Home / Education / An Open Letter to my Graduating Son: Whatever You Do, Don’t Set the World on Fire

An Open Letter to my Graduating Son: Whatever You Do, Don’t Set the World on Fire

If you know me, Dylan — which, considering you’ve been with me for 17 years, I hope you do by now — you know how I feel about aspirational platitudes. The words “Live every moment, laugh every day, love beyond words” (or their equally annoying truncated version: “Live-laugh-love”) make me want to vurp a little.

The Anti-Live-Laugh-Love

Scratch that: A lot.

So as we approach the day of your graduation from high school — the day when you symbolically unfold your majestic wings and take flight into the boundless beyond — I have a pretty simple (and undoubtedly inspirational) message for you:

Fuckin’ A, dude!

(Quick aside: You’re practically a high school graduate now. We can openly swear around one another, no?)

(Quick aside Part B: Pretend with me just for a moment that we have yet to openly swear with one another, lest I lose my “Mom of the Millennium” status that I’m undoubtedly rocking, k? Please and thank you.)

So back to the matter at hand: Holy crap, you’re graduating! I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the fact that you’ve reached this pivotal moment of your development. I know many of my friends can relate to this as they near their own kids’ graduation, because it’s super strange and a bit surreal to be at this milestone — more than anything else because of my own vivid memory of standing exactly where you’re standing right now: at the precipice of adulthood, wearing a drapey gown and a silly flat hat, looking out over the great beyond — with nary a concept in your head about what the future holds.

And that’s a good thing. Because that’s perfectly ok.

But what’s NOT ok are the quotes I keep seeing pop up all over the place, offering inspiration from seemingly valid places, that seem to undermine the basic tenets of what I’ve learned as an adult.

So on this, the eve of your graduation (truth be told it’s your grad eve10, but who’s counting?), I offer the following debunking of aforementioned inspirational platitudes.

(AKA Don’t believe the following:)

  • “Go forth and set the world on fire.” ~ St. Ignatius of Loyola

    Holy shit, don’t do that! Because you’re still 17, and I don’t want to get that call from the RPD. “Hello, Mikalee, your son has set the world on fire. Just thought you’d like to know. You can pick him up at the police station after we’ve processed him. Oh LOL never mind, because that’s on fire, too.” No, let’s not set the world on fire. I love you, and I expect big things from you, but dude: The world is a big place. Huge. And that’s like the epitome of an unrealistic expectation. How about just light a match, hold it up, and simply admire it for a moment. (Then wrap it in tin foil before you throw it away, because I’m a mom, and I fear trash fires.) But seriously, if you look at a flame for a moment — and consider it came from a simple action, one little spark — it does tell a big story, am I right? One simple action can ultimately inspire something glorious, something dangerous, something totally unpredictable. Strike those flames thoughtfully, treat them carefully, but don’t be afraid of them. Control them as best you can, but acknowledge that some things are out of your control. (Regardless, though, remember that idea about wrapping that match in foil? Yeah, that.)
  • “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” ~ Confucius

Also really stupid advice. I mean, think about this: You walk into a neighborhood fro-yo shop. Are you really there with all your heart? I hope not. Or the bathroom. Or to pump some gas. Going EVERYWHERE with all your heart is 1.) EXHAUSTING; 2.) EXHAUSTING; 3.) EXHAUSTING; and 4.) Impractical. Protect that heart just a bit, and don’t bring it in whole wherever you go. I’m all for passion, and I’m all for putting it out there. But not all the time. Stupid advice, Confucius. Sheesh.

