An open letter to my little sister as she graduates college

Today my 22 year old sister graduates from the University of Kentucky, and the whole world is at her fingertips

Dear Kristina,

You did it!! Today is your day! Make sure you don’t trip as you cross the stage… I won’t be there to hold your shoulder to make sure you don’t slip up. Haha.

But in all seriousness, today is your big day. You’ve been working hard to make it here, so cherish every single part of the day. Cherish the moments when you get ready with your roommates, sisters, and friends. Cherish the ride to Rupp Arena… even though the Cats couldn’t bring home a national championship, we’ll ALL be celebrating YOUR accomplishments in there today. Cherish sitting in the crowd with your closest friends and classmates. Trust me, I know how boring it is sitting there waiting for your name to be called, and it’ll all be a blur, but try to cherish it in the moment. Cherish all the pictures. Cherish seeing everyone after, and going to lunch, and going to dinner… and your final trip to Two Keys.

Because tomorrow, the rest of your life begins. I can’t explain how proud I am of you. Being a big brother is weird because you’re the only person in the world who I have literally known since the day you were born. I still remember you as an infant, and as a toddler, and when you went to elementary school, and the day you started driving, (and the day I started driving and you rode around on top of the car. Hahaha), and when you started high school… and the day you went off to college, 1,000 miles away from home.

I knew you were excited. And scared. And nervous. And unsure. And in that moment I gained so much respect and even more love for you. You’ve always been the baby of the family, and seeing you grow into your own self over the years has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. You’ll always be my little sister, but you’re also an amazing, intelligent, funny, and charismatic woman… and also a college graduate!

So here’s the deal, Kristina… I’ll always be your big bro. And as such, I’m allowed to give you some words of wisdom and insight. So on your graduation day, here’s the best advice I can offer you from my vantage point of being six years older (and wiser):

The world is yours

Today you graduate. Tomorrow, you’re no longer a college student. You’re part of this amazing world, and it’s all yours. You can make of it whatever you want.

One of my favorite quotes is “you don’t see things as they are; you see things as you are.” When you wake up tomorrow, you can view the world however you want, and it’ll treat you as such. View the world as if college was the best it can possibly get and you’ll find the “real world” to be less exciting. (Those four years were amazing, yes, but you’ve got a world of endless possibilities ahead of you). View the world as your canvas and you’ll realize that you have the opportunity to paint the most beautiful picture ever. View the world as kind, and giving, and abundant, and full of opportunity and adventure and in return you’ll find a world that has been waiting for you.

Because, quite simply, it has been waiting for you. You’re one of a kind, Kristina, and no one on this planet comes even close to matching your humor, wit, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and how genuinely and deeply you care about the people close to you. Don’t lose that… the world needs it. The world needs you.

Don’t take anyone else’s word for it

Don’t tell mom I said this, but never take anyone else’s word for anything. Here’s the thing… no one has ever lived your life. People will offer you advice when it comes to everything… where you should live, where you should work, how you should manage your money, who you should spend your time with, etc. There will be no shortage of advice.

But every piece of advice is just someone else’s biography. No one else has ever lived your life, so no one knows how your life and your actions will turn out. Even if you follow someone else’s path, your results will be different.

So trust your own intuition. Trust your instincts. Trust your heart.

But to do those things, you need to know what’s inside your heart. And what’s inside of you. And what you stand for.

So take time to learn about you. Take time to discover you. Take time to explore the world in your way. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it.

You have no idea what you’re capable of

Today you enter the world as a college graduate. As you’ve already discovered, your path to where you want to be will never be a straight line. Vet school will happen when it’s supposed to happen. Your dream job will come up when it’s supposed to. Your prince charming will enter your life when he’s supposed to.

…but only if you find your best self. We’ve all got mental barriers. Biochem is one of yours… I don’t think that’s in doubt. :-P But as you enter the “real world,” other mental barriers will come up. You’ll doubt whether you’re good enough or qualified enough to apply for that job. You’ll feel rejected when you don’t get into your top vet school of choice. Friends will come and go.

Never let that stop you. And more importantly than that, never let that make you question what you’re capable of.

Kristina — this is the truest thing I’ll ever tell you… you have no clue what you’re capable of. Just when you think you’ve pushed yourself to your limits, and just when you think you’ve given it everything you’ve got… you haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg.

A reporter once asked Muhammed Ali how many sit-ups he does before a fight. His response was brilliant: “I only start counting when it hurts.” When times are tough and you feel challenged, realize that you’re not even close to your limits.

You were at college when I had my moment of “hurt,” so I’ll share it with you on your graduation day. You know how hard I worked to grow NewGen? We had a lot of success, but we were working our butts off! One day Kevin sent me an email saying he quit and that we should close the company down. I was devastated. I was hurt. I felt like everything I was working for had come crashing down. I walked downstairs and told mom and dad that I was done as an entrepreneur. That I wasn’t cut out for it. That I should just go to grad school and get a normal job.

But then it hit me… I’m stronger than this. And if I don’t push myself, the world will be deprived of my gifts. I looked around the room and realized the walls weren’t caving in, the roof wasn’t falling on me, and the birds were still chirping. It hit me… if this is what failure is, bring it on. Life goes on, and I had no clue what I was capable of.

