Saturday, June 14, 2008

Advice for This Year's Graduating Seniors

Congratulations to the graduating class of high school seniors this year! I do hope that you’ll take the time to celebrate the fact that you did make it this far. Many high school students over the years have dropped out of high school and will never complete it, while others will get their high school equivalency, so those of you that are graduating can take pride and celebrate this big achievement in your life. If you’ll listen, I’d like to pass on some lessons learned through experience that you can apply and that you might want to apply in the coming years.

What are you going to do with your life? This is one of the biggest questions facing people at this stage of your lives, so you are not alone in facing this question. One of the problems is that many people get overwhelmed and become unable to decide, putting it off or never really deciding. Before stressing out any further, you should realize that your choice now doesn’t have to be your choice for your entire life. Many guidance councilors tell you about lots of studies and research that pointing to the fact that you will probably not work for one single company all of your adult life, but probably a series of them (you might even start your own company or companies). Also more and more people will be changing careers several times in their lifetime. As technology and society changes, there are more and more totally new types of jobs that didn’t exist before. Before investing all the years required to become a doctor or a lawyer, I’d suggest finding out if it is something you really want to do or not. Take the time to find out about professions that interest you and get to know people that are actually doing what you want to do. Ask them about doing what they do, you probably have a million questions about it. There are some good coop programs that you can join where you can get exposure to fields that can help you decide if really want to do that or not. Coop programs can be good because you can build a valuable network and get experience that can be useful in landing jobs later on. If there isn’t a coop program you can join, maybe you can become an intern or go to a conference related to the profession that you’re interested in. Many college students change majors multiple times, so you might think about talking to some of the instructors in the major you’re thinking about and ask them about courses in that area that would give you a good idea of if you really like that subject or not. Unfortunately, many of those “Intro” classes don’t dig deep enough into the subject for you to decide if you like that subject or not, some do.

Become a life long learner. Maybe you didn’t like high school and therefore think that you don’t like learning. Changes are that you didn’t take a subject that interested you or your teachers weren’t able to find a way to motivate you to learn, don’t give up on learning. I’m sure you’ll run across many subjects that you’d like to know more about or that you think are fun, this is when you can easily become motivated to learn. In collage, and in life, many people will take courses, learning only what they need to in order to pass, but not a whole lot more. Think about the time that you’re investing in your classes, don’t you want something to show for this time. If you have to pay something for your classes, there is probably a better chance that you’ll want to get more out of your classes, because you now have an investment in these classes. Remember that learning doesn’t end in the classrooms of high schools and colleges, but life is the biggest classroom of them all.

Keep an eye on your money. If you haven’t had much exposure to making and keeping a budget, you’ll need to learn how. Hopefully, it won’t take you too long or be too expensive. If you spend more money than you take in, then you will go into debt. It seems to become easier and easier all the time to go into debt. There are some things that you’ll probably want to make payments on because you can’t afford to pay for them with the money that you have in your savings, for things like a house or car this might make sense to get a loan and make payments, but you should avoid making payments for the other things that you buy. When you’re making payments, you’re paying interest and fees for the privilege of having something now. When you look at how much you’d actually pay in interest, fees, maintenance, and other costs associated with having or owning what you wish to purchase, you might find that the true cost of ownership is higher than the pleasure or value you’d derive from making payments. For your bigger purchases you can make payments to yourself (as my grandpa used to like to say), so that you earn interest on your money while saving up for it, instead of paying interest while you own it. Because everyone has a limited income (some people have more than others), you probably can’t afford to buy everything that you want (or think that you want). Try to avoid those impulse buys, especially the more expensive ones, often these things become stuff that is just lying around later adding to your clutter. Avoid the credit card trap. The credit card companies often have campus representatives that make it easy for you to get credit cards, offering gifts for you to apply, they might start your credit limit out small, but it is too easy to buy stuff on your credit cards and find out that you have quickly built up a huge debt. I fell into the credit card trap in college, thinking that I would get a good job and pay it all off then, but it took me several years to pay off this debt, often working two jobs! If you can’t afford to buy it with your savings, chances are that you probably can’t afford it and shouldn’t buy it. Do you really need what you’re thinking about buying? Think twice before you buy anything, especially on credit.

Don’t give into peer pressure. During high school you probably heard about MADD and SADD, so while you might already be aware of problems with alcoholism and drug use, it might not have hit home yet. In many colleges and universities, even today, there is a lot of binge drinking (and drug use). Don’t do either of these activities to be accepted, especially to join a fraternity or sorority. If you’re asked to do something that you know in your gut is not right, then you should really consider not doing it. Don’t be talked into something to be accepted and liked. Are the people that would ask you to do such things really your friends? Do they really have your best interest at heart? Are these really people that you want to be your friends? Look for positive peer pressure, people that motivate you and push you in a positive direction.

