After graduation, find personal purpose and passion

Originally published in the Deseret News.

Graduation season is upon us. Adorned in regalia, graduates will walk the stage, collect their degrees and listen to commencement speeches. I hope graduates and their loved ones will magnify this moment by passionately finding and living their dream.

A few years ago, I met U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. She’s a former congresswoman from New Mexico and Rhodes scholar who was recently named president of the University of Texas at El Paso. Our brief encounter left a lasting impression on me.

When it came time for questions and answers, I asked her what advice she would give to young women trying to find their way. Without hesitation she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I would tell them to find a dream they are passionate about that is larger than themselves and do it. Don’t do what someone else dreams for you, do your dream.”

I’ve reflected on her advice frequently since our meeting. Her guidance applies well to graduates, and really all of us, and is particularly important in a world that too often grinds us down. Much more than a cliché, her declaration reminds us to live with personal purpose and passion.

She included four important points in her emphatic declaration.

First, she said to find a dream. She didn’t say live your dream. She said find your dream. Inspired living takes effort. We have to experience a few dead ends before we find the open road. We have to fall down a few times before standing strong. Purposeful living requires effort. Not all who wander are lost; we are just finding our dream!” Purposeful living requires effort. Not all who wander are lost; we are just finding our dream! “

Second, she encouraged people to live with passion. Don’t muddle through life. Don’t drift. Don’t approach life with a yawn. Approach life with vigor. If your tank feels empty, find ways to fill it. Don’t stop trying. When pain is all around you, refuse to cooperate. Seek help if you need it. Dig deep into your bright center and find comfort and motivation. You have it. It is your birthright as a son or daughter of a loving God.

My husband is a great example of both finding his dream and approaching it with passion. In a world where most people stare at a computer screen and manipulate information all day, he builds. Boy does he build. He’s a furniture maker who crafts by hand gorgeous chairs, sideboards, tables, beds and other pieces. He also teaches aspiring woodworkers the craft. He learned the basics of the industrial arts as a young student in a woodshop class where he built his own skateboards. Today, he’s a fine craftsman who holds a contributing editor position with a premier woodworking magazine. Despite the emphasis on tech fields, it is possible — if you are passionate about it and put in the work — to make a living in an artistic endeavor.

Wilson’s third point relates to your role in the community. She encourages people to pursue a dream larger than self. It’s another way of saying, “It’s not about you.” We are happiest when we share our gifts. If you have a lot of money, share your good fortune. If you are of modest means, share your time, ideas and abundant spirit. If you are suffering, share your stories. We all contribute to the greater whole. Whatever your station in life, connect with others and share your experiences.

Wilson’s last point pulls it all together. She admonishes us to dream our dream, not someone else’s. Dreams are personal and custom fit to our circumstances. Authenticity matters. Don’t compare, and don’t covet. Be you. Take the path less traveled if it matches your greatest aspirations.

I encourage this year’s graduates, and really all of us, to find personal purpose and passion. Build a chair, create a great company, cure a disease, support civil society, triumph over your pain and see the beauty in life. Make inspired living a centerpiece of the rest of your life.