The old counsel the young. The famous, like Oprah or the President, give their advice to graduates. A “successful” person tells just how she did it. Me? I remember none of the “wisdom” imparted to me on my graduation days from high school, college and grad school. Here’s what I wish someone had said as I strode off, both anxious and excited, into the undiscovered country of my future.)
“Who you are is God's gift to you; who you become is your gift to God.” --Hans Balthasar
The 1991 movie “City Slickers” was a cowboy comedy, starring Billy Crystal as “Mitch” and Jack Palance as “Curly”. Curly is a seasoned and grizzled cowhand. Mitch is a perpetually unhappy middle aged man, never sure of himself, restless, struggling. The men have a talk on the trail where Curly reveals to Mitch the one key to happiness in all of human life.
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? This. [Holding up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest won’t matter.
Mitch: But what is the “one thing”?
Curly: [Smiling] That’s what you have to find out.
Graduates: the hardest and the most important task you now face as you move into young adulthood is just one thing: to figure out your “one thing”. Your place in the world. Your reason for being. Your spiritual fingerprint: the talent, the gift, the passion, the cause, the “one thing” that God already gave to you at the exact moment you came into being as a human being.
Today on this spinning blue planet we all call home, there are about 7,090,000,000 people. Every single one of them, you, me, the whole gang, each of us is one of a kind. No one who came before you is like you. No one who comes after you will be like you either. When God made you, God broke the mold. When God made you, God planted within you a special gift or gifts, which make you, you.
And the biggest part of your life going ahead is now going to be about doing the work of finding your place in this life. As a boy I wanted to a doctor. Then later a politician. At college I switched majors four times. I felt lost and frustrated. By sophomore year I had yet to find out what I was good at, loved to do, why God put me here, my “one thing”.
Then one day I sat down at a typewriter to write an opinion piece for the UMass newspaper’s editorial page. I wrote and the words just flowed, came from some part of me I never knew existed. That amazing day I figured out that I’m a writer, that this one thing is my “one thing”.
Doesn’t mean I’m not also lots of other “things” too: a minister, an Uncle, a friend, a Christian but somehow when I write it feels like breathing to me: natural, unforced, and just right.
And so here’s my advice to all of you. Trust that God has already given you your “one thing”. Believe that with all of your heart, soul and mind. God did not put you here by mistake. God made you for a purpose and the adventure of life is finding that out again and again and again. So that’s why I’m here. Here’s the question: why are you here?
There will be many times in your life, tough times, when it will feel like you have no idea what to do or who to be. When you think you’ve got your “one thing” and it turns out to be wrong, or it changes. Through it all have faith that you are going to find your God given “one thing”. I guarantee that and when you do, or if you have already, thank God for it. Then dig into it with passion and joy.
This quest is not about making a living or for money or worldly success. It is about making a life, your life. The happiest people in life are happy not because of stuff or wealth but because they’ve found their niche, their place, their sweet spot.
I know you can do that. God does too. As God says in the scriptures, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
No one can tell you what your “one thing” is: not your parents or teachers or mentors or friends. From today onward you are sailing the ship, with God in the boat, yes, but with you at the helm. The training wheels are off. You’ve got the keys to the car. It is time to set out on your one amazing life’s journey.
“One thing”—it may be a job or a career or it may be a hobby or a vocation or a sport or art or a political cause or the dream of having a family. Your “one thing” might be singing or writing or being a great Mom or Dad or coaching or teaching or healing broken bodies or hiking the highest mountains in the world or being a foster parent or feeding the hungry or building something with your hands…and it is within you, just waiting to be uncovered.
What’s the secret of life? Just “one thing”. God already gave it to you. Now…find it!