  • “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
    Oprah
    Nope. NOPE. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love me some inspirational Oprah. But I’ve courageously asked for a ton in life, and I’ve often been confronted with a big ol’ “Haha-you’re-adorable-no-thank-you.” Asking for things — even courageously — doesn’t get you shit. We have this amazing thing called “free will” that sets us apart from most of the animal world (except cats, because those assholes do nothing but exercise free will, no matter what, in all aspects of their lives.) And free will means this: You cause things to happen. You don’t have to ask — you can do. (Keep in mind, there are situations where this advice doesn’t hold up: You do have to ask for vacation time from your employer. And for food in a restaurant, unless it’s a salad bar. And for sex; because consent.) But for the most part, asking — even courageously — isn’t the answer. You MUST combine a desire with an equal part of skill, knowledge, connection and often good old-fashioned luck. Please, do not assume that asking for anything will make that thing happen, because that is a recipe for disappointment.
  • “Do. Or do not. There is no ‘try.’” ~ Yoda

Fuck that. Oftentimes in life you have to try — even multiple times — before you can do something. Do you think you can just go land a quadruple axel? I think not. How about flying an airplane? I’m assuming that takes a lot of trial and error (with a certified flight instructor and simulators, obvs). Even something stupid like hopping on a pogo stick or using a hula hoop takes a few tries before you succeed. Please, never expect you’ll perfect something on the first go-round. Trying is a thing. It needs to happen when something is difficult. Do NOT expect perfection, and do NOT expect to nail something on the first try. Because stupid, Yoda is. Well, in this one regard. He was right about the “Wars not make one great” thing.

  • “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.” ~ Maya Angelou

Um, yeah, about that: Your light will be dimmed, even the one within. You cannot go around all bright and shiny all the time (see Bullet #2, above). While I agree that the light from within cannot be snuffed out entirely, what I want you to realize is this: No one goes around shining splendidly all the time. There are moments when you’ll feel like you’re at the top of the world and everything is as it should be, and there will be others when everything fucking sucks. And during those times, your inner light may be a bit dimmer. That’s perfectly ok. Embrace that shit. Because those dim times are necessary. They help you realize when the light is at its brightest, ultimately encouraging you to bask in that well-deserved glow.

Alrighty. Now that those stupid ideas have been thoroughly debunked, I offer the following inspirational thoughts from me:

  • Always arrive five minutes early.
  • Avoid sanctimony like it’s the plague, because people will have different viewpoints from your own, and that’s perfectly ok (and, in fact, it’s pretty awesome).
  • Put at least $1,000 in a savings account you never plan to touch.
  • Live a life of integrity; say what you mean, mean what you say, and care for others. It’s pretty much that simple.
  • Do shit that feeds your soul — like breathing deep while looking at the ocean, creating something with your hands or simply admiring art.
  • Acknowledge that you cannot change a person — and most importantly, you cannot change a person’s mind. Their mind is not yours to change; they have to want to do it.
  • Face a window when taking a selfie indoors.
    Dylan Dahle, Wooster IB Graduate
    My handsome first-born, Dylan

But above all else, always keep this in your heart and in your head: You’re loved. You matter. And I’m here for you, always. Even if you accidentally set the world on fire. I’ll be here, with a hose, ready to knock that shit out.

I love you, and I couldn’t be any prouder.

(Like literally. It’s physically impossible. I would explode.)

Congratulations, Dylan. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Mom

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About Mikalee Byerman

Mikalee Byerman
When Mikalee Byerman's decade-long first marriage ended with a message inscribed on a brick — a literal brick — the writer knew she had crazy fodder for a story about the symbolism of bricks, blindsides and a universe that likes to fuck with her. Taking cues from her “you-can’t-make-this-shit-up” misfortune, the potty-mouthed freelance writer is documenting her tongue-in-cheek take on life through her highly controversial blog, Me 2.0, which has been featured on the Huffington Post and TIME Magazine's websites. Her writing also has appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, Southwest Spirit Magazine and Alaska Airlines Magazine. Her first book — 100 Things to Do in Reno Before You Die — is due out in Spring 2017 (Reedy Press). During the day, she is a communication strategist for the Estipona Group. Oh yeah, and she's also known as "Mom" to two crazy-cool teens and "Mommy" to one plain-crazy toddler.

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