Last Friday, our campus minister asked me to pinch-hit as the chapel speaker this week. A chapel talk here at the Priory is short—about five to seven minutes in length—and may address any topic the speaker feels inspired to share with the community. In spite of my almost thirty years in education and literally hundreds of public presentations, giving the chapel talk at our school still makes my knees knock.
There is something about our chapel experience that affects people. Maybe it’s the beauty and intimacy of the space, or the presence of the monks, or the captive audience of students, faculty, and staff, or the long history of teachers, administrators and kids sharing their most personal truths there. In any case, there is an ineffable quality to the experience, an elevation of sorts, that makes our chapel the spiritual heart of our community.
Giving a chapel talk inspires speakers to quake a bit and, more often than you might expect, to transcend themselves and rise above the commonplace. Our Senior Exit Surveys have shown that Chapel is one of the most memorable parts of the student experience here. The talks tend to be instructive, insightful and inspiring.
With only three days notice, I approached this week’s talk with some trepidation. People spend hours working on these presentations. In years gone by I have spent that much time myself. In the end, I decided to compile a list of ideas that I wish I’d had access to earlier in my life. Teenagers are notorious for their unapologetic disregard of adult advice. I chose to share these with them anyway.
Here’s my list. I hope you find something helpful here.
1. Try not to hold back. Love the people that you love ferociously and unapologetically. When the impulse to tell someone you love them strikes, do it, even if it might embarrass you. Tell people when you have warm feelings for them or when you are proud of what they are doing. Say thank you to the people you are grateful to. You never know what other people may need to hear and it feels marvelous to do.
2. Pay attention to your moments of grace. There are times when the world feels magical, mysterious and brilliantly lit. That is the most extraordinary gift of God or whatever you happen to believe in. Whether it happens to you out in nature, reading a book or kissing the person you love, relish those moments of grace.
3. Give yourself a break. We are here to make mistakes and screw things up periodically. When you blow it, allow yourself a bemused smile and a shake of the head. No one does this complicated journey perfectly. Trying to do everything perfectly will drive you crazy, and in the end, cause more harm than good. Instead, try to show up, do the best you can, and let go of the outcome.
4. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. As confident and invulnerable as others may appear, there is no way to determine how they are actually feeling. All of us are insecure. While you are worrying about how you are being perceived, chances are good that everyone else in the room is worrying about the same thing.
5. Show up as yourself. When you give yourself permission to be the quirky person that you are, you give other people permission to do the same. You never know what you’re giving to others just by living your own life as authentically as you can.
6. Life can be paradoxical. While I spent much of my young adulthood wandering the globe and seeking various forms of adventure, getting married and having a family ended up being the most freeing thing that I have ever chosen to do. There will be times in life when surrender will bring an unexpected blessing.
7. The only choices I regret in my life are the times when I was cruel.
8. It’s a cliché, but the best things in life probably aren’t things.
9. Being an adult is much more fun than it looks. For some of you, high school will stand out as a wonderful time in your life, but for all of you, there is so much more to look forward to.
10. Life is both a beautiful and terrible gift. It is yours. It is not your parents’ or society’s. Your life is yours. Throw yourself into it with abandon and faith.