Dear Class of 2021

Let me first say that we are all so proud of you. The end of your junior year and your senior year has not been ideal. I, for one, have hated it for you. This was supposed to be a year of not only finishing strong but also having a bit of fun. Senior trips, prom, and the ahem…Senior **cough** Cut **cough** Day **cough for my high schoolers. But while many have experienced some of those things, I'm sure it was modified heavily due to this pesky pandemic. However, through it all, you handled your business. Wrapped up exams, college applications, showing your poor teachers appreciation and grace. The grit you have shown is one to which we can all aspire.

However, as we start to come out of this pandemic, it's easy to get hardened by it all. It's enough to have that happen, but now you will go off to college and then get a job, and all that adulting sets in. Then you add marriage, kids, and a mortgage, and it becomes a lot. Far too often, when this happens, we tend to lose our sense of wonder and creativity. With that, the world loses possibility and the next set of significant innovations that move society forward: the next tech idea, the next musician, or the next great artist.

So as you move forward in life, I want you to do a few things to help keep the creativity alive.

Study science. I'm not saying become a theoretical physicist or anything like that (unless you want to, then absolutely do that). I am saying that simple science projects engage your curiosity and challenge your problem-solving skills.

Appreciate art. Decorate your home with beautiful objects and listen to music. Visit art museums and express your creativity through painting. Don't care if you are terrible at it; just do it. Maybe even take up gardening. In the book The Culture Puzzle, there is a beautiful story of how Gen. Stanley McChrystal uses what he learned from his mom gardening as a kid to turn the tide against Alameda during the Iraq war.

Play. As you get older, you may lose some of your ability to feel awe and send of wonder. Spending time with younger family and friends can help you recapture your enjoyment of falling snow and mud pies. I'm so serious about this. There have been many times where I have felt stuck on how to move forward in a project, but a nice dose of Mario Party with the kids has helped me to get unstuck and full of new ideas.

Walk your dog. For maximum excitement, consult the nearest dog. They'll point out the highlights in your neighborhood park or backyard. They may even add a few years to your life because there's no better combination than companionship and exercise.

Take a trip. Travel is another proven way to change your perspective and expand your thinking—research destinations for your next vacation or a weekend outing. Order brochures, browse online and talk with others about their recommendations. But it's not enough to just go on the trip. You must fully immerse yourself in it. Swim with the dolphins, engage with the locals (don't worry about the language barrier, there are apps for that). If you are single, go up to the prettiest woman or most handsome man and shoot your shot. Maybe you strikeout, but it could lead to more, and perhaps you just jumpstarted the most extraordinary love story ever told. Either way, it will be a moment you will never forget.

Step outside. Watch the sunrise and set. Buy a bird feeder. Go for a walk, and just people watch. As mundane as nature may seem, it can be a significant source of inspiration…and in its own unique way, it always has a way of surprising you.

Wake up early. Studies show that early risers tend to be happier and more successful. For those heading off to college, I'm going to give you a bit of a pass for now. Sometimes you may have to do many late-night cram sessions or the occasional party to recover from. In general, sticking to bedtime allows you to wake up naturally with plenty of energy to power you through your day. When you go to sleep, you are recharging just like your phone. Oh, and make sure you charge your phone. That alarm can't wake you up if it doesn't have any juice.

Work out. Regular exercise can help you stay active as you age. Maintain your mental and physical strength and fitness. Hit the gym and do plenty of puzzles (yes, your brain is a muscle too).

Savor your food. Look, I'm going to level with you. Some of you are ready to start families. There are going to be plenty of days when you are scoffing down your kid's food scraps over the kitchen sink or eating dino chicken nuggets for the 4th time in a week. However, healthy eating is one way of honoring how much your body does for you. Sit down and chew your food slowly. Enjoy the smells. Admire how it looks. Prepare your own meals and snacks using delicious, whole foods.

Help others. Thinking about others reduces anxiety and depression. Practice random acts of kindness like paying for someone else's meal when you are in a restaurant. Is there a cause that's important to you? Find a non-profit that caters to that cause and volunteer time, not just money. A non-profit, for that purpose, not exist? Create one. Having a positive impact is not only a good thing to do, but it's good for your career as well.

Focus on teamwork. Wonder makes you want to collaborate with others, so you can accomplish more. Celebrate diversity, not just background but diversity in thought. Set clear goals and work on your communication skills.

Try new things. Novelty promotes feelings of awe and helps you to stay engaged. Mingle at parties and chat with strangers. Take courses online. Ride your bike instead of driving to the office.

Keep a journal. It's easy for your sense of wonder to get buried under daily concerns. A journal could help you to notice and remember the unforgettable moments that happen each day.

Class 2021, make awe part of your daily life. Office workers and schoolteachers can experience just as much awe as astronauts and wildlife photographers. Slow down and discover the wonders that surround you. Awe makes you feel smaller in a positive way that broadens your perspective and enriches your career and, more importantly, your life.

Congratulations, Class of 2021! Go Forth and Be Great!

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