You’ll have these moments, too. And they’ll hurt, for sure. Trust me. But know that you’ve always got me — and everyone else in the family — to lean on. Open up to us when you need to. Tell us when you feel like you’ve had enough, and we’ll shine the light on the fact that you haven’t even come close to reaching your limits.

Remember — you’re confined only by the walls you build yourself.

Everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen

You’ll have to trust me on this one a little bit, especially on graduation day. The hardest truth I’ve had to discover since graduating is that everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen.

And along those same lines, things don’t happen to you, they happen for you. Over the coming months and years you’ll be challenged in ways that you can’t even see right now. And without the comfortable confines of college, professors, classmates, roommates, and sorority sisters sometimes you’ll feel alone. Know that you’re not, and know that everything happens for a reason… and they happen exactly the way they’re supposed to happen.

Learn to welcome — and embrace — the unexpected. Look for the good in everything. Knowing you, you will anyways… so don’t lose that.

The simple things will separate you from everyone else

Ok, so biochem was hard. Apparently. But here’s the good news… in the real world, it’s the simple things that will separate you from everyone else.

Being kind. Caring. Smiling. Being real. Being genuine. Being consistent. Showing up. Being thoughtful. Being you. Being on time. Being reliable.

That’s the stuff that matters. Fortunately for you, that’s the stuff that makes you you. Remember what makes you you, and own it. The crazy thing about the world is that most people don’t consistently exhibit these simple things… so that’s the stuff that makes you stand out.

Always be you

Kristina, you’re a gem. It helps that you’ve had two amazing big brothers. Haha

If I was as funny or witty as you, I’d be thrilled. You’ve got natural gifts and you see the world in such a unique way that it makes me jealous. You’re amazing at everything you do. You always viewed yourself as the Rudy of your teams, but what you failed to realize is that you were the only Rudy. It’s easy to be the best athlete or the most skilled on a team. It’s not easy to do the things that you do. You give people around you joy, you make everything more enjoyable, and you are a source of happiness for so many people.

Always be you. You amaze me with everything you do.

The world will try to get you to conform to its rules and expectations. People will say you have to be more serious. People will say you have to be more humorous. People will say you have to dress differently. People will say you have to be more “normal.” People will say you have to be more edgy and “out there.”

Just be you. That’s it.

When you do that, you won’t have to worry about a thing. You won’t have to worry about fitting in or being normal or conforming. All you have to do is be you. Your vibe will attract your tribe, and those people who come into your life for you will be the realest people you’ll ever find.

Always be you.

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with

Speaking of your tribe, one of the most important things you can do after graduation is be extremely selective about who you spend your time with.

One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever been given is that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you want to know how much money you’ll make, look at who you hang out with. If you want to know how friendly you’ll be, look at who you hang out with. If you want to know how much you’ll weigh, look at who you hang out with. (Yes, that’s why they say that obesity is contagious)

I know you’re easygoing. And non-confrontational. But never ever be lax about the company that you keep. Be selective. Be choosy. Whoever you hang out with, you’ll become more like them.

Spend your time around people who you want to be more like. Spend your time around people who make you feel amazing.

For real, though… you’re not in college anymore. You don’t have to spend time with anyone. You don’t have to do anything anymore. It’s all up to you. Spend time with people who you want to spend time with, and feel free to drop the rest. It’s okay for people to come and go from your life. It’s natural as you grow.

Spend time with people who lift you up.

Everything you do is a choice… and every choice matters

Along those lines, everything you do in life is a choice. And every choice matters.

In college you have to take certain classes. And you have to show up for tests, do your homework, and participate in class. But starting today, you don’t have to do anything.

…so don’t believe it when anyone tells you that you have to do anything. You don’t have to show up for work. You don’t have to go to that party. You don’t have to do anything. Do what you want.

You now have the power to choose whatever you want. Want to spend all your money on an epic trip to Costa Rica? Cool. Want to go horseback riding three days a week? Awesome. Want to road trip to Florida with a best friend? You can.

Everything in your life is a choice now. Whether unconscious or conscious, every single thing you decide to do is a choice. There’s a reason why we say you “spend” your time. It’s fixed. You only have so much time. That’s it. So you need to choose how to spend it.

And it’s those choices that will dictate everything. Choose who you hang out with, choose how you spend your “free time,” choose where you work, choose how often you talk to family, choose how you act when you go out, choose what your mark on this world is.

Every single one of those choices will dictate your future. Every single one. If there’s one thing you should become obsessed about, it’s your choices.

Your choices should be a source of pride. You can — and will — make mistakes in life, but always make decisions that you’ll stand by and that make you proud.

Write the greatest story ever told (and don’t accept anything less)

Alright Kristina, this is my last piece of advice for your graduation day.

Write the greatest story ever told. You’ve only got this one life to live. This is it, sis.

Up to this point you’ve written all of the pages that mom and dad have set you up for. You went to school. You graduated.

Now, the rest of the book is empty. It’s waiting for you to write it. How you fill the pages is up to you.

There will be successes. There will be failures. There will be heartbreak. There will be sheer euphoria and major accomplishments that make you pinch yourself as you wonder if they’re real. There will be excitement, and adventures, and goofs.

But whatever you do, make sure the story is one you’d want to read. Write your story, and make it the greatest one ever told. Don’t settle for anything less. Don’t settle for anything… you deserve the best, and when you’re looking for it, it’ll find you.

This is your chance, Kristina… the world is yours. Go get it!

Congratulations… I’m so proud of you!!