Advice for Graduates

For the 58th year in a row I was NOT asked to give a commencement speech at a major university — or any school, for that matter — but if I had, here is what I would have said to graduates entering the workforce:

1. Get after it. No gap year, extended tour of Nepal, time off to “chill.” For most of you, chilling is exactly what you have been doing the last four or five years. Two hours of attention-challenged “study” before a kegger does not constitute hard, grinding work. Go out and start looking for a job, any job. I know the job market is tough, so be prepared to …

2. Kiss some frogs. I stole this line from former Merrill Lynch CEO Sally Krawcheck, who recently wrote a blog advising you graduates to be prepared to work in jobs you HATE for a period of time until you figure out what you are good at and what you aren’t. Then search accordingly. In so doing  …

3. Find out what you DON’T like doing. I have not yet figured out exactly what I want to do next in life, but I have very firm ideas what I don’t want to do (mostly things involving too much work, accountability and indoor activity where there isn’t a jukebox playing.) But for each of you it is different — discover what isn’t a fit for you, then avoid it like a Gulf Shores police cruiser. This is a lot easier than figuring out what your mission or purpose in life is; that will reveal itself over time. Krawcheck agrees. She advises grads entering the job market to “Keep a running note of what works and what doesn’t work for you, what you like and what you don’t like, what you’re good and what you aren’t, the work styles that suit you and what doesn’t, where you passions lie and what leaves you cold.” In other words …

4. Discover and apply your strengths. I have written about this many times (and built my master’s in positive psychology capstone around it) but it bears repeating: happiness, performance and career satisfaction comes from discovering your strengths and how to apply them in your career. If you are preternaturally self-aware, good for you, but you are an exception: most of us discover our strengths over time through trial and error. Keep track of those times when you perform really well at a task in a way that seems almost effortless, and find ways to do it again or places where that skill is rewarded. If you nail your first presentation to the boss, maybe a sales career is best for you. If you lose yourself in ecstasy auditing tax returns — well, OK, there is a place for everyone — avoid sales and go into finance or accounting. But wherever you go, and whatever you do, remember one final piece of advice …

5. Have fun. Life is not a dress rehearsal, as Henry Schimberg (one of my favorite bosses at CCE) used to say. Work hard, but never lose sight that we evolved from playful chimps, not cows, and are hardwired for fun and play. Work hard but laugh, get out of the office, enjoy friends, live life. Sir Richard Branson agrees: “If I were 22, I would be out working hard, playing hard and having the time of my life.” Couldn’t have said it better myself — and I didn’t even start an airline.