Graduates: Find Your Calling in Life’s Abundance

A guest post by Tom Paladino

Dear Graduates,

I’m honored to address you as you launch your career. Some of you are excited about what happens next. Others are perhaps anxious about the future.

All of you have one thing in common – you, and only you are the architect of your next move. Yes, climate change is real and present. Yes, there is conflict in the world. Yes, the global economy is flat. True, it might be hard to find the job you think you want. I have no doubt that there is a struggle ahead for each and every one of you.

I can also tell you, without a doubt, that you can take comfort in two realities.

First, embrace change.

It is the nature of human beings to exist in states of change – to dwell in places that are between what was, what is, and what will be. We are born to try, to be better, to become. It’s what makes us great builders.

We live long lives amongst elders and youngsters. We observe and learn from each other. Some of my best teachers have been dead for thousands of years. I learn from their struggles to be human. I can walk in their steps. You cannot avoid walking in their steps.

As you do, respect your fears by getting really, really good at something. Anything. Not a work thing. Something personal. Learn to ski. Play the piano.

Commit to learning something small and beautiful.

Right now.

When you commit to something small and beautiful, you can have happiness every day of your life, simply by returning to that commitment. When you get knocked down, get up for that thing. That small and beautiful thing that you know, intimately – that you can truly own.

Paint a scene. Dance the tango. Sing with your child. Grow a garden. Get on your bike and go fast. It really doesn’t matter what you try. Just try something. If it’s right, you’ll know it. If it’s not right, you’ll know that too. Try again.

Second: When you stumble, get up!

Who does hard things? Those that can. You have everything you need, to become great at what you want.

If you don’t stumble, you aren’t taking enough risks. If you don’t risk enough, you can’t find your limitations. And if you don’t reach your current limitations, you won’t grow. You are simply a net consumer of energy, resources, and other people’s time. Do yourself a favor and set on this path to find your purpose.

When I stumble, I recall that small thing of beauty and place it in the majesty of the bigger picture. If my tomatoes wilt, I think about the regal forests of the Pacific Northwest.  If I fall off my skis, I think about the ice age covering Europe. Center yourself by reestablishing your true place in the world. We are each a tiny speck of life in the sublime and terrible mystery of the universe.

So go forth, young graduates. Find something you love enough to be great at it. Keep looking for it; go fast. And when you find it, own it, totally and completely. Within the great abundance of life, within something way bigger than you: dare to be great and create abundance all around you. We need that from each other.

We owe that to each other.

Congratulations – dream big, execute well, and repeat. It’s that simple.


A nationally recognized leader in sustainability, Tom Paladino is the founder and CEO of Paladino and Company, an Tom Paladino abundance sustainability green buildingsaward-winning green building consulting firm based in Seattle, WA. Drawing upon his technical expertise in both architecture and engineering, Tom has integrated building science and business value into the 1,000 green and LEED projects his firm has consulted. Tom and his firm have played a significant role in the development of the LEED® Green Building Rating System since its inception, most recently serving as technical editors of the LEED v4 Reference Guides. This post first appeared on the company’s blog.

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  1. My article is titled ‘Rising to the challenge’. It seems we were both thinking on the same page this week!

    We should never stop learning and participating in activities which challenge and engage us. It makes us more interesting.

    • Phoenicia– so true, we can always keep learning. It was pretty intimidating when I first started blogging and using social media. But I enjoyed the challenge and overcoming my fears.

  2. Wow, graduation was another lifetime ago! But your advice is timeless, and I especially relate to embracing change because it is something that so many people struggle with. Wonderful message.

  3. I especially liked the advice to become really good at something. When I read it what came to mind is that after you’ve managed that something, you should go out and find a second thing you can be really, really good at.

    • Ken — good idea. Becoming good at something may lead to your interest in something related that you hadn’t even thought about mastering.

    • Kristina — We can all take a lesson from Tom’s advice. Always need to look for life’s new challenges.

  4. Always learning is so important to living a full life. And don’t judge yourself if you can’t do it perfectly the first time. Great reminder. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sabrina — important point to tamp down our self-judgment. No one’s perfect. We just have to keep trying to get it right.

  5. What a wonderful motivational post. Commit to something small and beautiful – what a great idea to start with something to centre you and keep life balanced.

    If you don’t stumble you’re not taking enough risks – this is such a basic concept but one we forget so often. When the going gets rough it’s so much easier to give up and miss opportunities then it is to push on through and see where it leads us.

    Perfect timing for this post Jeannette – thanks for the introduction to Tom.

    • Lenie — I love that line too — commit to something small and beautiful. It may not be beautiful or important to someone else, but if it is to us, that’s all that counts.

  6. Love the advice to embrace change. Isn’t that a for certain thing for each of us?

    Next piece of graduate advice that resonates for me is, find something you love enough you can be great at it. Or even be great at different things at different times in life so you can love everything you do! That works for butterflies like me!

    Are you related?

    Inspiring message.

    • Patricia — it’s so important to love your life’s work, but so many people don’t. They are forced by circumstances to stay in their jobs, and that’s sad. Tom is my nephew (and I’m his very proud aunt).

  7. Lovely speech to the graduates!

    Today’s grads have so many more things to think about than when we graduated in the 1970’s. Life seemed a lot simpler than as we had fewer choices and our paths were much more predictable. Today, the world is available to anyone who wants to take a chance and make the journey.

    • Doreen — just think: back in the 70’s no computers, no social media, no email. Seems like the dark ages. But technology has opened so many more doors for young people today.

  8. So well said! Isn’t change at the heart of moving forward? If there isn’t just a little bit of change in your life, inertia takes over and you get stuck. And the longer you stay there, the harder it is to get out. I’m in favour of doing a small something every day that makes you just a bit nervous. It’s what I try to do, even if it’s using an unfamiliar word in a lede sentence, or using a new resource for research.

    • Krystyna — Good for you, trying something new every day. That takes a lot of energy and commitment, but what a sense of satisfaction you must get.

  9. I wonder how much pressure we put on graduates. They feel like they must make a decision after graduation, that will determine the rest of their lives.
    As for me, I have moved from one field to another, until I found my path and calling. The best thing I tell graduates is hang on and enjoy the ride. Eventually, the trip will take you where you are supposed to be.

    • William — you’re a prime example of someone who found more than one calling. You have the most interesting background!

  10. If everything stayed the same we would all stagnate. We all are creative in one form or another and have skills we are unaware of unless we try. I decided to go back to knitting. Hadn’t done it in 21 years. It takes me to another place of my own creation. My sister said to me that has resonated in everything I do. If make a mistake there is no knitting police. No one is really looking over your back so do something that makes you happy.

    • Arleen — I love your example. I feel the same when I dress for the theater or opera. I like to get dressed up and if other people want to be casual that’s fine. There are no “fashion police” either.

  11. What beautiful words of wisdom. Loved every word. I passed it along to some young people about to graduate. I hope they take it to heart. I find it very relevant to any age though. Thanks for sharing!