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Graduation Wisdom: If I Could Go Back

As graduation is upon us, we wanted to revive this post; complete with thoughts, reflections, wisdom and advice to upcoming graduates on the opportunity and challenges that are ahead. 

 

(Originally posted on June 12, 2014)

My oldest daughter, Sydney, is 22 and just a few days ago we had the honor of watching her graduate from Washington College, a small liberal arts school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I rarely use the word perfect, but it was as close to a perfect day as I can imagine. The sun, bright and warm, shaded by an occasional white fluffy cloud, served as a backdrop to a ceremony steeped in tradition (even George Washington showed up to speak to the graduates). Everyone was filled with excitement, optimism and gratitude. You couldn’t help but get a bit philosophical and nostalgic.

And, just the other night, our youngest daughter, Liza, graduated from high school and once again a flood of thoughts raced through my mind. What do we still need her to know, what did we miss, is she ready for her world, and, in her case, is the world ready for her. My daughters would tell you, there is nothing they can imagine I could have missed, I’ve talked so much through the years.

I also remember back to when I was 22 and landing my first job. I knew nothing about what I was hired to do, especially not the sales part. I got hired and went to the library, yes the library, to learn about newspapers, camera-ready art, and sales. I grabbed every book I could find and spent the weekend learning the terminology (camera-ready art, a term so extinct, I haven’t used it in decades). I absorbed as much as I could and went to work. I listened and observed the professionals who surely were my peers and my superiors. I mimicked the best they offered and made the rest up. It worked.

This is what I learned and offer to you as you begin your journey.

Find your voice and your style. It carries you far and speaks to your individualism, your unique fingerprint. Be comfortable in it, wear it well. A voice that is clear, strong, and succinct conveys confidence (even when you aren’t feeling it) and a style that expresses who you are makes you memorable.

Always be curious. Yes, of course, ask questions. More importantly, listen and ask the next question. It’s the start of a conversation not an interview. It tells the other person they have been heard. Everyone wants to be heard.

Own your career, be the master, the CEO of your career. Understand that perhaps the greatest risk is playing it safe. It took me years to get my arms around this. I wish I had started my own business years ago, but I thought it too risky as the primary financial provider with three children. While we may not all own our business, we can manage our own careers. Read “The Start Up of You.” It should be required reading in every high school, college, and university.

Build more than a network. Build a galaxy of extraordinary people who inspire, captivate, encourage, collaborate, and tell you the truth. A galaxy is so much more than a network, its purpose more noble and intentional. Some people in your galaxy will stay with you for decades, others will fall off and others join in, it’s all ok. The core — they are the people who mark your life in indelible ways.

Don’t lean in, dive in. Be your most, hone and adapt your skills, passions, interests, and talents. Don’t waste them on frivolous activity or uninspired people. Don’t be a surface swimmer, dive in and see below the surface, it’s where the real beauty lies. Yep, a few sharks will nip and try to grab you, it’s just part of the dive. But your experiences and contributions will be so much richer, the treasure is at the bottom not the top.

Strip away the labels and the titles, and define your sense of self from the work you do. Whether the work is as a parent, colleague, employee, coach, mentor, volunteer, board member or entrepreneur, titles are ambiguous and often don’t fit the role or the accomplishment. Stand out in your role and be that person ― the one who contributes when everyone else has left for the day, is too busy or too easily distracted.

Know when it’s time to leave and move on. You, unlike the generations before you, will probably not stay at one or two companies for long. Be good with that, contribute and know when it’s time to go. Go with grace and style, leaving your work in tact and a bit of yourself in that company’s culture. Leave a bit of you in each place along the way, they will remember you fondly and more importantly, your reputation will begin to precede you.

Your contribution begins when you decide it does―when you dive in, kick in and give the world your best ideas, work, code, service and your heart. Your best you. It can happen at 12 or 22 and every moment thereafter.

Evolve. You never know it all, the more you know the more you may realize how much there is to know. Be an everyday learner. Whether it’s a new person, culture, type of food, hobby, cause, topic, book—be open to what it offers.

Model. Encourage others to see work, its value, and contribution as significant to the world. Today, with a touch of technology and the spark of initiative and creativity, individuals can contribute and define a new future for themselves, their families, communities and the world in fresh and exciting ways.

Rebound. Your setbacks will provide windows waiting to be opened. Fling them open and see what lies on the other side. You will lose a job (it’s a rite of passage), you will not be chosen for something you hoped for, thought you earned. Don’t speak of fairness, it’s silly. Look for what you are supposed to learn and move forward with resolve. Wallow briefly, the next part of your life is waiting for you.

Craft discipline and routine. It’s freeing when you know exactly what you need to do and don’t have to think about it. I wish I had started this years ago but I am learning how liberating it is to not have to make so many small decisions each day. This is one of my life-long pursuits.

And, just in case no one’s mentioned it, speak clearly (throw away those likes and ummms), put out your hand, shake firmly and with intention, look at others directly and find value in every person’s story.

Ahhh, if I was 22 again. It’s a wonderful time to begin a career, there are so many choices and opportunities. You will uncover different rocks than we may have and your connection to the world is at your fingertips. Do not squander your youth or your time, the world desperately needs you.

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Our blog posts, tips, and suggestions are accurate at the time of publication. 

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