more? Could I do more for my wife, help her more, support her more? Could I be a harder worker, better-skilled, more involved with the community?


And it’s not like I don’t try to improve myself in these areas. I just keep falling short of those pesky standards I was talking about. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, but I doubt I’ll ever reach them. I’m willing to accept that. But it won’t keep me from trying.

The big surprise awaiting graduates

Taking into account the experience, wisdom, and surprises that come with the blessing/curse of maturity, my recognition of past failings, and my desire to constantly improve myself, I felt it’s important that graduates know one important thing. Whether they go to college or go to work, stay at home or move away, get married or stay single, there is one truth that is universal. It surprised me years ago, and it still surprises unsuspecting young people.

Ready, graduates? Here it is:

Life is harder than you realize.

Are you surprised? No? Well, you should be. If you don’t think it’s hard, just wait. And if you think it’s hard already, it’s actually harder. I’m not trying to scare you or anything – just helping you to be prepared, based on years of life experience and >ahem< maturity.

Life is fun, life is sad, life is exciting, life is boring, life is anything you make it out to be and will take you anywhere you want to go – but it’s up to you to do the driving. Sometimes, life is, indeed, easy. It will often be hard, too. That should never keep you from enjoying it and getting the most out of it.   Hard work can be enjoyable and rewarding, and so is life. Just remember that…

Life is harder than you realize.

If you want to do something you think is difficult, do it anyway. Can’t do it? Figure out a way. Never accept impossibility as an option. The best things in life might be free, but the most rewarding ones usually don’t come without a great deal of work, sweat, and perseverance.

shutterstock_132016772 (woman-youth culture)
Are you ready for what’s ahead?

And by the way, if your personal situation is nice and stress-free, what about your neighbor’s? Are they struggling with some sort of problems? There’s probably something you could do to lighten their load. No, I don’t mean just offering them money or food. That’s easy. I mean taking some time to get to know them and actually lending a real helping hand. Being a true neighbor. True, that might be hard to do, but then again…

Life is harder than you realize.

If life is not hard, then you’re either extremely lucky, or you’re doing it wrong.

So be careful out there.


Purchasing personalized signed books ONLINE? Yes, it’s true!

You can now purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur, and ANY of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Just log onto my website and click the cover of whichever book you want, and the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH will let me know, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you so much to all the librarians, bloggers, and parents who are still discovering “Flashlight Night!” 


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9 thoughts on “Dear Graduates: of life, men, and the problem with experience

  1. My dear Matt. You were made to write commencement speeches. What a wonderful post. It’s only because I am beyond my 30s and have teens at home that I see the wisdom in your statement, “We’re all in the position of tackling the world with only as much information and experience as we have at that moment.”


    1. Oh, thank you, Laura! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Wisdom is a funny thing. Most people don’t acquire it until it’s too late for them to use, so they are relegated to sharing it with younger people who don’t want it. 😉


  2. These are thoughts and words that every parent should be sharing with their children and grandchildren, as I am about to do. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insightful understanding.


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