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Dear Graduate: Thoughts on Pursuing a Life Well-Lived

VanSlykeThis is my second annual “Dear Graduate” letter. The inspiration for the content of this letter came from listening to a group of students who completed an eight-week Dale Carnegie course. Their comments led me to think about what we should seek as we traverse life.

Dear Graduate:

You have reached a significant milestone, graduation from college. Your life will quite literally never be the same. Life is good, but only if you know how to live. Here are my thoughts on what to pursue in order to live well.

Seek the good. The world can be a rough place, but just how rough is largely up to how we view life and the world around us. We can choose to seek, and focus on that which is good. Doing so dramatically improves your mood, attitude and perspective on the future. As Seneca wrote, “A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself to be.” Convince yourself to be happy.

Seek discomfort. A big part of your education involved getting you out of your comfort zone. While not easy, such discomfort is a major factor in your success. Try something new. Read something that challenges your view of the world. Stretch yourself. You’ll be more successful as a result.

Seek comfort. The advice in the last paragraph can be taken too far; I’m guilty of this myself. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a bit of comfort. Sometimes you need people, places and activities that give you ease. Just as an athlete needs rest between workouts, finding time to relax and enjoy life refreshes and readies you for the next challenge.

Seek failure. Failure gets a bad rap. Failing all the time is bad, but never failing is equally bad. If you’ve never failed, you’ve never pushed your abilities. Remember that failure is an event, not a personal characteristic. True failure occurs only when we don’t learn from the failure. Other “failures” are just experiments that get you closer to success.

Seek gratefulness. A spirit of gratitude is important to your well-being and happiness. By being a grateful person, your mindset becomes more positive and optimistic. This isn’t some psychological parlor trick, you actually put more of your attention on the good, and less on the bad, which makes you happier and more satisfied with life.

Seek wisdom. Your education helped you gain knowledge, and maybe understanding. Formal education is good at this, but not at helping you gain wisdom. As Albert Einstein reportedly said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling, but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” To me, wisdom is the application of knowledge in the pursuit of a virtuous life. Now that you’re out in the “real” world, use what you’ve learned to live well, to live a life worthy of the name.

Seek excellence. Here, “excellence” has a dual meaning. First, strive to do everything to the best of your ability. Doing so not only helps you perform better, leading to more career success, it also gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done all you can do. The second meaning is even more important to your success in life. The second meaning pertains to how you live and the kind of person you become. Think hard about the kind of person you want to be, then put full effort into being that person. Follow Seneca’s advice, “Cultivate that good which improves with the years.”

Seek tolerance (for yourself and others). Tolerance of others is a sign of humility. By being tolerant, you acknowledge that your view of the world may not be totally correct, that other views are valid. But it’s not enough to be tolerant of others, also be tolerant of yourself. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to slip in your pursuit of virtue. That’s the fate of humans. When you mess up don’t wallow in self-loathing or self-pity; learn from the experience and move on.

Seek your own path. Finally, seek your own path. While you can learn from the experiences and opinions of others, it’s your life. Live it as you see fit. My path, your parents’ paths, your best friend’s path, may work well for me or them, but it’s not your path. Find your own path, follow it, live the life you were meant to live. Live so that when you’re old, sitting on your porch thinking back on your life, you can say I’ve lived well, the world is better because I was in it. FBN

By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.

I’m honored to lead Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business, home to over 3,400 students, and faculty and staff who are dedicated to the success of those students and the economic development of Northern Arizona. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to:, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.


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