It’s that magical time of year once again. Mortar boards are being decorated. “Pomp and Circumstance” is playing on football fields across America. Thousands of people are gathered to hear hours and hours of names being recited, all for that brief moment where they recognize the name being called as their relative.
It’s heady stuff. It’s graduation.
Whether you’re moving on to college, to grad school, or to the battlefield known as the job market, here are three pieces of advice as you move on to the next great adventure in your life. The author’s qualifications for dispensing such advice are only that he’s been there, done that, and survived more or less intact to tell the tale.
1. You Probably Don’t Have Any Clue What You’re Doing (and That’s OK!)
In working with a lot of other young people, one of the primary concerns I hear from soon-to-graduate students is “I don’t really know what I want to do with my life.” Which is equivalent to my ears as saying “I am a human being without psychic abilities or a single-minded desire to do any one thing.”
Those people graduating alongside of you who seem to have their lives plotted out in front of them like a route on Google Maps? Most of it is just an illusion. I’m sure they THINK they have their life plan all organized into bullet points and start dates, but life just doesn’t work that way. And it SHOULDN’T work that way. How boring would it be if your whole life followed a predictable path from your youth, not allowing you to find anything exciting that would cause you to wander on to a new, less predictable path? And what good would it be even if you succeeded at that? There’s no trophy given for “Best Adherence to Adolescent Life Plan.”
Embrace a little bit of uncertainty. Most people change their careers at some point, and the people who do often end up being better compensated and more stimulated as a result. If you have a folly, follow it – you’ll likely be happier in 20 years knowing you pursued a passion than if you stayed stationary (at least that’s what I tell myself).
2. Consider The Cost Of Your Happiness
I graduated with a double major in Economics and Political Science, which is most often parlayed into admission into law school. Why did I pick those majors? Because they seemed interesting. How many law schools accepted me for admission? The same number to which I applied: Zero.
Someone asked me a few months ago why I never ended up becoming a lawyer, despite being interested in it earlier in my career. The answer: I couldn’t imagine myself doing any of the careers requiring a law degree every day while maintaining my happiness and sanity. Instead, I ventured into the world of leadership development, which has been enormously fulfilling and stimulating. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t love what I do and why I do it.
Certainly we need to have income in order to buy important things like food and toilet paper, but above a certain level, how much would someone have to pay you to be miserable? Or, put another way: How much would you pay to be happy? If someone came to your door offering true happiness in a bottle, how much would you be willing to pay for it? Isn’t the whole point of making an income to provide a life that makes you happy? So why accept more money to hate what you do?
3. Don’t Let Tight Finances Get You Down
Unless you are graduating with the lifetime ATM card known as an engineering degree, you’re likely going to move on to the next phase of your life with less money than you would like (or in some cases, even need). Independence is wonderful, but also comes at the cost of having to pay to sustain yourself.
And let’s be frank – it’s not going to be easy, especially if you’re graduating with student loans. You likely will make the least amount of money in your career right at the beginning (duh). But it will go up. Draft a budget, stick to it, and most of all, try to enjoy life outside your bank account. Go play in a park. Take some deep breaths while sitting in the run. Embrace the challenge of getting to do things on your own, knowing that in a few years, it will most likely get easier.
In short, life is too short to spend being miserable when things are challenging. Most of the challenges that come at this stage in your life are being shared by MOST people your age. Stumbles aren’t failures, and success isn’t the same as living without struggle.
Or, to frame it differently: Graduation means not having to live and die by a letter grade anymore, so stop trying to assign one to your own life.