Dear Class of 2017,

First and foremost, congratulations. You made it to graduation day. That’s worth celebrating. Now it’s time to cue the Vitamin C and step into the next season of life.

If you’re like me, graduation day couldn’t come soon enough. You’re ready to have the diploma you’ve been working so hard to get in hand. And while the day itself will be over before you know it, there’s one part of graduation day we all know seems like it will never end, the commencement address.

[Side note: To anyone giving a commencement address at graduation: Less is always more.]

While the intention of having a respected business leader or political figure provide words of wisdom to the newest contributors to society isn’t inherently bad, most commencement addresses are filled with recycled advice about thanking your parents and vague platitudes about life’s next chapter.

Advice for Graduates

As I consider some of the lessons I’ve learned in my short tenure in “the real world” thus far, here are seven words of advice I wish someone would have shared with me during commencement when I graduated seven years ago…

1. No one is going to tell you what to do.

Until now, everyone has pretty much defined what you need to do in order to be successful. Professors provide a syllabus for when papers are due and what you need to study. Teachers and parents guide you by providing recommendations about what steps you should take.

One of the toughest parts about transitioning from college to the workplace is that most of that type of structure is gone. No one tells you what to do in the same way you’ve been accustomed to in the past.

Here are a few tips you try to figure out for yourself: Identify what makes your boss look good. Define what outcomes you’re responsible for. Focus on doing things that will help you accomplish them. Get disciplined.

2. Your education is just starting.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve learned exponentially more skills and principles about what it takes to “be successful” after graduation. While graduation might be the end of your formal education experience, you’re going to learn so much more in the next few years.

Mark Cuban sums it up perfectly when he said, “College is the time you pay to learn, but “now that you have graduated, it’s your chance to get paid to learn.”

The more you embrace that idea, the more you’ll grow.

3. Find someone who can guide you through the fog.

Honestly, transitioning from college to a full-time job was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. There’s so much change, most days it feels like your head is spinning. I affectionately refer to this initial period of transition as “the fog.” During this time, it’s easy to get discouraged or feel like a failure.

One of the best things you can do during this time is find a mentor who can help keep you grounded during this time. Some days, they might be there to let you vent. Other days, they might provide tough words you need to hear to move forward. Either way, finding someone that can help you see the forest through the trees is incredibly valuable during the initial transition.

4. Know the difference between a mountain and a hill.

Change of any kind is hard. You’re going to face things you’ve never faced before. Some days you’re going to want to quit.

In those times, it’s important to evaluate the challenges you face and determine if it’s a mountain or a hill. Mountains are insurmountable challenges. There will be challenges that aren’t worth fighting. Hills often look like mountains. But if you work hard, and don’t give up, you can overcome them.

Learn how to identify a mountain. Know when to fold ‘em. At the same time, don’t mistake the hills for mountains. Seth Godin’s book The Dip is an excellent resource that unpacks this idea a bit more.

5. You never know who’s watching you.

I’ve been amazed at how many times someone has come up to me the past seven years and said something like, “I saw what you did with _________________.” Sometimes it’s a co-worker in another department. Other times it might be a distant connection on social media.

Remembering this principle can positively impact the way you approach your work every day. While your hard work might not pay off in the short run, you might reap the rewards when you least expect it from someone you didn’t realize was watching.

6. Life doesn’t operate in semesters anymore.

One of the best parts about college is that you knew you only had a short amount of time to deal with a class you didn’t like. Unfortunately, most jobs don’t operate in semester sprints (unless you’re a teacher).

Remember that achieving success is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s a long game. Don’t let one bad day get you down. At the same time, don’t turn one good day into an opportunity to relax.

7. You can learn something from everybody.

In most cases, you don’t get to pick the people you work for like you did with your professors. There will be people you will work under and alongside that make you question your sanity. It’s easy to quickly write those leaders off as “crazy” and never think you can learn anything from them.

In my own experience, it’s those “bad leaders” that I’ve learned the most from because they’ve helped me define the type of leader I don’t want to be. Embracing the idea that you can learn from everybody— good leaders and bad leaders — will help you get through the tough days.

Ok, now I realize I got a little long-winded on the advice. However, my hope is that one of these words of wisdom will stick with you as you make the transition from college into the working world.

Finally, don’t forget to write everything down. Hopefully, you’ll get the same opportunity to share your advice seven years from now. I can’t wait to read it.

Welcome to “the real world.” We’re glad you’re here.


Thin Difference Community: What are some things I missed?
What advice would you give to college grads?