Letter To a Graduate – Some rules to live by

My son recently graduated from high school. This was extremely difficult for me to process – our first child, a person we’d brought into the world and cared for, was now moving on to independence from us.  Living on his own, making his own decisions, becoming his own person. In trying to work out what this meant (to me), I put some of my thoughts down on paper on making this transition (and special thanks to Mike Figliuolo and a post he wrote about a similar letter his dad had given him more than 20 years ago) – and sent my son these ideas and beliefs on what it takes to be a good man and a good person. I’m hoping he finds them applicable and helpful over time (his first response was a bit of a grunt and a “yeah, great”) –  I think they’re fairly universal as themes for adults, leaders, etc, too. This is what I sent to him.


Hey Buddy!

Congratulations – you’re a High School graduate! I couldn’t be any prouder of you. It’s been wonderful to watch you grow –you continue to develop into an amazingly wonderful person and a great guy. The great work/success you’ve had, the way you talk, the way you interact with people – it’s impressive. As you make this giant transition from young-adulthood into being an independent adult, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you on being a good man and a good person. Many of these thoughts and ideas you’ve heard me “Rain Man” rant to you before, so you’ve probably learned how to tune them out or say “here he goes again”.  But it’s beginning to be time for you to start thinking about who and what you want to be (metaphorically speaking) – so I’d be interested in your thinking about these ideas, digesting them, and, over time, adding your own thoughts and ideas to them. Or feel free to tell me you think I’m crazy, you disagree, or want to discuss – god knows, I don’t have all the answers. Just don’t ignore me…!

Always be busy. You can easily recite the two things I hate the most – lying and laziness – as I’ve said this to you all your life. And it’s easy to understand why I say this. Being busy stimulates your mind and body. It generates energy and productivity. It makes you feel good, physically and emotionally. It opens you up to new things and creates new possibilities. And it gives you new ideas and makes connections. So force yourself to always stay busy.

School has been hard and has required significant work and attention – and life will continue to to get harder with college and real-life. Of course, downtime, rest and tuning out is important, Mr. X-Box. But, after some “chill time”, fill your time with stuff, both productive and frivolous. Interests, friends, creative pursuits. You’ll find yourself more energized. And you never know where these things will lead.

Don’t be afraid of what you’re not good at.  Casey, you excel at many things. And it’s natural (and wise) to focus on and leverage those strengths. They are, and will continue to be, an advantage for you. But you (as most people do) also tend to shy away from the things that don’t come easy to you. Fight those tendencies. Don’t write off all activities that “aren’t you”. It’s so much better to muscle through the initial discomforts, awkwardness or unease. You will find that life expands. You ultimately may not love these new activities, ideas or things – but you’ll understand them better. And they will no longer be an excuse for avoidance or failure.

Laugh at your mistakes; but learn from them. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s what life is about. You’ve made some already (we don’t need to get into them here…). And I’m here to tell you that you’ll make many more. Don’t bemoan them, don’t avoid them, and don’t start living life in fear of making more of them. But the key is to learn from them. Ask yourself how you could have avoided them; what can you do differently next time? That way you can always say that mistakes and failures are the necessary steps towards greater success.

“Respect the game”. Remember the first year when you played “Night League” basketball, and you told me you and your friends put the ball in your jerseys and ran around on the court during the game? You thought it was funny – but I was disappointed. I told you that you had to “respect the game”. There are rules, referees, and other teams involved. The other team had come out to play basketball, and you were disrespecting them, too. There are times when silliness and randomness are fine – but again, only when the game calls for it or allows for it. Recognize that whatever you are doing, there are other people, other contexts, other agendas involved. So always be respectful of them.

Similarly, whatever you’re playing, you should always bring your “A” game. Give your best effort, try your hardest, be your best you. Never say afterwards that you could have done more. Failure is fine – except when it’s due to lack of effort.

Stay hungry for learning. You are an amazing learner. Lately, I’ve been so impressed at how you retain and play back information about the brain and the body that you’ve learned in Anatomy and Psychology. Now, try to take that awesomeness beyond the information that is part of your structured learning into your unstructured life. Read about stuff, follow things, be interested. Know about your government and your world. Form opinions about things – but be willing to change them as you learn more. Avoiding things because you “hate them” (as in “I hate politics”) is no way to be – ignorance isn’t acceptable because of disinterest. Knowing about things gives you power – to converse, to have opinions, and make intellectual connections between things. And it’s a lot more legitimate to say, “I’ll tune out this stuff,” when you know about the topic.

Give a sh*t about things. One of the great things about you is that you are grounded, even-keeled and easy going. Your laid back approach lets you address the things you need to in a matter-of-fact, in-control way. This is a very good trait for when life gets harder and more stressful.

At the same time, this laid-back approach can seem blasé. As if you don’t care a lot. I think it’s important to show you give a damn, that you’re committed, all-in. And this goes for things beyond the big work stuff. As mentioned above, give a shit about the world, your interests, and other people. This makes life much more interesting and involving.

Don’t be a dick. You’re one of the most empathetic and compassionate people I’ve ever met. You understand others’ emotions. You’re the first to console those in need. You point out when you think other people are being jerks. So this maxim shouldn’t be difficult for you. Apply it to your behavior all the time – in school/work situations and in social ones, as well. Don’t make jokes at others’ expenses, don’t take advantage of other people, don’t pile on when someone’s down. Always be a stand-up guy, always make sure you are being fair, never cheat or bend the rules. Don’t hog credit, don’t be the first to blame, don’t succeed by bringing others down. I think the maxim “don’t be a dick” says it well.

Look presentable. But have style. You care about how you look. You’ve begun to develop a personal style, which is great. Keep it up – because, like it or not, how you look is important. That doesn’t mean always look a certain way – setting, context, etc. play a role in what looking good looks like. But know that how you look says something about you, and also about how you feel about whom you are with. So always make sure your appearance says, “I care”. It can also say, “I’m confident”, “I am interesting”, and “I am unique”. But never be mute.

Don’t hesitate to be in the minority. We both have agreed we don’t like people who are too “Indie”, as you call it – who need to be different all the time, just for the sake of being different.  They choose black just because someone else is choosing white. However, I still believe strongly in the Twain quote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”. That means you should be purposeful in your decisions and strong in your convictions. Don’t simply follow the masses and don’t blindly follow trends. If something is considered “conventional wisdom”, it might not be either. So make sure you think about things and make your own decision. And always have the strength of character and purpose to go against the tide.

Slow and steady…? This may be the most boring advice of all – but slow and steady is a solid approach to success. You will enter into college, and into life, with a huge amount of enthusiasm and passion. You will be impatient for success and expecting speedy movement forward. But know that things can take time. And much of life is beyond your control – all you can control is how you deal with things. So keep plugging away, taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, and good things will happen.

You’re the man. I love you so much. Can’t wait to see you living your life.



  1. I think I’ll print it out ,enter Mason where you address Casey and sign it Mom! He graduates next year. i couldn’t have said it better. iF ONLY….

  2. Wonderful! Great advice for young people, middle aged, and old. We can all use great reminders such as these. Words beautifully written. Sagely considered. And obviously lived very elegantly.

  3. Nicely done Michael. This is great advice for young adults and relevant to adults of all ages who need direction or feel unfulfilled. Proud to call you my neighbor and friend.

  4. The essence of an article, a letter or a book is it’s magnetic pull. When something you read completely absorbs you and at the end gives you a feeling that you have to “wake up or come back” that’s an amazing feeling. I have read a lot on this topic but this one was really really good I must say. Besides, this wouldn’t just help your son but people like me and others as well. Great post Mr. Michael 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s