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Gen X to Gen Z Graduation Advice: Believing in Yourself is Overrated

This post has been updated from a previous version in honor of Delaney’s high school graduation.

As the great philosopher Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it.”

When Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released in 1986, I never dreamed that it would be his words of wisdom that I would be quoting as graduation advice to my own daughter 32 years later. But life has a way of rapidly coming full circle.

Gen X to Gen Z graduation advice
TOP: Gen X high school graduation 1987 (graduate pictured with parents). BOTTOM: Gen Z high school graduation 2018 (graduate pictured with grandparents).

Common graduation advice

As my daughter, Delaney, and 3.6 million other new grads prepare to leave home and begin their lives as young adults, I’d like to remind them of my graduation advice, from a Gen Xer to Gen Z.

My advice is directly opposite of the mainstream notion that you can do anything as long as you believe in yourself. Here’s why:

Believing in yourself is overrated.

Believing in myself never earned me an A, or a degree, or a new skill, or anything else for that matter. Success at anything, only comes from action—not feelings. I know this notion is completely contrary to our safe-space-seeking, everyone-gets-a-trophy culture, but it’s true.

And I think Gen Z already knows this.


Because Delaney threw away all of her participation trophies while she was still in middle school. Even a child knows there is no value in being awarded something you didn’t earn.

There is far too much talk about feelings and far too little about what it takes to actually accomplish something. Success comes from putting one foot in front of the other–even when you don’t feel like it, or don’t believe you can–and you do it anyway.

My Generation Z graduation advice

Don’t wait until you believe you can do something before you attempt to do it.

The feeling of accomplishment comes AFTER the victory, not before.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. As most people who know me know, the one thing in my life that I’m most proud of (besides our girls, of course) is our trip around the world. Unlike Ferris, we didn’t skip school for a day–we ditched it for half the year. And it was the best decision of our lives. Those five months mean more to me than any degree earned, job held, goal achieved or anything else.

But here’s the secret:

I didn’t believe we would ACTUALLY do it.

The goal I didn’t believe I could achieve

Dale and I first decided to go on a worldwide family adventure in October 2012, and the plan was to depart in the fall of 2013. So we had one year to put all the pieces together. Although we told the girls our plan and talked about it constantly, there was a tiny voice deep down inside me that never believed we would actually go through with it.

There were so many real reasons NOT to do it, like:

  • school
  • career
  • bills
  • braces
  • house
  • rental property
  • aging parents
  • pets
  • one daughter who insisted we were ruining her life

Coupled with the imagined reasons like:

  • terrorists lurking around every corner
  • planes crashing
  • child abductions and sex trafficking

and you can see there were lots of reasons why I didn’t think we’d actually follow through with our dream.

Action vs. Feelings

Despite my disbelief, I spent the next 12 months doing the things that needed to be done in order to make it happen:

Travel To Do list
so many details…
  • educated myself on homeschooling
  • visas
  • vaccinations
  • put all bills on auto-draft
  • made reservations for certain parts of the trip (NYE in Sydney)
  • bought plane tickets from Birmingham to Iceland for October and from Malaysia to Sydney for December
  • set up security cameras in our home
  • created a blog
  • found temporary homes for the pets
  • Dale transitioned his work obligations
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The week before our departure, one of Delaney’s friends threw us a surprise going away party. What I remember most about this party was thinking:

“Oh no! We really have to go through with it now, because all of these people are expecting us to leave!”

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A week later, as we were wheels-up on the first of 26 flights, the most giddy, accomplished, proud, surreal feeling swept over me. I’m so grateful that I didn’t allow that tiny voice of self-doubt in my head win and that I didn’t wait until I believed in myself to make it happen.

If I had waited until I believed in myself, I would have missed out on the greatest adventure of my life.

From Gen X to Gen Z graduation advice

You are privileged to live in the greatest country in the world. The United States offers the best combination of freedom, opportunity and cost of living than just about anywhere else. The only thing that can hold you back is you.

In order to achieve your dreams, just start taking steps toward your goal and don’t stop. Whether that means taking classes for a degree, searching for a new job, training for a 5K or a marathon, organizing your home, paying off debt, losing weight, learning a new language, or even traveling around the world.

None of these require you to believe in yourself. They simply require action.

You have everything you need to lead the most extraordinary life. Now, it’s up to YOU to make it happen!

Congratulations to all 2018 graduates!

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