We traveled to upstate New York this weekend to attend my brother-in-law’s graduation. He’s a great kid, and also 17 years younger than me! That means his whole world view is considerably different than mine – or perhaps I should say that my whole worldview is considerably different than his. I’m not saying that we butt heads or anything like that, quite the contrary, there’s just some big differences in years of experience and such…
The commencement ceremony was nice, but amazingly similar to any other graduation ceremony I’ve ever been to. Regardless of high school, or college, or whatever, these things suffer from any originality. I suppose to some degree tradition prevents this, but there is also the reality that writing a commencement address might be one of the more difficult pieces anyone ever puts together.
Writing a commencement address that doesn’t sound eerily like thousands of others is a real challenge. The ones I heard this last weekend talked about leaving good friends behind, striking off into the unknown, uncertainty of the future, having the courage to follow your passions, and giving back to those who are less fortune. These are all fine messages, but they are also little more than overused platitudes.
Could I do any better if I was asked to make some remarks? Well – in High School I did in fact provide one of the speeches to my fellow classmates. While I felt pretty strongly about it at the time, I assure you it suffered from the same commonplace clichés that malign many such speeches.
A while back, Steve over at thinksaveretire.com issued a challenge to fellow bloggers to write their own. I took a stab at this and have the following draft below to share. It could still use a little more polish – but as of now – here’s what mine might look like:
Graduating class of 2016, congratulations! After four years of hard work and diligent study, you have reached a significant milestone and will all soon have diplomas in hand. These pieces of paper indicate to the world that you have successfully completed a course of study that will help prepare you for success in this world. However, this piece of paper will certainly not guarantee success and there will be a lot more hard work in store for you if this is what you desire. Whether in terms of your work life, family life, or otherwise – success is not automatic.
Many commencement speakers will tell you to follow your dreams, pursue your passions, give one hundred and ten percent, and always remember those who helped you get where you are today. Those things are all good, and yes. I too would ask that you consider them as laudable endeavors.
However, I’d also like to give you a few tips and pointers that I’ve picked up along the way that I think you might find a bit more specific, and hopefully a bit more actionable. Let’s begin.
Always carry a notebook. Or at least something to take notes with. Most of you in the class of 2016 probably have smartphones. These things are great for taking notes. But so is pen and paper. In fact, they’ve been working out pretty well for humans for the past several hundred years. In a work environment – i’d encourage you to go “old school” with your note taking. That way, nobody will mistakenly think you’re actually just texting your friends.
Show up early. Those who are early show others that they are ready to go, that they are prepared, that they respect your time. Remember the saying “I’d rather be an hour early, than a minute late”.
Dress for the occasion. Wear something nice to weddings, funerals, graduations, and the like. Notice what your boss wears, and dress as nicely as they do. If you’re ever in doubt – go one step up. You’ll only get compliments if you look nicer than the rest of the crowd – conversely, you’ll only get looked down on if you go in the other direction.
Learn about money and how it works. Now that you’re graduating, you’re probably soon going to be out in the world, working a job, and earning some money. Unfortunately, most of you probably know very little about how money works on an individual, personal level. We do a horrendous job in this country teaching people the basics of personal finance. The good news however, is that for the most part, it’s not hard to learn. There are many books and blogs on the topic. Spend some time building your personal finance IQ now and you’ll thank me later. Guaranteed.
Start saving and investing for your retirement now. I know, I know – it’s forever away. But do it anyway. The power of compound interest over time might be one of man’s greatest inventions.
Set your own goals. Up to this point in your life, many of your goals have been set for you, and a road map has been provided. Take these classes, study hard, do well, graduate. Now you’re moving to a point in your life where the goals and road map may not be as clear. This trips up many people and they end up just wandering aimlessly through life. Set annual, monthly, weekly, and daily goals using a proven technique such as SMART goal setting (Google it if you don’t know what it is!).
Speaking of Google. Always remember that you can learn how to do just about anything by using this magical tool! You live in an age where the amount of information available to you is mind boggling. If you don’t know how to do something, Google it, experiment with it, and move forward with new knowledge. Most things are not nearly as hard as you may think – and chances are someone has done it before and posted the knowledge for the rest of the world!
Learn one new thing every day. I don’t care what it is. Maybe you want to know how to change a tire. Maybe you’re curious about George Washington. Maybe you want to learn more about investing for your retirement in a 401k because some crazy graduation commencement speaker put the idea to do that into your head. Whatever it is – just keep learning. That Google machine is great for this too by the way.
Set up systems to help you succeed. Set up systems for managing your email, for achieving your goals, for eating right, for staying fit, and for every other part of your life! Being good in these things is not hard once you apply a simple system that works for you. Refine the system over time. Become an expert at setting up systems that work for you and you’ll see huge benefits over the 95% of people who approach the world haphazardly.
Be the one to initiate things. Don’t wait around for others to ask you to join them or to plan fun things for you. If you want to do something do it. Be the instigator – the one who makes fun things happen and whom others follow.
Take your vacation. You will have earned it. Everyone thinks they are so important. Almost always – they are not. The business will keep going on without you. While on vacation, remain unplugged, rest, relax, and recharge.
Keep your head up, and look for what’s next. Always be looking for the next opportunity to grow, to learn, and to experience something new. Don’t let yourself get into a rut. Recognize when you are and if you can’t get yourself out alone, ask someone to help give you a push.
Keep in touch with your family and friends. Make a point of calling your parents and friend regularly. Visit them too. Facebook is not a substitute for staying in touch with the people you really care about.
Don’t overuse social media. People are only posting the best moments of their lives – never the boring or bad. Spending too much time here will just make you feel bad. Just about everything in moderation is OK, but try to get down to no more than 10 minutes a day.
Limit the TV time. You should all know this – but TV doesn’t engage your mind in a terribly useful way. It is a good distraction and can be relaxing – but limit it to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day. To help, make a rule that you won’t turn it on unless you are going to watch a specific show, and once that show has ended, you’ll turn it off.
Read! Now that you have some extra time – use it to read about something new or immerse yourself in a different world. Nearly all of the really successful people in this world are voracious readers. Want to be successful? Reading a lot of books about a variety of topics certainly won’t hurt.
Travel. Explore new places in the world. Try new things and get outside your comfort zone. ideally – experience new cultures and ways of thinking. If you can – strongly consider living overseas for at least six months.
Learn how to cook one thing really well and that you will be known for. My Mom’s lasagna is well known by everyone in our family. So are my Dad’s baked beans. For me, it’s my chili and my holiday tenderloin. It’s not hard to learn how to make one thing really well and there’s nothing like the happiness you can bring to people by feeding them.
Enjoy good drinks, good food, and good sex. But don’t enjoy any of them too much. Otherwise you’ll be too jittery, too drunk, too fat, or just too tired to do anything else.
Limit your news and media intake. Most of the content in the mainstream news media is little more than crass entertainment. Much of it is based on promoting fear and facilitating a consumer culture focused on spending beyond reason. You can continue to be an informed citizen by reading a reputable newspaper or website a few times a week.
Know how to change a tire and unclog a toilet. In life, occasionally shit will go south for you or for others. Know how to fix it.
Know your neighbors. Make a point of meeting your neighbors and knowing something about them. Even if they are very different than you – having good relationships with your neighbors will make you happier, safer, and can be really helpful when you realize you don’t have a plunger.
Oblige old men by listening to them as they confer their wisdom. Like those who are younger, and maybe like you yourself, they often think they have it all figured out.
Finally – Don’t forget to carry that notebook. You never know when someone’s going to say one or two things you might want to write down.