(By Silas Grant)
As the end of the 2012-2013 school year approaches, we all celebrate the accomplishments of the new graduates. I began to reflect on my college graduation and what has transpired for me over the past 11 years. Hindsight provides 20/20 vision. I’m here to give my thoughts on what I believe new graduates should do and consider as they embark upon life after school.
Financial Stability vs. Job Stability
Contrary to popular belief, the two are not always connected. In fact, new graduates lean toward job stability because of the safety in having a check that comes in every other week. The expectation of the next check can be a deterrent when attempting to properly utilize the check from the current pay period. So in a sense, we trade in long-term financial stability for job stability. We use our job stability as an excuse not to pay attention to long-term financial implications. Because we always know that a paycheck is coming in soon.
The stable job fresh out of college is great. But new graduates have a tendency of taking that paycheck and incurring new expenses. And those new expenses are often reoccurring expenses. So, let’s say you have this high paying, stable and secure job. There is no guarantee that you’ll like it. So in exchange for your discomfort, you appease your inner desires. If you don’t like the job, you might as well like the clothes that you wear to work. So now you have a Macy’s account. You feel that you work hard and you should treat yourself. So, you spend $5-10 daily on lunch. At times, you may even go as far as spending $12-17 on midday meals. You hate catching the public modes of transportation, so you decide to drive in and pay for parking and gas. You’re young and your parents offer you an opportunity to stay at home, but you want to be on your own and now you have rent to pay. You have to have the latest casual clothes, mobile devices, you want to travel and after all of this hard work, sometimes new graduates develop financial and health issues with alcohol consumption. All of these expenditures can be tied back to adjusting to life when you choose the stable job over what you want to do. You pay a steep price for having the job that everyone expects you to have over what you really want to do.
My suggestion for new graduates is to look for employment in areas that you truly enjoy. Forgo looking for the highest paying, stable, secure job and carve out an opportunity for yourself. In some instances, you may not receive a paycheck on a bi-weekly basis. This will encourage you to be a wise steward of the money that you have when it comes in. If you are happy with what you do, you won’t spend money unnecessarily trying to compensate for your unhappiness at a job that you don’t like.
Develop an Email Group
Social media is great. It can also be confusing. Over the next five (5) years of your life, you will meet more people than you’ve met in your first 21-23 years of life. Some people will only know you by your username and vice versa. Others will only know your face because of pictures posted on public sites. It’s great to meet as many people as possible. It’s also great to have a base. Communicate with your core group outside of social networks. This will give you an opportunity to have more intimate and meaningful conversations. Over the next few years, you’ll need to build the lasting touches on the foundation of your concrete path to success. If you are very close with a small core group of friends (let’s say 8-12 people), connect with them outside of social media (preferably email). Getting together in person could be difficult if friends take job offers in other parts of the world. So email allows you to stay in contact. Make sure that these email convos are fun, yet developmental. In the early stages, exchange resumes and cover letters so that you all can assist in editing for one another. Talk about interviews and questions that were posed by potential employers. Make an effort to plan trips and other outings together. Have as much fun as possible together. Most importantly, hold each other accountable. Success is a team sport. No one reaches success alone.
Your Friends’ Parents
Get to know your friends’ parents. You will lean on them for job leads, advice, and they could potentially introduce you to your wife/husband to be. If you have a great group of friends, their parents will almost always be involved in your growth. At the age of 21-23, you probably have parents that are at least 45-50 years old. So they will be hosting 50th birthday parties, 25th wedding anniversaries, retirement parties and other events that people in that age bracket host for themselves or one another. If you know your friends’ parents and you’re invited to their events, show up! Always make an effort to go to these events. They (your friends’ parents) will have other good people there. If you are well-groomed, well-spoken and lady-like/a gentlemen, they will be more than happy to introduce you to other great people who can help you along the way.
You are going to need advice. You are going to need advice a lot. The unfortunate reality is that your parents won’t always give you the best advice. Until you are 30-35 years old, it’s more than likely that your parents will be afraid of any risk that comes along with an opportunity that is presented to you. So they will always, and I mean always, lean toward risk-free solutions. But there is no growth if there is no risk. Your friends’ parents are safe outlets. They are normally responsible enough to understand risk when it comes to people other than their own children. Basically, they are far enough away in relation to you to give an objective outlook. So they will give insight from many perspectives. They won’t tell you what to do. Often, they will give you options and you have to make the decision on your own. But your friends’ parents are a good “sounding board” before you jump off the deep end and make a decision in haste.
