Go Get Em Grad!

Hello precious girls:

As some of our friends have hit the big high school graduation milestone, I put some thoughts together on things I really (really) wish I had known and done at that time in my life. I hope to instill these ideas as you get closer to leaving the nest (but we don’t need to talk about that yet!). Congrats to all the grads. This period of time is RIPE for you to take advantage of. I hope you do. Here are my thoughts. I wish you all the best!

  1. Effort & discipline combine to create the key to any door of your choosing. By effort, I mean time. By discipline, I mean “do it anyway.” It’s doing things you don’t feel like doing, like waking up and walking through the snow in February for that early class (my 2nd semester 7:30am-er was History 😊), skipping the party to study for next week’s final, staying up to go over that concept one more time – you get the idea.  There is absolutely nothing that you cannot overcome through plain-as-day discipline and effort. Right here is why you probably have heard (or likely will soon) to follow your passion. Do what you love. It’s REALLY important because if you have been given the drive for something, putting in the time won’t be so draining. It may actually be energizing. But just know there will be seasons where putting in the time isn’t all that fun. The delayed gratification will be well worth it. As Oprah famously says: “Do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do.”

2. Just don’t go too far. If discipline and effort are the textbooks, early alarms, and late-night study sessions, then the equally important counterbalances are the weekend sleep-ins, lunches with friends, and down time. I have heard that high school has become somewhat of a pressure cooker. Always striving. Always competing. You’ll find those same folks in college. Burn-out is real. If double espressos and all-nighters are becoming the norm, it’s time to pause and adjust. Those who balance all that effort with adequate sleep, time with friends, and healthy habits (ie exercise and a pulse on the sugar) will crush those burning the candle at both ends in the long run, especially in the health & happiness departments. (And if you nail the discipline thing, you’ll experience far fewer stress-inducing “study drills”).

3. Relationships, relationships, relationships! – It is unreal how the various connections you make throughout your journey will amazingly twist, turn, roundabout, and come back to be just the people you never knew you needed at a divinely orchestrated time. Don’t discount anyone.  Bill Nye had a great line: “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.” When you meet someone, ask about their family, their favorite things, their opinion. Getting to know people on a personal level results in others being far more willing to think of you and help you out along your journey.

4. Listening is like letter-writing. Do both. Receiving a hand written letter in the mail is pretty special. Why? It’s rare. The same has become true of listening. We are all so distracted that looking people in the eye and really focusing intently on what they are sharing requires intention. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was pretty darn internally focused (ie selfish). Friends will often recall a story or event (where I was totally at) that I have little to no recollection of. Really listening to others will make them feel like what they have to say matters, and it (and you) will make a positive, lasting imprint on them. Hand-written letters will do the same.

5. Manage your phone. Phones can be incredible tools. They also can take you from a Google search, to Snapchat, to a Tiktoc video, to a shopping deal, to a text message, and back to Google 45 minutes later with no answer to your original question. Attention spans have become microscopic. Rarely will anything on the other end of that phone be more important than listening to the people you are with, learning the material in front of you, or checking in with yourself and your personal goals. Institute dedicated, phone-free time each day and see what it does for you. Manage your phone. Don’t let it manage you.

6. If you live simply, you’ll avoid the need to follow an inflexible “money path.” Earning a good living is certainly important. However, far too many people think they “need” all the high-end stuff: big house, new car, name brand clothes, latest electronics, etc. While the world can make us think these things are necessary, they are not. The more simply you live, the more choices you have. So, live simply and be free to explore lots of opportunities without the stress of how to pay for a high-end lifestyle.

7. Explore! This is THE time to learn, not just from textbooks, but from a giant campus full of diverse people. Meet with your professors. Find people on LinkedIn that do what you think you want to do. Ask about pay, work environments, pros & cons of various industries and the nuances within each. I had a high school physics teacher who dedicated four years to a tough Rose-Hulman curriculum, became a well-paid engineer, and later quit to become a teacher because he absolutely hated the union dynamics of his job. People love sharing their experience and helping college students hone their path – take advantage.

8. Don’t be afraid to pivot. Many are led to believe that you must pick a career and stick with it (cue the Tiger Woods 10,000-hour rule). However, some of the very best thinkers/problem-solvers (massively valued abilities) have what Daniel Epstein wrote about in his book: “Range.” It turns out that unless you work in a kind learning environment (most of us won’t – golf is an exception) there a nice sweet spot of experience in a given field and range outside of that field. So, if at any point you find that your major isn’t for you, don’t consider yourself stuck. Don’t be afraid to pivot (or even completely 180). Your learning curve will steepen, but you can accelerate quickly.  

9. Things will be messy. Expect it and make it better.  I have no idea why, but I had this absurd idea that everyone had already figured out the best way to do things and I would follow the protocol. WRONG! There will always be opportunities to help things get better, whether it’s a global race issue, a tiresome business process at your company, or a club that needs started on campus. You will come across pain-points and opportunities throughout your life. If you can, seize the messiness. Make your home, your workplace, and your community better where you can.  

10. Perspective is always helpful. It took me quite a long while to really understand the irreplaceability, irreversibility, and speed of time . . . and we are all here for a finite amount of it. Just like high school has passed, college will too. When those inevitable “why is this happening” moments come, ask yourself if the thing will matter one year, or even six months from now. When opportunities arise to visit home, help someone, or get involved in something you care about, grab them. Be where you are. Enjoy where you are. Recognize the gift of time. Have perspective that all things have a beginning and an end.

11. Think about internships before your junior or senior year. Thanks to my GPA, General Motors contacted me during my sophomore year about a summer internship. It wasn’t even on my radar. That landed me in Michigan for two summers and gave me some key experience which enabled me to begin the MBA program in my fourth year of college. I didn’t even realize that some companies had internship opportunities for sophomores.

12. Pre-read. Pre-reading allows you to step into a lecture with a baseline understanding from which you can ask questions and build upon, not just begin, your learning. It will save you time and put you miles ahead.

13. Your parents love you, have sacrificed for you, and care about your well-being more than you will ever understand. Call them often.

14. Pizza and beer are only your friends at night.

All the best Grad! Go get em!

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