Just the way you are


The good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.

American singer-songwriter and pianist, Billy Joel was born on this day in 1949.

It’s graduation season. All across the country, and perhaps around the world, bright eyed college and high school students are sitting through speeches they aren’t listening to from dignitaries they’ve never heard of.

But the message is the same “you can have your dream.”


Truth be told when I graduated from college I wasn’t sure what that dream was. I was heading out to spend the summer working on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. At the time I crossed the platform and switched my tassel to the other side, my plan was to return to college and complete the education degree components I should have had in the first place.

By the time I returned from the great southwest, the plan was to either 1) immediately return to the American Indian field as a missionary. I was assured I’d be accepted to return and my friends out there were waiting for my arrival, or 2) enter seminary and then go to the American Indian field.

I did neither.

Instead, after a guilt-induced conversation with a then spiritual mentor, I moved back home. Through connections and family I ended up with a job as…wait for it…a social worker.

Not trained for it. Not qualified for it. But I did it for three and a half years. Until I had the opportunity to get the heck out of Dodge. When that came, I took it.

So, for the last thirty years, I’ve been doing politics and public policy as my primary job. Twenty-two years with the Commonwealth.

This was not the plan. But I got here because of the choices I made in life. Choices for career moves. Financial decisions. Health decisions.

But I’ve learned that I can’t blame that spiritual mentor for the misdirection he gave. I can’t blame the candidates I worked for for not winning. Well, maybe. But that’s another story. Whatever the influence, I made the decisions.

Now, while I sometimes struggle with the day job, it pays the bills. Or most of them. And I’m able to have that dream of writing and acting even though those aren’t my life sustaining career.

And, that’s okay.

Many of the graduates hearing these speakers, or pretending to hear whilst avoiding the urge to pull out their phones, have a dream, and a plan, and will work diligently to get there. We have a young friend who, as of last week, can now be referred to as Doctor Joe.

I’m not going to be speaking at a graduation ceremony anytime soon, or if ever. The one time I did speak at my alma mater, as the president of the alumni association, I tried to tell a joke. It bombed royally. I realize, of course, that I’m likely the only one who remembers that.

I digress.

I in the very, very rare chance that I was asked to speak, I’m not sure what I’d say. Is “you can have your dream” a false promise.

Maybe it’s better to say “never stop pursuing your dream.” Never stop following your passion.

Maybe you’ll do great things. Maybe you’ll be a great person doing mundane things.

It’s all okay.

And, along the way, it’s okay to be just the way you are.

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