My "Virtual" Commencement Address: Congratulations Graduates, But Beware!
Good Afternoon everybody. I wanted to take some time and try to do some community service. Part of being a businessman is serving people beyond the specific area that one specializes in. This is my attempt to do just that, and it's my thoughts and recommendations for our new graduates. It can also be potentially useful for older folks that are mid-career perhaps, but my focus is on our young people.
As already mentioned, what I'm about to pass along is really intended as a public service to others; whether it accomplishes that task is another story, but I think it might be valuable information. As my Dad used to say, "make yourself useful". So here's what I've got for you today.
Over the past couple of weeks and up to the present, a lot of you are graduating high school and maybe college. This address is geared to you specifically, but if you're a little older and maybe having the mid-life crisis, perhaps it could be useful as well. But ideally I'm trying to reach the next generation and let them know what's on the other side.
Just so you know, I'm dealing with a little housing situation. You know the story; rent spikes and so forth, and I've made the decision to "move home" at age 50. As far as those judging that, keep in mind that my Dad is deceased and Mom is 87 years old and alone. So there's a practical and obvious reason for going this route. If that is unacceptable, well, you know I love you but I would politely request, with all due respect, that you kiss my grits on the White House lawn.
But all joking aside, I'm a lot more of a finished product than I used to be, and that is without debate. Age, experience, and getting kicked out of corporate jobs and into small business tends to have that effect. I thought now is as good a time as any to offer my advice on how to increase your chances for success in life. In a nutshell it's quite easy. Look at me, then do the exact opposite, and BINGO! You're all set!
That's just a little snark for you, but I can say there's some truth to it, and if you follow the basic philosophy I'm about to impart, I feel you can't fail. On that note, let me define for you what the meanings of success and failure truly are. It's quite simple. Success is when you live up to your own ideals. Failure is when you try to live up to someone else's ideals. That's it, nothing more. If you pursue the former, the results will be desirable. The latter? It won't work, period, and I know this all too well.
For you newly minted graduates, especially the high school people, this is what I recommend. First, it's really important to accept that you've reached a milestone in life. It does not mean the best is behind you. It can be if you let it, but generally speaking what's coming is far greater than what's behind you. But listen to me very carefully. All of what you've known to this point is about to change. Relationships with friends will evolve and some will grow, others will wither. High school, and to some extent college, are controlled environments and the relationships you have were built within that framework. Now that you're leaving those confines, things are more unpredictable.
To give you an example, I've been to a couple of high school reunions, and they were all more than a decade past graduation. What I discovered was shocking but very important. I can definitively say that there are some friends who remain like family to me to this day. You'll likely experience the same. But you'll also find that things have changed dramatically. People who you thought were, perhaps, "losers", are very successful and incredible people. Others you will find that were considered a "can't miss" are not quite who you thought they'd be. But the real surprise, and I guarantee this one, is that you'll find that some who were your friends in high school are totally different people and you won't have anything in common with them. You might even find them unlikeable, and they likely will feel the same about you. That's reality, and I know this from experience.
Why does this occur? Because of the controlled environment where you knew these people. When everyone becomes working adults, people go in all sorts of directions. Age 18 is a very early period in your life. Keep in mind that when you hit 38-40, more time has passed then the time you spent in school and the experiences people have in the interim are vastly different because it all happened in a less controlled environment. Do not forget this! Jot it down, put it away, you will thank me in 20 years.
The question now is what do I do to make sure that the uncontrolled environment I'm setting foot into works for me? Rule number one is to see above. Understand that what you're coming out of cannot be maintained. You'll have some friendships, but most will fade away. So don't look back and try to live the way things were. You can't. Admittedly I sort of tried this and believe me I know for a fact it doesn't work. This chapter is over and on to the next one.
The next big thing, and perhaps the most important thing, is to have a plan. Whatever you will be doing, whether it be college, trade school, work, or if you are older and changing careers, make sure you know what the objective is. The earlier you make a plan and stick to it, the greater the chance of success. Do not be like I was when I got out of college. I was one of those "I don't know what I want to do" guys, and I paid a price so high that it still reverberates now, and I'm 50. You'll find a lot of people you cross paths with over the next several years that are of this ilk. Believe me, you want no part of that.
To give you an example of how to execute on this, here's my recommendation. Remember, as previously state, success is living up to your own ideals. You have to find those ideals. So whatever career path you choose, now's the time to take advantage of the opportunity to find out which one is for you. Do internships if you can, take Myers-Briggs assessments, research careers that interest you. Above all, pursue whatever activities are available that give you exposure to that career field so you can test drive before buying.
