Advice to New Graduates: Three Suggestions & One Iron-Clad Rule

I’ve never been asked to deliver a commencement address. Of those I’ve heard or read, I would recommend one delivered by Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Speaking to the graduating class of Lake Forest College, he managed to cram quite a lot into just 92 words. It’s called “My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers,” and I would highly recommend it.

I can’t compete with Dr. Seuss for brevity or cadence, and certainly not for wit. That said I wanted to pull together my own thoughts for new graduates, particularly for those of you about to enter the work force. Here are my three suggestions, and one iron-clad rule, designed to ease your passage into the work world.

Do something you’re passionate about.

This isn’t the same as “follow your passion.” Most of us have many interests; few will lead to a paycheck. Instead, if you haven’t already, think about all the things you like to do, can do well and that can actually lead to a job. Then pick the one you most enjoy. While this isn’t particularly original advice, it still makes my list. Really enjoying your work will not only make you happier, it will also make you more successful. It’s a big and competitive world. As you advance in your career, most people you encounter will be smart, talented and dedicated. Your one potential advantage rests in your willingness to throw yourself into a job. Put differently, you’ll be more likely to work harder if you love what you do.

Learn how to leverage technology and then keep relearning it.

I don’t care if your ambition is to be the U.S. Poet Laureate – a real job by the way, it pays a $35,000 per year stipend for those who are interested – you need to be proficient with technology. To stay proficient, you’ll need to keep revisiting your skills throughout your career, even when you have some young person who could do it for you.

Pick a work environment where you’ll fit in.

This one is a bit unfair, as you won’t really know where you fit in until you start your job. Don’t put too much faith on what you experienced during the interview process. Interviews are like really long first dates: everyone is on their best behavior, dresses nicely and is far sweeter to you than they’ll be once you’re in the relationship. So think long and hard about the type of person you are and the type of environment where you’ll be most likely to thrive. And if you should find yourself unhappy with your job, and at some point you will be, ask yourself whether it’s what you’re doing or where you’re doing it.

Those are my three suggestions. While important, all pale in comparison to the best career advice I ever received. Ironically, I received it at bartending school. While in law school, I bartended at night and during the summer. Despite the fact that I spent 98% of my time pulling a beer tap, for some reason I convinced myself that I needed to burnish my mixology skills. As it turned out, very few 22 year olds order grass hoppers or old fashioneds.

Still, it was worth it. The head bartender gave me the single best piece of career advice I have heard before or since. His maxim for a successful career:

Make your boss’s life easier.

Even Dr. Seuss couldn’t have said it better.

Sources: BlackRock, Linked to Throughout Post

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