Seven Secrets for Seniors
Honored graduates, family members, friends, teachers, support staff, and guests. I’ve been asked to share seven minutes of wisdom with you on how to conquer the many pitfalls in life and rise to the top, even when life seems to be all about trying to push you back down. Seven minutes seemed such a weirdly specific and random number - so I did a little Googling – which you should know is not really the acceptable way to do research once you start writing papers for college – see, I’m giving you advice already.
In the Bible, the number seven is often used to signify the completion of something. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh because He was done and because He was smart enough to know that we all need to take a break once in a while in life.
And when Jesus spoke to Peter about forgiving people who had wronged us, He said we should not just forgive seven times, but seventy times seven times. For the record, I am pretty sure Jesus didn’t mean we actually stop forgiving at 490 times, either, though I admit when I was a kid, I did the math and informed my brother that he was getting dangerously close to that 490 number, when I would be spiritually and legally off the hook, and his life would be in grave danger.
I looked it up (on Google, of course), and in all, the number seven is used in the Bible more than seven hundred times. If there’s such a thing as a secret Bible code, it seems like the number seven is the secret code for perfection or divine completeness. If that’s the case, let’s roll with it and let me give you seven pieces of advice.
I wish I could take credit for making this all up, but I would be lying, and that’s the first piece of advice I can give you. Tell the truth in all things. It may seem hard at the time, but it’s a lot easier to keep track of, and you’ll be able to sleep a whole lot better when you don’t have to try to remember who you told what story to. It’s easy to lie, but it’s really hard to keep up a lie, and your heart and stomach will keep score. Be honest in everything.
Second, be on time. When you show up late, even accidentally, you’re telling whomever you are meeting that their time is less valuable than yours. Being late also sends a pretty strong message that your organizational and time management skills leave a lot to be desired, but really, once you’ve shown them that your time is more important than theirs, you’re kind of already headed in the wrong direction.
Third, always be ready to make a great first impression. We’ve been talking about the number seven for a few minutes, right? Well, did you know that the average attention span of a human is now clocked in at seven seconds? That is two seconds shorter than the attention span of a goldfish, which doesn’t say much about goldfish, but it says even less about us as human beings.
If our attention span is only seven seconds long, that means we make a judgement on everyone we meet in less than seven seconds. Whether you know it or not, you judged me before I even started speaking this afternoon. And whether I like it or not, I judged you, too. That’s how we’re wired as humans, and while we can change it, most of us don’t even realize we’re doing it, so make it who you are to always be ready to make a great first impression. You rarely get a do-over or second chance to make a first impression.
Fourth – be empathetic. Actively showing that you understand others’ problems and that you genuinely care for them helps improve your communication skills tremendously. It does involve putting your phone down and actually making eye contact with others, which I know is really, really hard…but it’s worth it, and putting your phone down (and showing empathy) are as big a gift to you as they are to the person who is receiving your empathy.
Fifth – volunteer. I don’t mean just for points or Bright Futures hours, but volunteer because helping others and giving of yourself is the right thing to do. Studies have shown that the health effects of volunteering on a regular basis can help you live longer. Now, to be clear, writing a check is nice, and if you’ve got a little extra to share with others, that’s great, too, but that’s not what’s going to make your life longer, healthier, and happier. Actual volunteering will help you live a longer, healthier, and happier life – at least one hour a month, but the more you give, the more you’ll receive.
Sixth, be humble. I know it is your graduation day, and everyone and his cousin is telling you that you are ‘all that and a bag of chips,’ but please don’t let your success go to your head and make you think you accomplished it all on your own – now or ever! You are here right now because you’ve been fortunate to have families who love you, teachers who genuinely care about helping you succeed, food in your bellies and a roof over your heads. Millions of others do not have such luxuries. Please don’t take those gifts for granted or think you accomplished anything all on your own.
It’s so easy to become self-absorbed and think that the whole universe revolves around you and what you want and think you need, but no matter how famous or powerful or rich you become in life, remember that you are standing on the shoulders of others who have helped lift you to that place. Don’t forget them, and do not ever let yourself be fooled into thinking you are better than anyone else – anyone.
Finally, seventh – the perfect number – be grateful. Never underestimate the power of saying “Thank You.” Recently, I coordinated a big event that involved twenty-five of the most influential business people and leaders in the community volunteering a full morning of their time - without so much as a bathroom break all morning! They worked really hard, and they made it a fun, fast, and amazing day for two hundred participants. Since then, I’ve had a chance to drop by the offices and businesses of nearly all of the presenters from that event.
Without fail, as soon as I’ve walked into their offices, I’ve caught sight of the handwritten Thank You note I sent the week after the event. Every one of them had that Thank You note sitting on their desk, hanging on the wall, or even taped to their computers. And every single one of the presenters asked if they could come back and be part of the program again next year. Every. Single. One. Not because they got a swag bag full of ritzy goodies or a check for their trouble. They all wanted to participate because it made them feel good to help others and because they were touched to have been thanked for their time and energy.
I know you’re busy. I know you have graduation parties to go to, friends to say goodbye to, and lots going on in your lives, but whether it’s a $10 bill from your grandma in your graduation card or the time of a mentor who helps you with your college resume or job application, never underestimate the power of showing your gratitude.
The German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart once said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘Thank You,’ it will be enough.” I saved gratitude for the seventh and last bit of advice because it is not only the perfect piece, just as seven is evidently the perfect number, but because I believe it is the best prayer we can ever make in life. Have an attitude of gratitude, and you won’t need advice, lottery tickets, or even the perfect number. Gratitude will be enough, and it will guarantee a happy life. Thank you.
Wendy Dwyer is a woman of many hats. A full-time Associate Professor at Indian River State College, she serves as a creative consultant for a variety of nonprofit organizations in the area. She also writes regularly for Luminaries, STUART Magazine, and a variety of other publications.
The creative force behind a variety of unique and wildly successful fundraising programs locally, including the Jewelia Project, the “What’s in Your Bag?” Food Drive, and the Silver Bells Holiday Home Tour, Dwyer is an active volunteer in the community as well, serving as a founding board member of the Van Duzer Foundation, and assisting a variety of local charitable organizations including: Mustard Seed, HANDS/VIM, Southeast Florida Honor Flight, Creature Safe Place, the Inner Truth Project, Guardians for New Futures, Fort Pierce Jazz and Blues Society, the Sunrise Theatre Foundation, LifeBuilders of the Treasure Coast, Heathcote Botanical Gardens, United for Animals, and many others.
An award-winning writer, educator, and public relations professional, Dwyer is always willing to assist non-profit organizations and provide dynamic and engaging public relations trainings for Treasure Coast charities. Her book Asshats to Assets: How to Turn Crappy Jobs into Career Gold is available at www.amazon.com. When she is not working or volunteering, she enjoys writing, walking, and spending time with her husband Dan and a large variety of rescued animals at her rural home west of Fort Pierce.