Today marks a certain number of years since I graduated from college. I know this because on my graduation day, I made a recurring calendar event on my Palm Pilot and set it to repeat annually. I do that with milestones I want to make sure to remember. I like keeping score, and it has a way of giving an otherwise normal day an unexpected significance when it sneaks up on you again.

This afternoon, I texted my friend, Chris, who graduated with me. Chris works in PR, too, and we’ve been sounding boards for each other for a long time. We feel each other’s pain, and enjoy each other’s wins. Chris sent me back a quote from our famous commencement speaker’s address. It was the same line I entered into my Quotes file on graduation day:

 

“Fear is not a stupid emotion, and people who live without any fear are often stupid. But people who are paralyzed by fear are unfailingly miserable and unsuccessful.”

 

It was like seeing a ghost. Chris said, “Says a lot about a speech when a line sticks with you that long.”

I thought about that quote a lot in the months after gradating and moving back home. It was a not-so-great stretch of my life, when despite the sound advice, I allowed myself to become paralyzed with fear.

Sometime around then, I spoke with Jill. I called her from the desk in my childhood bedroom, using a number printed from an alumni database. It was hard picking up a phone and convincing a stranger to give you their time and advice. But you didn’t have much choice. There was no networking over social media. That phone was the only way out of that room.

Jill was the kind of professional I wanted to be. She was successful, independent and cool. She told me her story, gave me a book to read and said something I’ll never forget:

 

“My advice to you is to be unstoppable.”

 

I wrote it down, and kept thinking about it. It was like a call-to-arms and a mantra wrapped into one. It resonated with something inside me. It helped me quietly evaluate the obstacles preventing me from moving forward into the next stage of my life and come up with ways to beat them. (It also made me a little insufferable, until I learned how to dial it back externally, for the sake of other people.)

Today, Jill is my friend on social media. A few times recently, I’ve said something she likes, and she’ll quote it. She’ll even call it wise. I take a screen-capture when she does that, and file it away. Those screen-captures mean more to me than the diploma I walked offstage with on this day, years ago. They were harder to earn, and more real.

This time of year always tries to pull me back to the state of mind I was in, during a bad time. It’s like a shadow version of yourself, out of the corner of your eye, that you need to keep in check.

Keeping track of the miles between then and now always helps.

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