But above all, make sure to know every facet about a particular career and what it takes to get the skills needed. Weigh every option, be very detailed. When you make your pick, then focus on achieving it and push everyone and everything out of the way. The end game is straightforward. When you've made that pick and pursued the necessary requirements, you should NOT be in doubt. If you choose, say, a career as an accountant, you will finish school and get a job as one. No ands, ifs, or buts. Boom, done deal.
Now that I've hit you with that, let's talk about how to screw things up royally...or be me...whatever way you want to look at it. It is vital that you don't do any of what I'm about to tell you. OK, first, a reality check on the modern employment market. We are in, and have been so since the early 90s, a "hard skill" economy. Your career choices should concentrate on this reality. Any other path will likely end in frustration unless you're looking to teach or maybe go into law or something like that.
I'll be honest with you. STEM baby! "Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics". That's where the jobs are and where the money is. Alternatively, the skilled trades such as electrical, automobiles, welding, plumbing and so forth are ALL fantastic and limitless career opportunities and pay very well. And don't let your high school advisors say otherwise. Those career paths are every bit as demanding and require comparable education and training as a college track program. Do not be convinced otherwise.
But I'll warn you now! If you're going to college and plan to take up "Gender Studies" or some humanity nonsense, believe me you're wasting time and a lot of money. There are few, if any, jobs in that. If those topics are of interest to you that's OK, but you can learn as much, if not more, by going to the library and doing it on your own. You don't need to spend $50K a year for that. Total waste of time and money. Perhaps volunteer in your spare time in that area if it's of interest, but do not spend your money on it. But it the Humanities is your thing, there is only one field of study that is of any value, and that's Geography, specifically GIS. Outside of that, it's all useless in the private sector, where most people work.
Why do I have such vitriol about the humanities? Easy. Guess what my undergrad degree is in? Social Science in Secondary Education. Other than being a social studies teacher and the JV coach you hated, it is applicable to NOTHING! All it ever got me was a good chuckle and a boot in the ass out of a job interview. I totally wasted my college years. Now I'll concede that degrees like that used to be valued more, but don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Those days are over and have been for some time. I know because I've lived it. Is it fair? Perhaps it isn't, but there's a fine line between the way things ought to be and the way things really are.
Now to bring all of this together, here's the number one, numero uno rule I believe you MUST obey to avoid failure and achieve success. Remember, as previously stated, failure trying to live up to someone else's ideals, right? Yeah!! Damn right. Here's the key to avoiding going down that rabbit hole. I mentioned earlier all the career choices, training, and so forth. All vital, all a must. But even with all of that, you can still screw everything up with one bad decision. Simply put, DO NOT PURSUE ANYTHING THAT SOMEONE ELSE THINKS YOU SHOULD DO!!!
I'm dead serious about this guys, it's the most important rule. Whatever path you choose must be made by you, for you, and by no one else. Remember I mentioned how high school is a controlled environment and the world not so much? You will come across people from the former that will try to "advise" you on how to live your life. Run as far away from them as possible. You're in an uncontrolled environment now and advisors no longer have your best interest in mind.
I also mentioned how relationships change, especially with your friends. But there's someone else in your life where your relationships will evolve. Your parents. This is where it gets emotional and difficult. The sooner you make the evolution, the better, and for you parents out there I recommend you help move this along. Be gentile, but do so with the goal of encouraging self reliance. You cannot and should not be making career choices for your children.
To be fair, remember that your parents obviously love you and want you to do well. But often times where things fly off the chain is how that dynamic works. Far too often parents and their adult children get caught in a vortex where the adult child is encouraged and pressured to pursue a career the parents would like. It's quite common for parents to say "I'd like to see John become a lawyer". That's fine, and sure it's plausible that John may actually want to be a lawyer. But more often than not, John doesn't want to be a lawyer. If you're John, you must choose your path by yourself. You cannot and should not choose the career Mom or Dad wants. You will likely be very unsuccessful. Don't do it, trust me. Make your own decisions, this is crucial.
Why is it crucial and why will you likely fail if you do not do it? You're trying to live up to someone else's ideals, not your own. Remember, it's easy for anyone, parents or otherwise, to tell you what to do. They ultimately aren't the ones who will have to live the life that comes with it, you will. You'll be the one that deals with the trials and tribulations of their desired career choice, not them. You've got to avoid this at all costs, I'm telling you. Don't be like me, who fell into that trap sometimes.
I can cite many examples of where it's brought me trouble, but to keep it simple, I have this housing issue, right? That wouldn't be the case had I been more focused back in the day. I'd own a house and have more stability. See how this works? I'm 50, yet still live with the reverberations of decisions made over 2 decades ago. All of that was avoidable, all of that was unnecessary.
In conclusion, this is my best advice to all the new graduates. You have incredible opportunities and the best days are in front of you. But they can only be a reality if you make the right decisions now and stick to the plans you exclusively set for yourself and yourself only.
Thank you, best of luck, and congratulations on your graduation!