Note: Don’t totally overlook your parents when seeking advice. Going to others and not relaying your thoughts to your parents about a decision would be disrespectful. But if they are skeptical, it’d be good to talk to another responsible set of adults. Always be open with your friends’ parents about what your parents have said. If you lean toward taking a risk based on their advice of other adults, when you approach your parents about your decision, make sure that you emphasize that you came to this conclusion on your own. It’s not great to go back and say “John’s dad told me…”. But in some instances, your parents will already know and have a relationship with “John’s parents”. That makes the situation even better. And in the event that all of the parents in your core group know one another, it’s almost understood that you will receive counsel from the parents of your friends anyway.
Politics, Business & Leadership
I once heard a saying: “If you want to go into business, you need to go into politics. If you want to go into politics, you need to go into business”. The two go hand in hand. Get involved in your community. You don’t have to run for Senate, but attend community meetings. Forge relationships with city/county officials. Know what’s happening in your community. The more informed that you are and the more visible that you are, the easier it will be to get your ideas off the ground. If you have a business, you will run into government “red tape”. Knowing the people and the political process eliminates some of the unnecessary hassle. If you are interested in elected politics, knowing the businesses in your area helps you to understand the community issues. I held an elected office for six (6) years. It was a voluntary position at a local level. However, it allowed me to meet people, learn about the needs of the people and gain support from people on issues that are dear to my heart. As a new graduate, you need to share the assets that you have with your community. Get involved because your ideas are needed.
At your job, initially, you will be on the bottom end of the totem pole. There will not be a lot of opportunities for you to lead projects fresh out of college. However, most job openings require experience and on interviews you will be asked to reference situations where you were a leader on an initiative. Community involvement gives young people an opportunity to pad their leadership experiences. Always remember, your resume is not a place where you only list jobs/positions where you were paid. List all experience. Take this time to get experience in your community. It’s far more reasonable to assume that you will be given the opportunity to lead a civic project prior to being given the opportunity to lead a multi-million dollar contract at your job. Project Management is an educational discipline that many undergrad students consider as a post-graduate pursuit. To qualify for that opportunity, you must document hours of time that you’ve already had in managing projects. Again, civic duties allow you to be eligible for such an opportunity. Many civic groups have antiquated document retention processes and govern their meetings based on ancient rules. You can come in and provide a spark and shed light on new dynamics that impact the area where you live. Your strides in civic engagement can lead to leadership development, relationship building, and understanding of hierarchy and the politics of business.
This is Not Your Grandfather’s Success
When your grandfather came along, the goal was a big house, a big car, a few kids, a dog, a vacation home, a boat and a boat load of money for retirement. Your success will not be measured on those material possessions. Younger people are opting out of big homes in the suburbs for smaller dwellings in the city. Rather than being hassled with gardening, tinkering with broken down cars all weekend and remembering to go out to the vacation home to fix the roof, new graduates are focused on being happy without the responsibility that comes along with the upkeep of material possessions. Newer graduates are sharing vehicles, living in smaller places, waiting longer before having children, finding ways to put creative ideas to work for additional revenue streams and pursuing internal happiness. The reality is that you will be more inclined to do what you love than your grandfather. You may not attain the material things that he did. But you will measure your success based on happiness. Happiness is not always in a shiny car, but the fact that you understand that you don’t need a shiny car to be happy. I’m not suggesting that happiness should be the goal. But based on the time period that we’re in, that seems to be the direction that society is going in. Simply put, because you are more likely to chase what you love to do, you may not make as much money to purchase those items that signified success in times past. And in times past, people bought those things to compensate for the fact that they didn’t always enjoy what they did for an occupation. Your occupation will no longer be as grueling. You will spend more hours working on what is considered to be your job. You will take more breaks. You will interrupt your work to have more conversations and to bounce ideas off of others. “Work hard, play hard” will mean doing both at the same time and not having an “on/off” switch for the two activities. This is the new landscape for what success means in 2013 and beyond.