Mistakes make life interesting

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” —Samuel Beckett

Graduation season is sneaking up, a day equally feared and anticipated by so many. It may be more of a 60-40 split, with the scales tipping in opposite directions depending on the day. I was the parent of a high school graduate one year ago, much to my dismay. And in just a few short years, I will do it again.

Again, much to my dismay.

I have been out of high school for going on three decades, and while specific details of my own graduation probably still exist somewhere in my mind, one thing I remember is my dress. I liked that dress. I’m not sure what it says about the “big moment” when clothing memories rise to the top.

Graduation is exciting; that I do remember. Like any big transition—not unlike being the parent of a bonafide graduate—it carries with it a hearty mix of antagonistic emotions. Exhaustion and energy. Confidence and fear. Ready and so not ready.

A good graduation speech helps. And now I love a good graduation speech. Because now, I get it. I know what the speakers mean with their bullet points of advice and poetic words of wisdom.

Every few years, maybe on graduation anniversaries, everyone should listen to a solid graduation speech. Start with Neil Gaiman from the 2012 graduation at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. (YouTube it, you’ll be glad you did.)

Gaiman, a writer, was addressing an arts college, so his speech revolved around living as an artist. Specifically, the importance of making good art, always. In good times and in bad. In sickness and in health. In success and in failure. It’s expedient advice for fresh and energetic graduates.

But how helpful could that message sound to someone who has been out in the world for 20 or 30 years and forgot long ago about their “art?” Or to a 50 or 60-year-old who never got around to it?

“Make good art” must be one of the best life tips ever spoken. It makes direct sense for artists—whether they paint, dance, write or sing—because in those fields, literal art is art. But it’s solid advice for any passion or curiosity that drives someone.

Maybe science. Or politics. Or teaching. Or cleaning. Or cooking. Or mom-ing. Or dog grooming. Or welding. All of that. If you like it, if you are drawn to it, then it’s your definitive form of art.

There are typical phases in life when it’s normal to take a good hard look at “what’s next?” Graduation from high school or college is a time to wonder how life will unfold. What will I do? How will I do it?

But it also happens later. Probably more than once. At some point, before we know what hits us, there will be questions. What am I doing? Am I doing enough? Am I making the most of my time? Am I making a mark?

Enter a good motivational graduation speech.

Below I have blatantly copied and pasted a portion of Gaiman’s address to that class of 2012, giving him full credit, because it’s worthwhile and brilliant. And because I think if we do nothing more than try to make good art in specific and individual ways, the world becomes a slightly better place to be.

* * *

“Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work….

“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be…was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking toward the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me toward or away from the mountain….

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

“Make it on the good days too…. And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.”

Shelley Plett is a graphic designer for the Free Press and Kansas Publishing Ven­tures. She can be reached at shelley@hillsborofree­press.com.