What I'd do differently, Advice to graduates

A couple weeks ago, my niece graduated high school….ahh, to be 18 again.  It got me thinking about what I wish I knew and had engrained in my thinking back then.  The following is what I now have an understanding of that was learned through trial and error and failure and success.

Be open to possibilities

You can try and draw out your entire career path on day 1 if you’d like.  If you do, it will likely look a lot like what I thought my path would be; a linear and slightly upward trajectory.  Year after year, I thought I’d get promoted up through the engineering ranks, then to manager, then to Director, so on and so forth.  Problem is, this thinking has nothing to do your connection to the work.  Staying open to opportunities as they come along leaves you free to explore other options.  Who knows, you may even enjoy a squigglier line career path that allows for experimentation.

That which seems important today will be a trivial matter 15 years from now

When I graduated college, all that was important to me was getting a good paying job that offered upward mobility.  Then, I got married, had kids, got cancer…life started unfolding.  It unfolded with aggression showing me that those deadlines and stresses of the day job weren’t worth bringing home.  They aren’t worth damaging the relationship you have with your family.  Life will give you plenty of real things to worry about like the well-being of your children, your health and your legacy.

Relationships really are critically important

Your cool car isn’t going to show up at your funeral and express condolences.  Your legacy is defined by the individuals you impact and the impression you leave behind.  I’m not the best at “building relationships” but I can say, from what I have seen, it boils down to being nice to people, acting with integrity and being of service to others.  Doing those three things might not make you a hero but, over the course of 60, 70, 80 years, it will make you someone worth remembering.

Interests before Money

You can chase the money if you’d like but, remember that it is true that you can’t take it with you.  When you leave this Earth, it will be the impact you’ve made on the people and world around you that will matter.  Sure, money may help you make a bigger impact but, it’s a means to an end and that’s all.

Work Harder Now

I mentioned before how life has a way of unfolding in ways you can’t necessarily control.  The younger you are, the more controllable your life may be.  Perhaps you don’t yet have the responsibility of a family or mortgage.  Seize that time to put in the work.  The extra work put in in your younger years will create to possibility and freedom you will desire when you do have kids and you want to spend time with them rather than work late.

Choose Adventure

In the immortal words of Lucille Ball, “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”  Take chances, explore the world and learn.

Time is the ultimate currency

I’ve tried to imagine the last day of my life.  And, on that day, if I have done everything right, I will have no regrets and be able to look fondly back on my life and the opportunities I’ve been afforded.  I can imagine that on that day, the one wish I would have for myself, if I could have anything in that moment, would be one more day…more time.  Time is the one thing you cannot get back once it is spent.  Don’t waste it and don’t give it away carelessly. 

For all those graduating this year, congratulations and good luck!