I went to an event last Friday at Washington University to listen to a like-minded business acquaintance who spoke about the marriage of technology and user experience in the healthcare space. Little did I know I would be walking into a campus filled with people from all over the world coming together to celebrate the completion of their children’s four years of hard work. That excitement reminded me of my own graduation years ago and walking down the school path in cap and gown eagerly anticipating getting out into the world to start doing real things. Pheww! It’s May of 2014 already, how time flies.
This time of the year much advice will be heaped upon these newly minted grads. I only hope they can walk away with some useful tips to start off their careers. Honestly, I don't remember listening to much of the advice I received during my graduation. I was too caught up in the moment, so excited to be done with school and to celebrate with family and friends. However, even if I did listen or remember, I realize it still takes time for me to internalize and apply any advice I’m given. Nonetheless, here is my advice for those who are 22.
Never stop learning.
You may be done with academics, but not life. I suspect that not many of you were warned that you would never be done with learning, even after graduating from college. But you should know that already. If you don’t have an interest or an aptitude for learning and the drive to keep improving yourself, you’ll become obsolete quickly in this competitive market. In real life, people don’t care about grades or what school you went to. Those might be criteria to consider when looking at candidates with no or limited experience in the workplace, but as soon as you get that job, what people care about is your ability to deliver.
Make something, anything.
Making things happen is a lot harder than you think. How many times have you talked about an idea or about a project you want to do? How far were you able to take that idea? The important part is to make something and learn from it. When starting with a project, you may have a million ideas about how to make something better, but in reality you must be specific about what you can actually deliver. Always better to pick achievable goals (shoot for "under-promise and over-deliver"). You can get away with under-promising since you’re fresh out of college and things might take longer to do than you anticipate. So learn as much as you can from doing and shipping the things you want to accomplish, you’ll be amazed at how much experience you will gain by just doing projects – even if they’re silly.
Life is short. Don’t take your job so seriously.
You’ll be working for a long time so don’t get yourself too stressed out about your first job. If you don’t enjoy what you do, quit and find something to do that makes you happy. If your boss is unkind and not willing to teach you, quit and find a different job where you find the kind of people who appreciate you for what you have to offer. Also, look for a situation where there is a willingness to nurture the next generation. Money isn’t everything, knowledge and experience are crucial in life. You have so much time to learn and be knowledgeable so avoid jobs that aren’t challenging. No need to get stuck somewhere comfortable which might make it more difficult to find a job later on in life.
Travel the world before you want to build your career.
This is the best time in your life to pack your bag and travel the world. Explore different cultures and make new friends. I used to think that I should focus first on my career so I would have the money to travel, well that's a silly idea. I have observed many folks who quit their jobs to follow their hearts and dreams and they seem happier than ever. I think one of the main reasons for their bliss is because once you have created momentum for learning and making new business connections it feels really rewarding. Also, once you set about your career it might be too hard to take a year or two off to travel the world. So go ahead and take an easy job like teaching English in a foreign country or apply to be an intern at some companies overseas to have the opportunity to travel and explore the world. Once you get out of your comfort zone and learn to do things yourself, you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ve become so confident. And that confidence will be a great help in your career later.
Putting career aside, traveling the world might also gives you the opportunity to meet that special someone in a foreign land and fall in love. That excitement you get when you meet someone not only to learn about their personalities but their cultures, beliefs and values. The world has gotten smaller and there is no reason why one should be limited to looking for their love life only within their own communities.
There will always be time for building a career and a family, while if you reverse the order it won’t be so easy to travel and take career-stretching opportunities when you have the broader responsibilities of raising a family.
Stay connected with friends.
An old saying in business I often hear is “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. While you might have heard it before, what you take away from it might be different. First you have to prove that you're capable, then you need to know the right people to grow your career or to build a business. Make an extra effort to stay connected with friends; you never know who you might be working with or helping you with in the future. Knowing people and having great connections make the job of growing a business or building a successful career easier. But it’s always good to maintain friendships in general. They are the foundation in life, you need them and your family to weather life’s storms. Yes, life has its ups and downs, it’s not always beautiful. But that’s a lesson for another day.
You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Go travel the world, make new friends and be genuine. Always listen and learn from the people you meet. This is the exciting part where you get to see why this world is so vibrant and beautiful when people get out of their comfort zone. You’ll be inspired to do things that change the world, and even more importantly—making you a happier person!
Congrats to all recent grads and welcome to an exciting future!