From Graduate to Grown-Up: 10 More Tips

06/11/2015 03:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2016

Last year, I wrote about ten tips for going from graduation to being a grown-up. Once you've mastered those, especially never using the word "busy" and writing lots of thank you notes, here are 10 more to help you find meaning, success and happiness at work, at home and in love and friendship.

It is time to get smart about money. Learn enough to do at least the first draft of your tax returns. Read some books about consumer finance. If you cannot pay off your credit card charges every month, do not have a credit card. And put the maximum into your retirement account every year. It may seem like a long way off in your 20s, but every dollar you spend on a latte or clothes or a fun night out instead of putting it in your retirement account is not earning interest for your future instead. My friend John Patrick Adams explains how failing to save for retirement in his 20s cost him as much as $400,000.

Keep learning new things. Find people who challenge you. Challenge yourself -- never take a position until you have identified the best possible argument on the other side, or, better yet, all other sides. A character in Aaron Sorkin's underappreciated pre-"West Wing" series "Sports Night" has some good advice: "If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. And if you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you."

Stop blaming your parents. Or anyone else. They did the best they could. Even if they didn't, once you're out of school, everything is on you. Own it.

Establish "no device" zones -- both place and time. As in -- no devices in the bedroom or where/when you eat, including television, tablets, and phones. Don't check email or social media until the last 15 minutes of each hour. Talk to friends, look around you, or read a book.

Memorize these. They are the only appropriate responses:

  • When someone pays you a compliment: "Thank you." (Optional add-on: "That means a lot to me." Never ever: Challenge or dispute or self-deprecate.)
  • When someone gives you a gift or does you a favor: "Thank you." (Optional add-on: "I really appreciate it." Mandatory add-on: thoughtful, prompt, mailed, thank you note. Never ever: Say you don't want it or don't like it.)
  • When someone offers you criticism or advice: "Thank you." (Optional add-on: "I will try to do better." Mandatory add-on: think carefully about it and do better. Repeat back the comment to make sure you understand it. Never ever: Argue or get defensive.)

Please and thank you. They really are magic words. At home, at the office, buying something, asking for something, with people you know well or those you see only once -- these words are essential in all situations. Then work on the next level: smiling and saying hello, looking people in the eye, talking to anyone at a party or meeting who looks lonely or uncertain, complimenting those around you for working hard, helping at home, or trying something new.

It is nice to be smart. It is sometimes nice to be important. It is essential to be kind. Hold the door. Offer your seat on the subway. Write a condolence note. Don't share that unflattering story or laugh about someone's failures.

What color are the waiter's eyes? The wonderful television journalist Mike Leonard told me about a man who taught his kids to notice the eye color of the waiter whenever they went out to eat. It was a way of making sure that they took a moment to notice and appreciate the human being who was spending his or her time taking care of them. Now I do it, too.

Vote. Get involved and make a difference on the issues you care about. Get the news from a variety of sources. Write your representatives. And vote in every election. If not, government will be left to billionaires and corporations.

Tell the people you love that you appreciate them, you are proud of them, and you love them. I'm a big fan of Jan Struther, who wrote: "Hard words will break no bones/But more than bones are broken/by the inescapable stones/Of fond words left unspoken."