One thing I have learned from all the Olympians, Paralympians, musicians, authors, speaker, CEOs, and entrepreneurs that I know is that not everyone will support your dreams, no matter how great they are. There will always be those who will mock your dreams; usually that is because they have become cynical or jaded by their own disappointments. Don't listen to them and don't become hardened yourself if you struggle to succeed. Dreamers fail, too, but they learn and keep going. Be the next Walt Disney or the next Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs or Steven Hawking or Neil Armstrong or any of a thousand other great dreamers that have lived.
Your dreams are gifts from your soul to you; cherish them and honor them by making them happen.
2. Give Something to the World
Your generation has a problem; you are addicted to your cellphones and social media. You spend more time looking down at the screen than you do looking up at the world around you (don't worry, the adults of the world have developed the same problem). Psychologists have actually named this behavior nomophobia (not related to "nom, nom, nom") and guess what? 77% of people ages 17-24 have it. 77%! That means that nearly 8 out of 10 of you would have actual withdrawls if you lost your cellphone.
I've heard your generation labeled "The Selfie Generation" because of the high-emphasis on taking and posting selfies online. And there are some negative connotations that come with the label: self-absorbed, self-centered, even self-destructively narcissistic. But I would disagree, I think your generation has a tremendous potential for good. I've worked a lot with youth and school programs and I've seen how quick your age-group is to serve others. Keep that spirit of service! Take less selfies and focus on being more selfless.
Take inventory of your unique talents and abilities and then look at your goals and ask yourself this question: what can you give the world that no one else can? What idea or invention or program or social movement can you bless those around you with? Even if it only affects your family or close friends, learn to live selflessly or else your heart and soul may shrink and become darkened by greed and mistrust and sadness like so many other have let happen. Selflessly give so you can deeply live.
I encourage you to find a way to serve others in your life for by giving of yourself your heart, mind and soul will grow and you will find a depth of peace and confidence available in no other manner.
3. Work Hard, Work Smart
Now, some of you have the perception that since you've graduated your hard working days are over. News flash: they are just beginning, and that's actually an awesome thing because now your future is in your hands. You get to choose what you are going to work hard at.
Maybe you've learned discipline through a sport or musical ability or artistic or academic talent, and that's great! Don't get lazy. College professors, your bosses at work, future coaches or managers and pretty much everyone you will work with in your life will have very little patience for laziness. If you want to succeed at anything in life, any of those dreams that you have, then you need to work and work hard. One thing I've learned from all the Olympic and Paralympic athletes I know is that you don't just do the bare minimum of work; you do the maximum possible. That is how you achieve your goals in this world; you work hard until they become reality.
For some of you life has been handed to you on a daily basis by your parents. Well, that is going to stop soon and you need to realize that whether you fly or fail will depend on how hard you work and how smart your decisions are. Every choice you make has a consequence, one way or another. Remember when you got grounded for staying out late past curfew? Well, coming to work late too often means you get fired. And when you thought that doing your final report halfway was ok? In college that means you'll flunk. You're going to have to step up your game because you're an adult now; act like one, think like one, and work like one.
Get up early, show up early and you'll reach your dreams early.
4. Don't Ignore Your Inner Champion
Now, I realize that this is going to sound like some New Age mumbo jumbo, but don't lose touch of that inner part of you that believes in great things, that hopes for tomorrow, that appreciates the wonders and joys of life. Don't let the tough times of life steal the power and potential that you have. Pessimism, whinning and an otherwise negative attitude won't serve you well in this world. Stay thirsty for sucess, but stay hungry for growth and happiness. Bad things will happen, and that is part of life, but they don't have to bring you down.
When you truly learn to listen to yourself, what you really want, what you know to be true or right or good, then and only then will you reach the level of peace, happiness and satisfaction in life that so many in this world are desperately searching for. Be careful how much you let the media and "the world" influence how you see yourself and what you think you need to be happy. You don't need the latest phone or the most expensive car or some brand name clothes. Those things don't affect your value one bit; you are incredible just the way you are.
So no matter where your path leads from here, don't lose track of who you are and don't let the worries and cares of the world drown out the most powerful voice in your life: your own.
5. Live the Golden Rule
As the years go by, you'll find it becomes easier and easier to focus inward around the tiny world that you live in. Keeping up with the Joneses and making sure you match up with social trends can be exhausting, not to mention that when you only think about yourself you lose out on a lot in life.
My suggestion to you would be learn to open your eyes and keep your heart open to every person you encounter. No one you meet is undeserving of respect nor should you discount their beliefs, even if they do not match your own. Just because someone has differing beliefs about faith, politics, finances, education, relationships, and even how to solve global problems, that does not mean that you have to agree with them, just respect their freedom to believe what they will.
I have heard the most heart-wrenching stories of bullying and brutal violence from one human being towards another just because they were different. Make your generation the one that stops war, that stops crime, that stops bigotry for any reason. Tolerance, love, good-will and mutual respect would go a long ways towards fixing a lot of the problems that face our communities, our nation and even to a certain extent the world. What if, just what if, we could look into the eyes of our coworkers, our neighbors, our teammates or our spouses and say, "I don't agree with you, but I still respect the value you inherently posses"? Think of the change we could effect in this world.
So as you look forward towards your future in this big, wide world, keep your head up, your heart full of courage and your mind clear. Dream audacious dreams, dreams so big that you wonder if you'll ever be able to achieve them; those are the types of goals that bring incredible energy into your whole life. And most of all, be true to your core, maintain integrity no matter what and never, ever allow yourself to diminish the worth of another's soul. You have such amazing potential; I challenge you to live up to it.