My Facebook feed is filled with photos of smiling college graduates, sandwiched by their proud parents and momentarily forgetting about the mountain of debt they've just accumulated. With the photos taken comes the whispered words of advice in the graduate's ear. It's the "plastics" scene from "The Graduate," and when accompanied by a congratulations card stuffed with a check, it will hold the graduate's attention -- if briefly.
But if you want to share some real advice with the graduates in your life, try these tidbits instead. Here's what nobody told me at my graduation 40 years ago that I wish they had:
1. Framed diploma notwithstanding, it's pretty likely that you still don't have a clue what you want to be when you grow up -- and that's OK.
You will likely change jobs a lot; I know my generation did. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the youngest baby boomers held an average of almost 12 jobs between the ages of 18 and 48. You can probably expect to switch careers a few times as well. Don't worry too much about it.
I graduated college with a double major in English and Education at a time when urban teachers were in short supply. The "interview" for my teaching position in Newark, N.J., was more a "sign up" than any actual screening or selection process. I joked how it consisted of little more than putting a mirror under my nose to check if I was breathing.
I lasted just six weeks on the job before I quit. Then I walked into the office of my local newspaper and asked for a writing job. When I said I had never taken a journalism class in my life, the gruff city editor chomped on his cigar and said "Good, then you won't have much to unlearn." I took a 40 percent pay cut and never looked back.
2. When you get your first real paycheck, immediately go talk to a financial planner.
Financial planners aren't just for rich people or older people. Navigating your financial life successfully isn't something best left to your latter years or taking advice for amateurs. There is a skill involved here. Hiring an independent financial planner may be the best investment you ever make. Pay for advice. Just don't pay for someone to sell you something.
Start socking money away. Fully fund your company's 401k. Do it now, not when you are 50.
3. Where you live matters.
There is probably no job worth having if it means you must live where you don't want to live. You will be miserable.
I am not a city person. I need the quiet of nature and for the past 25 years have lived in a remote mountain community outside of greater Los Angeles. My commute has been a bitch and most people think I'm crazy. I live in the only part of Los Angeles that I could, for me.
I once worked in New York City. The noise and over-crowdedness crippled me. I walked around the city not invigorated by its energy but paralyzed by its intensity.
Figure out where you want to live and look for a job there.
4. Take a gap year, but not straight after college.
You only think you're tired. College has its stressors, for sure. But you ain't seen nothing yet. Take a gap year when you really need it: After you've toiled for a few years at a company and go for days without feeling the sun on your skin because you never leave your desk. College will seem like a cake walk after you've spent a spell in the real world where people work 10- or 12-hour days and are electronically shackled to the office 24/7. That's when you will really need a break, not right after college. Besides, don't you have student loans that need to be repaid?
5. You are allowed to negotiate your salary creatively.
Nobody ever taught you that compensation can come in many forms besides a paycheck. Would it suit your interests and lifestyle to ask for extra paid vacation, stock in the company or performance bonuses? Don't diminish the monetary value of the ability to telecommute: You won't be spending money on commuting costs, won't have the wasted unpaid hours sitting in traffic, won't need as many clothes to wear to the office.
A big salary is great but what's the point of one if you don't have the time or energy to enjoy what it can buy you?
When you are negotiating your wages, you are negotiating your life. And yes, you can think outside the box.
6. You've probably been told to "do what you love." Just know that what you love may change and turn on you.
Most of the jobs in the workplace today didn't even exist when I graduated college. That may very well happen to you too. Shocking and unimaginable, isn't it? Be open to the world changing right before your eyes -- and change along with it.
I regularly speak with friends from the world of print journalism who have been holding their collective breaths for years now, waiting to see if their names are included on the next round of corporate layoffs.
The times, they've changed. And those who didn't, couldn't, or wouldn't change along with them were kicked to the curb. Don't assume that whatever industry you chose to work in won't be revolutionized in your lifetime. And sometimes what you really love more than your chosen job is your family and the ability to keep a roof over its head.
7. Help some people along the way.
Doing things for other people will make you feel good. Try it. Save the world, and if you can't do that, at least don't make it a bigger mess. Work to improve lives, make people happy, give of yourself until it hurts and then give a little bit more. Good will is contagious.
You don't have to perpetuate the rat race. Change always starts with one person.
8. As you climb the career ladder, someone will extend a hand to help you along. Pay it forward.
Mentor freely. Offer help, not hinderance. Cheerlead, rally around, cover their back. If you want to lead, you need to be respected and loved.
9. It won't feel good to be the final nail in anyone's professional coffin.
Firing someone is a painful thing for everyone. A job loss is a devastating event, one that packs a powerful punch of financial and emotional pain. It isn't a walk in the park for the person who does the firing either. The better among them are haunted by what they did. The rest are just waiting for their turn to be on the other side of the table when karma comes calling.
10. At least once in your life, you will need to get out of your own way.
Nobody should ever be their own worst enemy. When you self-sabotage, it's because you don't want to be there. Leave on your own terms and figure out what went wrong.
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