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How to Be Important

shutterstock_220487410Recently, I happened across a post on marine ecologist and author Carl Safina’s website called “How to Be Important After Graduation (Anytime Really).”

I wish I could remember anything – even a single word – our commencement speaker shared the day I graduated.

If any of the words had been these words, I know I would still remember them.

Carl begins his speech by saying “graduation is always a joyful time.”

It wasn’t joyful for me.

It was scary, and strange, and artificial.

I felt lonely and very much unprepared.

I wasn’t ready for any of it, but it wouldn’t wait any longer. I could hear it in the background stamping its increasingly impatient little foot, telling me I’d better hurry up and get ready….”or else.”


But if I would have heard these words on graduation day, perhaps I would have known then and there (instead of a decade or two later) that I really would survive this most frightening of life transitions.

I say this because, in his address (which is neatly organized into Steps 1 through 10), Safina actually recommends doing many of the very things I was so scared of doing. For instance:

  • Step 2: Never grow up.
  • Step 4: Fail.
  • Step 9: Never chase money.
  • Step 10: Seek to help heal the world (I had no concept on graduation day that anyone other than me was in need of healing).

So beautiful.

Each step in its turn is so profoundly heartfelt, profoundly wise, profoundly true.

On that day – my graduation day – what I needed to know is that everyone feels uncertain about both talent and worth – before, during, and after they are gauged as “successful” by the world’s comparison-based standards.

I needed to know that not caring about money, being very curious, trying hard (even in the face of continual failure), esteeming myself (just enough), seeking the kind of power (and luck) that empowers, and caring – too much, all the time, about everything and everyone – these are qualities to aspire to and cultivate.

I needed to know that the unique bio-chemical, psycho-spiritual being I was then and still am today is here by design, not by accident (even a happy one).

I needed to know I am needed – there is a place for me – there is a role for me to play – and that I can and will and must bear great vision and curiosity and influence over that role in order for it to have the opportunity to manifest in full.

If you, too, need to know and hear these things – if you needed them then and still need them now – please give yourself the gift of reading Carl Safina’s wonderful commencement address, imagining as you do that it is offered just for you.

How to Be Important After Graduation (Anytime Really)

Today’s Takeaway: What is your “takeaway” from Safina’s 10 steps? Do you remember what your commencement speaker shared with your graduating class? If so, what has stuck with you, and why?

Graduation image available from Shutterstock.

How to Be Important

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2014). How to Be Important. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Nov 2014
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