Last weekend, two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan was a commencement speaker at Southern Vermont College and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. She noted that she’s probably the only current student (at Tufts) who is also giving a graduation speech. Kwan has already achieved so much as a skater, but when she “retired” at age 28, she had to rethink what she wanted to do for the rest of her life after focusing so much on skating.
I thought her words of wisdom were truly that:
“I suppose this is a common mistake. Whether it’s winning a competition, finishing a degree, getting the right job, paying off a loan, or finding the perfect partner — we always imagine that at some point all the waiting, worrying and striving will finally be over. We expect some magic moment of arrival, when all the pieces settle permanently into place, and life can finally begin. But I’m starting to realize, and maybe you are too, that things usually don’t turn out that way. Just when we think we’ve got it all figured out, and everything right where we want it, there’s always some new challenge to contend with. So even while we pursue our goals, we shouldn’t put off enjoying life, thinking happiness waits for us at some far-off destination. We should take life on its own terms, and look for happiness in the here and now.”
Given everything Kwan has accomplished, she’s still figuring out what to do with her life. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that even from those who “have it all” from the outside, there are struggles that we all have to deal with in each of our own ways. As I start to approach “middle age,” I found it always easy to look retrospectively what one should have or could have done – as well as deal with things you had no control over. Today, Asian Americans, especially those raised by immigrant parents, are especially “goal driven” and in the process, miss enjoying the journey.
When I graduated from business school, Ted Turner was our commencement speaker. One of his pieces of advice was to set a goal so high so that it was unattainable, so that (as I interpreted it) you could always enjoy the journey. He spoke of how his father framed his entire life on becoming rich and making $1 million a year. When he reached that goal, he had no idea what to do next, was miserable and eventually killed himself but putting a gun to his head. So when you think everyone has everything figured out, don’t be too surprised when you learn that even the most successful could be in the same boat as you.