Each spring I am asked to speak with graduating high school seniors. I begin my lesson with the gift of My Story, which is captivating and hard to fathom. If you are not familiar, you can find snippets of it here, here, and here. I share this journey to offer deeper life lessons that most eighteen year olds are capable of ingesting. These are some of the best gifts I can offer our young adults in hopes to broaden their perspectives. After I reveal how I have physically, emotionally, and socially suffered, I offer these lessons:

First lesson: My story is my gift to you.

I am offering you a very personal piece of who I am, please respect that by honoring that it is mine, and only mine to share. It is not your story to share. What you do with my gift reveals more about you than it does about me.

Second lesson: Please watch your assumptions.

Based on only my appearance, would you have any idea that I have endured any of what I have shared? Please do not ever assume you know what goes on in other peoples lives based on only this one sense. You do not know what others go through unless they tell you, do not assume you know otherwise.

Third lesson: Because you are a human being you will struggle and you will suffer.

This happens not because you are bad, made a wrong choice, or are inherently unworthy. This happens because you are human, and all humans have moments of suffering. The Mandalorians summarize it perfectly with their mantra: “This is the way.” There is no need to add guilt or shame to an already difficult situation. Be kind and gentle with yourself, and remember that all human beings will suffer.

Fourth lesson: You do not know how your story will affect the future for yourself, your loved ones, your community, and the world.

Because of my own setbacks, medicine has been altered for the better for patients. I contributed to this advancement, and many lives have been saved. I know my circumstances affected every person I came into contact with on a personal level. Some of the specifics I am aware of and have heard personally. And I trust that there are many other ways that world has changed for the better because of my story.

Was it hard? Fuck, YES. Was it worth it? YES, a million times YES.

Fifth lesson: When in the midst of your rock bottom you will ask “Why? Why me? Why now?”

In the words of my wise father, who sat with me in the middle of the night while tears rolled down my cheeks and I was searching for answers, he softly mentioned that perhaps I was asking the wrong question. “You will never get an answer to this question and that’s okay. The question you may want to ask instead is “Where do I go from here?” This shift in language shifts your perspective from narrow to broad, viewing the bigger picture that lies off in the distance. It helps you move from being a victim to empowering yourself.

Final lesson: Never underestimate the resilience that lies deep within each and every one of you.

You never know what you are truly capable of until you are in those moments of desperation. You can and you will get through. One day you will look back with awe and admiration for your journey through the dark night of your soul.

“No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength – if we have the virtue of resilience.” 

Eric Greitens

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