The other day I found myself giving a teary retirement farewell to two people who’d worked at the Rodale Institute since the early 1970s…since I was an intern there!
I hadn’t really prepared “remarks”—after all, it was just a good-bye cake. I hadn’t expected to get so emotional, either. But a few days later, as I was digging out some very persistent weeds from my garden, I got to thinking about that moment, and the room full of hopeful, new interns who had come for the cake. And, as is often the case when I’m working in the garden, this blog came to me…stemming from the wish that I had given said interns a bit of advice.
So, here it goes:
1. Time flies; so appreciate the moment you’re in right now. It seems like only yesterday when I was working a summer internship at the Rodale Institute. It was probably 1978 or ’79. One of my most vivid memories is standing in a hot shower after a long day working in the fields—the window was open and a summer breeze was coming in. I was filthy dirty in the best way, and the mud was running off me and heading down the drain. I had an ice-cold beer on the ledge, which I was drinking in the shower. I believe I was listening to “Thunder Road” on, like, you know, a stereo, which is what you play “vinyl” on—but in those days we just called them records or albums. I felt strong, happy, and like anything was possible! Fast-forward 30-plus years. I stopped drinking long ago. My body has changed significantly. The good news is that I still get filthy dirty in the garden, and I still listen to Bruce Springsteen. I still feel strong (although not quite as strong), happy, and like anything’s possible. But oh, what an adventure it’s been. It doesn’t feel that long ago.
2. Find your purpose and stay true to it. The interns at the Rodale Institute have a head start on finding their purpose, since it’s such a purpose-driven organization. But finding a purpose is important for everyone. Your purpose is like a song in your head or a rainbow that comes and goes: It won’t always be loud or visible, but you know it’s there. You should always work toward it and be ready for it because when all is said and done, it’s what gives life meaning. I can’t tell you what yours is, but I can sort of tell you what mine is: making the world a better place by creating positive solutions. OK, that took me 40 years to articulate so easily, but that’s the basic thing. You will get all sorts of distractions and diversions thrown in front of you; always ask yourself whether what you’re doing feels true to your purpose.
3. Trust your body and your gut. Get the hell out of your head all the time! Think of it this way: Your body is your antenna and radio receiver to the universe. And your head is the channel you’re tuned to. Just because Howard Stern is on the radio doesn’t mean you have to listen to him. Your body will tell you so much more than your brain ever will. It will tell you if you’re in the right relationship or not. It will tell you if you’re eating right or exercising enough. It will tell you if you love your job or hate it. Use your brain to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you, and you’ll know you’re on the road to true health, healing, and happiness!
4. Focus on the positive, not the negative. There will be bad sh*t in every situation you’re in, but the more you focus on the bad stuff and dwell on it, the more you will embroil yourself in it and make yourself miserable. Always look at your own behavior first and see what you might be doing to contribute to the negativity, but then focus on and move toward the positive. Use the negative stuff to learn about what you want and don’t want in your life. You will find that the more you focus on the positive, the more positive you’ll feel!
5. Everything you learn along the way will come in handy at some time or another. I know there are moments as an intern when you’ll be asking yourself, “Why the hell am I doing this?” Some day you will be surprised how useful everything was. Even if it’s just to say something like this to your kids one day: “When I was your age…we had to mail things on paper and put them in envelopes and lick them and stamp them because the Internet didn’t exist!” Trust me, things like that feel wonderfully useful when you’re an old lady like me. And another thing: Learning to pull weeds never goes out of style.
6. Life is hardly ever a straight line, a ladder, or a stairway. It will zig and zag, backtrack, detour, and divert, occasionally going in circles. But remember, it’s a journey not a destination, and the whole point is to enjoy it! If you have the mistaken belief that your purpose is to get somewhere very specific and life’s going to go directly there, you’re in for a big surprise. My best advice? Be open to the adventure and savor every minute of it. Even the hard parts. Because without the hard parts, you might not appreciate the truly good parts when they come.
So farewell, Eileen and Dave. And remember this…you can be an intern at any age!