May is the month of graduations. This article is based on a commencement speech given by the author at the December 15, 2022, graduation at Southern Adventist University. Elements of the oral presentation have been retained.—Editors.
Esteemed president Shaw, honored faculty, wonderful families, and accomplished graduating class: Thank you for the privilege I have been given to address you on this very auspicious occasion. I feel honored. I did a quick calculation, and I concluded that I have sat through about 40 graduations and, much to my shame, I don’t remember any of those carefully crafted, inspiring, and often stirring commencement speeches. And so, rather than a speech, I want to share six of my hard-earned life hacks with you in the hopes that one or two may prove useful and practical as you step out into postgraduation life.
Here is Life Hack 1: Don’t follow your heart. Yes, you heard that right—don’t follow your heart. Our hearts are amazingly fickle things. What is very important today is often of little or no consequence in 10 years’ time, and in 30 years’ time all your heart could want is to be left alone to take a nap. I’ve seen people throw away careers, marriages, relationships, and life savings as their hearts made a sudden U-turn. Don’t be roadkill to your heart. Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”
That being said, live life purposefully. That’s Life Hack 2. Have a grand plan—have a grand destiny. Have the dream, keep the passion. Life—I am discovering—is not so much a destination as it is a journey. A journey that takes passion and perseverance. As you set out you may change destinations on the way—so what! You get into your car and begin that road trip. There will be traffic jams, detours, roadwork, flat tires, and even engine blowouts, but there will also be sunrises, long conversations, good music, and snacks. If you had told me at my university graduation at Helderberg College, South Africa, in 1991 that I would be here today with a Ph.D., I would never have believed you. No one in my extended family has a Ph.D.; very few have a college degree. None of my relatives had ever traveled outside of South Africa. And yet here I am with the love of my life, three wonderful daughters, the privilege of having lived and worked on four different continents, learned new languages, and traveled and explored so many countries. None of this was part of my grand plan, but I did set out to get a high school teaching job and be the best teacher that I could be, and then I watched for the indications of Providence. King Solomon, who was ahead of his time with his collection of life hacks, was spot-on when he said: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Eccl. 9:10).
Here is Life Hack 3: Don’t be afraid to commit. Yes, be wise. Make the best choices. Listen to advice. Then take the plunge. Don’t let the fear of failure or the worry that there could be something better paralyze you and prevent those life choices. You don’t want to watch life going by as you stand by.
Watch out for Life Hack 4. Use technology—but resist letting it use you. This is one of my biggest challenges and will be a lifelong fight. Technology has so much to give. It can push us higher, further, and better, but by its very nature it will also try to invade every waking moment of life. Keep fighting the mindless scrolling; take frequent breaks from the mind-numbing noise. Refuse to be sucked into the know-it-all shouting matches and easy one-sided solutions and quick fixes.
Here is Life Hack 5: Be kind. Invest in relationships, not in stuff. Having moved so many times, I realize that today’s treasure is tomorrow’s trash. So put the bulk of your time and energy into nurturing real relationships. Fundamental to this will be kindness to others, but also be kind to yourself. Making friends with yourself is one of the most important things you can do. Life is very hard if you are continually trying to get away from yourself. You could start by saying something nice at the mirror. Yes, you will never measure up to the unreal wide array of perfection and standards of success promoted all around us, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be kind to ourselves.
And finally, here is my master Life Hack, 6, which can be used to hack any other hacks. Operate from the assumption that you are loved, because you are. Choosing to believe that God loves you is the most profound life hack. We call this faith, and when we let it work through the different layers of our being, we realize that failure has nothing to do with belonging. An acceptance of this knowledge has the power to change, wonderfully change, the most hopeless, discouraging outlook. Armed with a life hack or two, Class of 2022—I wish each of you graduates a wonderful future that stretches into eternity. As my daughters say: you’ve got this!