Seek out mentors. There are a lot of decisions and choices that you’ll need to make in the next few years, which you’re probably not used to making. With some of your bigger decisions it would be good to have some kind of sounding board that you can run them by before implementing them. If you have family and friends that you can use, that it great, but you’ll probably want to seek out some mentors during your life. You might want to find someone that has been successful in the field you wish to work or someone that has been successful that you might be able to leverage their knowledge into your field and life. Even when you think that you know it all or don’t need any help, you’d be surprised what you can learn from somebody that has already succeeded or experienced what you’re going through now. It is really good when you can learn from someone else’s life lessons and not have to reinvent the wheel every time. You might even find that you’re in a position to be a mentor to someone else. Everyone is knowledgeable about something and everyone has something that they can contribute. Can you imagine how much different the world would be if there was more of this exchange; the multiplier effect alone would be incredible.

Some lessons you have to learn from yourself. While I can’t recommend enough getting involved in mentoring, leveraging the knowledge of others, and building your own social network; there are just some lessons that you’ll have to learn for yourself. There are some things that you’ll have to learn the hard way by doing it yourself. There will be times that you have to take the journey and no one else can do it for you. Sometimes you’ll get advice and decide to act against it or maybe even use it but there are still lessons that you’ll learn or that you have to be the one to do it. Maybe your parents tried to teach you about handling your money, but you have to get into debt before you realize that they were giving you good advice. Sometimes going through it yourself hits home so much more than hearing others tell you about it, and sometimes you’ll need this. Until you have failed and succeeded you don’t know what they feel like.

Take chances. Many people go through life letting the fear of failure stop them from doing many things that they’d like to do. Don’t let this hold you back. While you shouldn’t do every crazy thing that goes through your mind (maybe talk to your mentor before you do some of the crazier and dangerous things) most things in life involve some kind of risk. Starting a career or a business involves some risk. What is the worst thing that would happen to you if you failed? Most inventors didn’t come up with their invention on the first try, so they kept trying until they found something that works. It took Thomas Edison over 10,000 attempts before he invented the light bulb, when asked how it felt to have failed 10,000 times, he replied that he didn’t fail but he found 10,000 different ways that didn’t work. We have many wonderful things today because someone took a risk. Many people later in life don’t regret what they did, but what they didn’t do.

Treat others the way that you would like to be treated. I can’t stress this one enough. While you don’t need to be everyone’s friend (and don’t have the time that this would involve), you don’t need to treat other people either. Ambition and competition can be a very good thing, but those people that you hurt along the way might not be willing to help sometime when you really need it. The world would already be so much better if everyone incorporated this rule and lived it! You need to learn that there are so many times in life when there is more than one good way to do things and that you don’t have a corner on market for how to do whatever. There will be a lot of arguments in your life about how to do things, if you take the time to listen, you might be able to lessen or avoid some of this. Having said that there will be disagreements, you can’t please everyone all the time, nor should you always try. People are one of the greatest resources that we have in this world, but so often we don’t treat each other very well and we don’t consider what our words or actions will do to other people. In so many things that we do, it is the relationships that we value the most (or should). I wrote a post with some other advice for dealing with people that you might want to check out.

Discover the power of focus and motivation. When you’re really motivated, it is amazing some of the things that you can do that you would have never dreamed that you could do. I hope that you’ll find your passion, something that you’re really good at, that drives you. Not everyone can be Einstein or the latest pop star, but there is probably something that you’re good at and that you really enjoy doing, I hope that you find it. Ask yourself “Is there something that I love to do, that I would do even if I didn’t get paid to do it?” It is by being able to do these things as your livelihood that you’ll find motivation and passion in your work. Many of you will be entering college life soon and there are many distractions that can keep you from studying. In fact you’ll find that there are many distractions in life trying to capture your time and attention. Several years ago a friend of mine, who was interested in becoming a doctor, told me about a family friend of his that was a doctor and who advised him that he needed to focus on his studies because he’d have the rest of his life to chase girls. Sometimes you have to focus on certain things now in order to enjoy the benefits later on. When you can’t seem to find the needed motivation, maybe you need to take a look at why you’re doing something, maybe the reason that you want to do something isn’t compelling enough for you to actually do it. It doesn’t hurt to check this from time to time anyways. Life changing events can cause you to re-examine your priorities and focus.

Live and enjoy your life! There is only one now, so don’t wait for tomorrow or some other event to start living. Sometimes you should stop to enjoy the moments in your life. Maybe you could watch a beautiful sunset/sunrise. Now becomes yesterday and tomorrow you’ll look back on today, hopefully with little sorrow and regret. One day, today might be part of the “good ole days”, so why not make it that way today? You have no guarantee that you will have a tomorrow, or that you will have it with those you love, so try to make the most of today. Know that there will be sorrow in your life and times that might cause you to question the meaning of it all, but know that you do have a life to enjoy, and if you honor your relationships, you have friends and family that add so much value to your life. There are so many wonderful things that you’ll experience in your life and so many great things you’re going to do, why not get started!

I have probably rambled on long enough. While my advice is not exhaustive and won’t help every situation, I believe that it is a good point to start. Do you have any advice that you’d like to pass on to the graduating high school senior class? If you have any other comments, I would love to hear them. If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

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