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Advice for Graduates When Plans Fall Apart

Arthur Brooks recently published a New York Times op-ed offering timely wisdom to the 1.6 million Americans who are graduating college this year. Graduation can be an incredible time of celebration. Having recently graduated from college myself, I can easily remember those feelings of joy and achievement. The coming months seem full of promise as graduates face the future with hope for success. Many envision themselves landing a respected position with a prestigious institution, earning a comfortable salary.

“We would do well to remember this old but wise folk saying: ‘Don’t nothing God do go to waste.’”

But what if this carefully laid plan does not play out as imagined? What if we fail to secure the position we have always dreamed of and find ourselves feeling trapped in a tedious job where our skills are not fully utilized? Even worse, what if we face prolonged unemployment with no prospects in sight? When we encounter failure and difficulty, it is easy to become disillusioned. If we are not careful, Brooks suggests we might find ourselves resembling the “city dolls” that essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson so despised—those elite college graduates who “wallowed in self-pity if they didn’t immediately land the prestigious job to which they felt entitled.”

When the path to success in the post-grad life becomes strewn with challenges and unknowns, we would do well to remember this old but wise folk saying: “Don’t nothing God do go to waste.”

More eloquently, Brooks encourages us to take heart in the face of the trials, noting that:

Failure, false starts and midcourse corrections are part and parcel of a life well lived… Failures offer invaluable chances to learn and improve… Don’t meet obstacles with victimhood and self-pity. Welcome them, especially early in life, as opportunities to grow in resilience and virtue.

Perhaps, instead of chasing after the fastest, most convenient path to fulfilling our dreams of success, we should recognize the challenges before us as catalysts for growing in virtue and holiness. After all, the truly “good life” is not found in an abundance of material possessions or an impressive job, but rather in a life well lived.

Certainly, challenges are not necessarily to be sought after. But, as International Justice Mission’s Gary Haugen suggests, for every success:

There are untold days of invisible faithfulness and failure—of persevering, when the end of the story is unknown. Persevering when it’s hard. Persevering when it’s boring… Between those glimpses of the miraculous is a mundane reality of daily faithfulness in the seemingly small details.

Truly, what God asks of His children is not success per se, but faithfulness. This certainty frees us to boldly embrace both the unknowns of the future and the challenges of today with joy and hope. For we know that, as the Apostle Paul states:

Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame. (Romans 5:3-5)

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