My Advice To Graduates

With this being the time of year for college and high school graduations, I’ve been paying more attention lately to the plans of those receiving diplomas. I’ve also been reflecting quite a bit on the decisions I made over the course of my educational journey, and while I would not by any means consider myself someone qualified to dole out career advice, I believe I made enough wrong turns along the way to be able to pass along a few tips about how to not fall into some of the pitfalls I have over the years.

I was always one of the “smart kids” in school. I made good grades, enrolled in all the honors and advanced classes in high school, graduateeven took the SAT in middle school. I graduated college with a 3.5 GPA, and that was even with my failing one class and not retaking it (For the record, it was an earth science class, and I could take it a thousand more times and still never pass it.). I received honors and awards and got my name in the newspaper a few times for different accomplishments. As a student, I was a success.

And, for the most part, none of it meant a damn thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I didn’t learn anything useful in school. For instance, had it not been for the encouragement and efforts of some great teachers, I would have never realized I had a (debatable) talent for writing. I never had any vision or passion, though, for what I wanted to do with what I was learning. Even worse, I somehow believed that doing well in school would save me from the more mundane jobs and tasks I didn’t want to deal with learning. I didn’t learn things because I didn’t want to. I was a good student, and that would get me where I wanted to go … even if I didn’t know where that was.

So I never learned how to change my own oil or repair a broken transmission or hang sheetrock or build a bookshelf or bring in a crop or shoot a deer. Are you going to be required to do any of these things in your lifetime? I can’t tell you for sure. I can say, though, that everything I just mentioned (with the exception of shooting the deer) is a service people will always need someone to do. I used to make fun of the kids in vocational school. Now I wish I knew how to do at least half of the things they do. Never consider any job beneath you, no matter how smart you think you are.

Manual labor is not for everyone, though, just as college isn’t for every high school graduate. We live in a society now that preaches everyone must go to to college, whether they have any clue what they want to do there and no matter how much debt they incur on their way to obtaining a degree. I am sad to say this is not a recent development. A great many of us have diplomas hanging on our walls that don’t have much to do with where we wound up. If you find a calling in life that doesn’t require a degree, go for it.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately, it’s not. You’ll be faced with all kinds of decisions. What do you need to learn? How much time, energy, and money will it cost? How will it affect those around you? Should you move and make a new start or make a go of it where you are? Fear and uncertainty will be waiting around every corner to derail you, and, unfortunately, you won’t always get the best advice. Education will be a tool, but it can’t make a decision for you. Be brave, and don’t take the freedom you have right now for granted. It won’t always be so easy to take chances.

Keep in mind, of course, these words are coming from someone who flubbed up in one way or another nearly all of the things he was just talking about, so I’m not claiming to be some kind of expert or guru. I just don’t want you to travel some of the roads I have. And, if you do happen to wind up on one of them, I hope you’ll be able to navigate them better than I did. That reminds me of my final bit of advice: Give yourself room to screw up. Because you’re going to – a lot. Instead of endlessly beating yourself up, though, keep going forward or backward or sideways or whichever way you have to go to move on.

Take all that for what it’s worth, graduates. I’m guessing a lot of you already know more than I do anyway. Just remember me when you get really successful. Okay?

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