May 19, 2017 by Frank Powell

10 Life Lessons You Won’t Hear At Graduation

It’s graduation season. ’Tis the time for selfies, side hugs and uber-optimistic, highly predictable commencement speeches.

Frank Powell

Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. He plays golf occasionally. He drinks coffee often. You can find more of his content at

I mean, really. Can you name three things more predictable than a commencement speech? The whole thing is a big dog and pony show, which sounds boring enough, except the pony has only trick. Hell seems like a fair description for such a show.

Yet, commencement speeches, despite coming from successful, interesting people, continue to pull some variation of the same trick. “Follow your passion. Do what you love. Never settle. Believe in yourself.”

The words might be inspirational in theory. But they fall on deaf ears due to overuse.

What’s more, commencement speeches hardly address lessons college graduates (and young people, in general, of which I am one) need to know moving forward.

Here, then, distinguished friends, are 10 things I wish someone told me when I graduated college.

1. Your failures will determine your future, not your successes.

I hope you find success. Celebrate when you do. But success has very little to teach you.

This probably sounds like craziness. That’s fine. I’m planting seeds here. Just know that at some point, you will fail spectacularly. And, yes, the suck-age will be off the charts. But failure exposes who you really are, what you really value and where your hope really rests.

With the facts in front of you, a choice must be made. Will you change and grow or deny and suppress? These decision you make in the midst of failure shapes your days and years moving forward.

2. You are the only character present on every page of your story. If you want to change your life, address the main character.

In the years after my graduation, I jumped between friends and jobs thinking they were my problem. When I found a new posse or employer, I was greeted with the same problems. The reason? I was the problem.

Until you realize this, you are, as Ian Cron says, “an accident waiting for an intersection.”

3. You don’t have to be in charge to lead.

Chances are you won’t be in charge at first. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader. Leadership is about influence. Make integrity a priority. Take a genuine interest in others. Be a giver and a servant.

Please, start today.

4. No one cares what you do with your life.

As a general rule, people are too concerned about their own lives to worry about what you’re doing, how well it’s been done or where you’re doing it.

Your epic failure or crazy awesome accomplishment might catch the attention of the masses for a minute, two max. Then comes a work deadline and everyone’s focus returns where it was.

There’s no need to project an image or take yourself too serious. No need to be perfect, either. You can take risks because if you fail, no one will really care.

5. The books you read will shape the person you become.

When I say books, I’m not referring to those textbooks you fumbled through the past several years. I know only only one reason to keep one of those in your possession after college.


The books you read from this day forward will shape who you become. Reading makes you more empathetic, humble, confident and compassionate. Your conversations will be richer, your life experiences more meaningful.

6. It’s not what they call you. It’s what you answer to.

Everyone has critics and haters. You will be on the wrong end of some verbal poop a time or ten. This is especially true if you set out to make the world a better place.

Walk the aisle with this truth, and do so quickly: you can’t control your circumstances, but you’re ALWAYS responsible for your response.

Don’t deny your emotions. Deal with them. Invest in a punching bag or maybe a counselor. Then get on with making a dent in the world.

7. It’s not about what you know. It’s about how consistent you are.

This isn’t sexy, I know. I wish I could say head knowledge or social skills or rocking good looks will get you ahead. I wish I could say the journey to realizing your dreams is always exhilarating and easy. And, while some days this will be true, many days it will not.

In the real world, consistency and character trump competency.

The path to your dreams is much more about consistency and character than competency. Show up when you don’t feel like that. Make the right choice even when it’s not the easy one. Eventually, you will arrive wherever it is you’re trying to go.

8. Certainty is the enemy of growth.

Certainty creates a very small world and a very large sense of entitlement and insecurity.

Certainty is also the catalyst for most sins in the world, especially the heinous ones. Just ask a white nationalist if there’s even the smallest possibility that he might be misguided? Nope, he’s certain. And the world’s worse off for it.

Keep an open mind. Engage people with a different worldview. Give up trying to convince people. Leave open the possibility that you could be wrong. And make peace with not knowing, which is what it means to have faith.

9. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

I was tempted to say “unrealistic expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” Then I recalled the times I placed realistic expectations on someone and ended up bitter anyway.

Quick story.

A few years ago, on the way home from a leadership meeting at church, I pulled over to help a lady who ran out of gas. She was in a tight spot, so I drove to the gas station, bought a gas tank, filled it up, and returned to pour the petro in her car. I then walked up to her window and told her she was ready to go. She asked if I wanted some cash. I said no. She said ok and drove off.

I honestly didn’t want cash. I did, however, want some indication that she was grateful. “Thank you” or “I appreciate it” would have been just fine.

Reasonable expectation, agreed?

Instead I got nothing. And I was fightin’ mad.

At least a few years has passed since that incident, and it just hit me that I haven’t stopped to help one person since. Why? Resentment fueled by an unmet expectation.

Expectations will render your life a never-ending let down.

Appreciate every person and moment for who or what it is, not what you think it should be. And give to the world without assuming it owes you anything in return.  

10. Love always wins. But it never sells.

My faith in Jesus compels me to believe love wins. But I also believe the arc of history affirms it. Humanity backtracks at times, sure. And though we’re far from realizing Eden, the world continues turning forward, towards a more just, less violent world. This is God’s plan, to redeem and renew the world, all of it. And he invites you to join the movement.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s near impossible to attract a large following or climb the cultural ladder while actively participating in this movement. Love wins. But it doesn’t sell, not to the masses nor to the ego. Both of these want to believe we live in a “dog eat dog,” “if you ain’t winnin’, you losing” world. In this world, it’s okay to step on a few necks while climbing up the ladder because they step on yours given the opportunity. In this world, the weak are always in the way and the ones who look or act different are something less than human.

Despite what news outlets and social media timelines might suggest, the world I described above is fading away. Everyday you have a choice. Will you pursue large followings or stand against oppression? Will you join God’s plan to restore the world or devise your a plan to create your own?

Grace and peace, friends.

This article was written by Frank Powell and originally appeared at his blog. Find it here

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