advice for graduates

"Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else's path... unless you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that."

Ellen DeGeneres | 1958 - | Comedian, talk show host, and ice road trucker

We’ve got millions of college and high school graduates joining us in the real world (or hoping to) over the next several weeks and months. And for the first time in most of our lives, we can't speak from experience on how to specifically navigate the transition.

But, I believe most of us are confident we'll find ourselves on the better side of this at some point. And, the core truths will be there.

3 things you might do to use this time well and help the graduates get their hearts and minds in a good place...

1. Make time for at least one graduate (other than your kid) and have a conversation about some of the things you wish you'd known and done when you were just starting out.

Help them become aware of something earlier so they might make one or two better moves than you did (sooner).

Encourage them to stay focused on doing what they can during this bizarre time; and if they have or get a job, to work hard and care more (to be two-twelve) no matter what others might be saying or doing around them.

Help them understand their work's purpose is ultimately to make good things happen for other people ... that the best chance they have at doing well will be by becoming valuable to someone else ... focusing on how much they can give with their time rather than how little of their time they can give ... surrounding themselves with good people and minimizing their time with Gomos and D-grunts.

Let them know this is how they'll increase their chance of having more choices in their lives (or put another way ... more control) on how they live (what they do for their work, where they live, what they eat, what they have) and how they enjoy their time (the people they spend time with, where they vacation, the hobbies they take on). If they share their frustration with the current surreality, listen calmly in a way that helps them know they're being heard, and then share your optimism for the future.

Consider a discussion around the importance of keeping their ego in check and working kindly.

2. Share an important commencement speech, video, or idea from someone else.

I’ve probably watched and read more of these than most human beings should. Below are some of my favorites from over the years. I occasionally re-read some of these myself for inspiration.

Reading is always faster than watching and writers aren’t always the best speakers (unless they’re also a comedian or happen to be a motivational speaker ;-)

For the first two, you might find it helpful to open the transcript of the talk (headline link) in one browser tab and play the video in the background to hear it while you read. As to not frighten your new graduate, consider sharing the ones you like over the course of several weeks.

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace
(15 minutes to read, 20 to listen)

This one's intense. So brutally good and true. (Really.)

He reminds us of our day-to-day responsibility of living. Read it yourself to be sure you're comfortable with it before forwarding it. Wallace lost his fight with depression, so you need to think about the potential effect that might have on your reader. (I realize the sad strangeness of this.)

It’s all so good but for me, the best reminder is toward the end … “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” (Very Smovish and very Love Your People.)

Don't Eat Fortune's Cookie by Michael Lewis
(Under 10 minutes to read, 13 to watch)

“At that moment I was sure of only one thing: I was of no possible economic value to the outside world.”

This is a baccalaureate speech at Princeton where Lewis (who despite that feeling he shared during the talk, wrote several bestselling books, some of which were made into big movies (The Blind Side, Moneyball, The Big Short, etc.) "graduated from Princeton without ever having published a word of anything, anywhere."

It's a wonderful reminder of how chance plays a big part in our lives. “And with luck comes obligation,” he says. I love the entitlement reminder toward the end, too.

Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz
(30 minutes to read)

Probably not a great one to start with for those with limited attention spans, but it's wonderful insight on the importance of solitude and thought. It's a lecture that was given to a plebe class at West Point.

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen
(15 minutes to read)

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?”

Those are the questions Christensen would ask his Harvard students on the last day of class.

The article led to a book he wrote with the same title

Another not-to-miss reminder from the piece is the story he imagines about a person leaving for work on a high-note and then returning home 10 hours later; and the impact a manager can have on that person and their family.

“Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well,” he concludes. (Leading Simply yourself?)

How to Succeed in Professional & Personal Life by Scott Galloway
(3 minutes to watch)

You should watch it for more depth but if you can't: (1) find what you're good at (not necessarily your passion) and pour yourself into it (2) do your best to pick a good life partner.

Unfortunately, the audio person at CNBC must have been sick the day of production.

The Love of Learning by David McCullough
(About 15 minutes to watch)

This one can only be watched now or read in his 2017 book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For.

My favorite recommendation from McCullough is toward the end ... “And please, please, do what you can to cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation. I'm talking about the relentless, wearisome use of the words, ‘like,’ and ‘you know,’ and ‘awesome,’ and ‘actually.’ Listen to yourselves speak.

Just imagine if in his inaugural address John F. Kennedy had said, ‘Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country actually.’”

You can enjoy his delivery of that beginning at 13:17 through 14:18.

Ellen DeGeneres speaking to Tulane's graduates in 2009

I've included this one to support the opening thought of this post. I enjoyed it, but it's not one I personally go back to for reinforcement.

3. Encourage them to Cross The Line and become a Smover & 212er for their employer (and for their lives).

Give them a copy of one of my little books (each can be read in less than 20 minutes).

If I give only one, I give Cross The Line because it’s everything I’d share with them if I were sitting with them at a lunch ... and they can read it faster than I might continue to ramble. It addresses how to get by the 3 things that might challenge them in their efforts to make those good things happen ... the obstacles, ‘those people’ (especially those people), and the work. (Read a sample.)

But at times, I also give them my whole collection (I get a special deal, of course ;-)

Maybe a framed Declaration of Contribution or Rise & Reach reminder for their desk would be motivating ... or a personal pocket card collection.

And one more inspiring workthing I love below...

Be Happy. Do Something. Shop Smile & Move.

Francis Coppola talking about how he worked through adapting ‘The Godfather’ from a novel into one of the best movies of all time. Talk about going deep!

© 2020

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