The platitudes of graduation speeches are so damaging. It sets you up for some magical moment when you enter adulthood and the world of opportunity opens up to you. But actually the world does not open up after college. Either it opened up to you the day you were born to very rich parents, or you will have to search high and low for a crowbar large enough to pry open the world of opportunity and sneak a foot in before it snaps shut again.
This is the advice you will really need to hear. I’m sorry that it’s not perky and fun and inspiring. But look, if you are feeling all gushy and excited about going out into the work world, then you don’t need any warm, inspirational advice.
Your job was school and now you are out of a job. The good news is that from now on no one will tell you things like what to learn or how to write. The bad news is that you have basically been training to be an academic for the last 18 years, so unless you want to teach, you are now doing a career change. We can talk all day about how stupid it is to train everyone to be an academic. But instead, just realize that all your training is irrelevant, which means you are starting over. And the only skills you have are the ones you were born with. So you should figure out your personality type, and memorize what it means so you can steer yourself toward something you’ll succeed at doing.
Don’t fulfill someone else’s dreams. You are probably not going to do anything special in your career. Very few people do. And those who have remarkably successful careers pay a steep price. Before you set a career goal for yourself, ask yourself what other people had to do to get there. Teachers told you if you do well in school you’ll have a great career, but that’s not how the world works. It’s actually if you give up everything else and focus on your career then you’ll have a great career. Most people don’t want to do that, so it’s okay for you to say you don’t want to do it.
Pharmaceuticals are your friends. Most mental illnesses appear in one’s twenties. If one emerges in you, don’t fight it on your own. It’s a waste of time. You will squander your potential by being completely focused on your mental illness. Just take the pills that work for the illness and move on. And stop taking stimulants to stay up all night working. That’s for students. The only people who stay up all night working in adult life are losers. School rewards the hardest workers, but work does not. Work is more complicated, but first and foremost you have to be a person that other people like to be around.
Don’t find out about your friends online. Your friends are full of shit when they post pictures online. You know that already, but you do it anyway, right? The more you see your friends lying about how happy they are, the more unhappy you’ll feel about your own life. The truth is everyone is either unhappy and lost in their 20s or they are putting unhappiness off until their 30s by being a doctor or lawyer. Stop going through what people are posting online and find friends you can connect with. Those are the ones who will be real.
Men and women stop being equal when you graduate from college. Because women have only ten years to work before they have to have kids, and men have twenty even thirty years. So women need to stop thinking they can do whatever men do, because you can’t. You cannot piss away your 20s experimenting and doing things that “don’t count.” Men can do that, but it’s no cakewalk for them either, because while women in their 20s are in very high demand, men in their 20s are low-earning and immature and largely seen by both sexes as undercooked.
Don’t pretend you know what you’re doing. No one will believe it. Instead show humility and ask for lots of help. Because every recent grad looks fresh and full of potential and people will want to help you because you remind them of them, when they were young and fresh and full of potential. If you act like you know what you’re doing, they can’t offer help. And remember, even if your parents have great connections in the Senate or the Fortune 500 or whatever, your most valuable mentors are people only a few years ahead of you. They remember how difficult it is to be you and they recently navigated those paths themselves.
Learn to cope with NO. You’re going to hear it a lot. Remember you are switching from being a seasoned, successful student to being an entry-level nobody in your new career. George Santino, author of Get Back Up, has snappy advice for dealing with no that I wish someone told me when I was graduating. Get to the no as fast as you can, ask why, and then address what’s missing. When someone says no, the easiest thing to do is walk away. But that’s not going to break through any barriers.
Make tough choices. People who have successful careers have a chosen career by age 25. Just get into a career and make it work. People who are good at sales can do it anywhere. People who are good at design can design anywhere. People who are good managers can manage any where. Too much emphasis is put on WHERE you work. It doesn’t matter. Just get a job. You will float to where you belong in any organization. And:
Accept where you belong. So if you find yourself being floated out — well, the truth is that not everyone belongs in the workforce, just like not everyone belongs at home taking care of kids.
It’s not your job to pass judgement on who was born with the best set of skills. It’s your job to respect everyone — people who have great skills for parenting and people who have great skills for being CEO. And recognize that those skills sets don’t overlap.
No one is a super hero. So just be you.