Tonight I'm heading to a couple of graduation parties in honor of my Drake graduate students. I've mentioned before that I'm a little melancholy to see this group leave. In almost a decade at Drake, the past two years have yielded the best collective group of students I've ever had the pleasure of teaching.
It's been a few years since I've written a "graduation post" so in their honor, I thought I might pass along a little wisdom that the past 20 years of post-graduate professionalism have taught me (sometimes naturally, sometimes the hard way). We do a good job of telling people to set goals and to move toward important things, but in looking back, I wonder if we warn our graduates of those things which should be avoided. So, here goes:
Shun "good enough" and "comfort zones" - mediocrity will eventually kill you. You'll hit middle age and realize all the things you didn't do, all the risks you didn't take, and you'll want a do-over. They only allow mulligans in golf, and even then when it really doesn't matter.
Shun excess and greed - the perils of that mindset are becoming painfully obvious in our current economy. I'm not saying you shouldn't succeed, nor that you shouldn't enjoy the fruits of your labor. Just live well within your means. You will rarely be stressed. I once had a colleague who allowed the rewards to out-prioritize the work which helped obtain them; I don't associate with this person because his values changed so drastically over time.
Shun selfishness - giving back to others is a tremendous feeling. Helping another on his or her journey holds the best rewards. Setting somebody on the path of success is a success for you, too. If your focus is purely internal, you'll never realize the interdependent potential of the world around you. My best teaching experiences have involved helping my students as well as local not-for-profits and small businesses.
Shun small minds - develop an "improv" mindset of "Yes, and..." Small minds can never comprehend possibilities. They can't build. They can't expand. They can't imagine or dream. And they are threatened by those around them who do. I knew an executive for a consulting company who took perverse pleasure in telling those around her what they couldn't do and what couldn't be accomplished. As a result, people worked around her to get things done.
Shun excuses - we live in a world begging for accountabililty and responsibility. If you make a mistake, admit it and learn from it. And advertise your lessons. Develop a great set of brakes so the buck stops with you. People will notice and reward it.
Shun stodginess - life is to be lived. Laughter and passion are the soul of what keeps us breathing. Get excited about something. Hug, hurt, heal, run, fall, rebound, giggle, guffaw, shout, dance, believe, wish, hope, plan, work, relax, worship, look, think, appreciate, clean, improve, reach, learn, and then start the cycle over again. There's a series of accomplishments waiting out there with YOUR name on them.
So, 2009 graduates, as you move your tassle in order to move forward, I hope you remember some of the things you need to leave behind. There's a world out there begging to be changed... are you up for the task?