Advice to the Class of 2021 From a Psychotherapist

Tips on how to stay positive and motivated to take on the next stage of your life.

Silvabom/ Shutterstock
Silvabom/ Shutterstock

Congrats to the Class of ’21.  Being the second graduating class during the pandemic, you face challenges that not many have faced before you and there’s no doubt, you will face others during your life and career. Your heart might get broken and your spirit might feel broken, too. Worries might keep you up at night and a problem or unrealized dream might cause you to feel incomplete or dissatisfied. Happiness at times, might feel unachievable and elusive. Having said this, find your inspiring person whom you can lean on for inspiration, guidance, and motivation. Whether a friend, mentor, or relative, know that you are not alone in this world.

Neither success nor happiness needs to be elusive nor do challenges need to hold you back. There are plenty of examples of people in our history who have overcome odds or failed only to then go on to reinvent themselves and achieve great success.

  • President Biden has talked openly about his history of stuttering and despite that challenge has risen to the highest office in the land.  Having never received professional help, he found a way to train himself to speak publicly and do so impressively. In a 2015 letter to the Stuttering Foundation, President Biden said, “If I could share one piece of advice with all of those struggling with a stutter, it would be this: When you commit yourself to a goal and when you persevere in the face of struggle, you will discover new strengths and skills to help you overcome not only this challenge, but future life challenges as well. I promise you – you have nothing to be ashamed of, and you have every reason to be proud.”
  • In 1995 an unknown writer by the name of J.K. Rowling who was on state welfare at the time, submitted her manuscript to 12 publishing houses before finally getting a book deal. 400 million books later and a global brand worth 15 billion dollars, J.K. Rowling epitomizes the rags-to-riches story.
  • Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, was dropped by her record label, Island Def Jam after three months. Since then she has won multiple Grammy Awards and honors.

My guess is the people above believed in themselves and never wavered. The lesson to be learned is to never doubt yourself. “What if I can’t land a job?” and “What if I flub the interview?” are two of the most common anxiety-fueled statements I hear from recent graduates. This doubtful thinking will sap you of any energy required to be positive and productive and can set the pattern for how you think about many challenges that may lie ahead as you leave school and embark on the next part of your life. So if you find yourself thinking this way, turn it around and remember, you have control over your outcome and fate and there’s no need to be the victim of your own circumstances and negative thinking.

Here’s how to thrive and be happy as you enter the next phase of your life:

Maintain a positive and optimistic outlook. Encountering negative events in life is normal. Understand that they don’t define you; do your best to find the silver lining, and counter negative thoughts with positive ones. Change the way you think by nixing your negative thinking and seeing problems as challenges and opportunities to learn something new. Think what’s possible, not what’s impossible.

Surround yourself with happy people. Happy people are also supportive, warm and giving. These qualities will encourage you to be happy too. Conversely, hanging out with miserable and unhappy people will weigh you down and won’t allow you to focus on your own well-being and goals. So choose who will be part of your inner circle and don’t be afraid to rely on them.

Enjoy your work. Most people spend one-third of their day working. Those who enjoy their jobs and find them stimulating and meaningful look forward to going to work every day rather than dreading it. Find a career that will allow you to do the same.

Have a life outside of work and change how you view money. That’s right, be less focused on money and more on time. Many clients have sat in my office after being handed bad health news. It wasn’t more money that they wanted at the moment, rather it was time. Value it and strike a healthy balance between work and the other parts of your life.

Be flexible. Know that even the best laid plans sometimes don’t always go as hoped. Being able to adjust to change will help prevent disappointment.

Finally, maintain perspective. Think about the course of a life. We might get 60, 70, 80, 90, or more years. It’s a long time – a really long time. However, compared to the age of the mountains and rivers that are millions of years old, our life is just a blink…but what a blink it is! So go out there and make the most of it.

For more tips on living a healthy stress free life check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

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