Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to share with a group of business students some lessons learned in college. I will admit, there were countless mistakes made and opportunities missed, but overall, college was a season of life that challenged me in various areas and helped me grow into who I am today. These were my top 10 tips for these soon-to-be graduates:
Tip 1: If you don’t know what you want, know what you don’t want
When I entered college as a freshmen, I had no idea my career path, my passions, or what opportunity lay before me. When I graduated, I had slightly more guidance, but even then, many of my questions remained unanswered.
The truth is, you spend the first five years out of college figuring out what you don’t want to do. If you’re not sure what you like, at least know what you don’t like. It’s going to take time for you to test the waters and learn your passions and gifts.That’s okay. You don’t have to graduate college knowing the blueprint for the rest of your life. Even if you had a blueprint, you wouldn’t know what to do with it.
It was one of our authors, Jon Acuff, who said,
“I hope you don’t get your dream job when you graduate. You wouldn’t know how to appreciate it.”
Tip 2: You don’t have to be the best at everything
It took me awhile to realize that employers weren’t looking for someone who could do everything. I graduated college thinking in order to be a desirable candidate, I had to be great at everything — from financial analysis to graphic design. It wasn’t true.
Sitting on the other side of the table, there are two things I look for in a potential hire: a desire to learn and a strong work ethic. Everything else can be gained through training.
Tip 3: Don’t worry about pay, go for the experience
My first out-of-school “job” was starting a non-profit to help missionaries raise support. It was a role that necessitated me living with my parents in order to survive. It was far from glorious and the pay was nonexistent. But what I lacked in income, I more than made up for in experience.
When you first graduate, you have your entire career ahead of you. A lot of my classmates went on to work for investment banks with starting salaries over six figures. Ultimately, many burned out and quit their jobs because they felt they were being used instead of invested in. Their work was the same drudgery day in and day out. Yes, the pay was great, but the opportunities were few.
Tip #4: Honesty is the best policy
During the summer of my senior year, I had the chance to intern at a Fortune 100 company. I was tasked with building a pricing model for a $200 million-dollar consumer brand. I found the project interesting and I delivered the results to the CFO with great effectiveness. But at the end of the day, the company wasn’t the best fit for me, and I knew that. The company had great values, I enjoyed the people, but the role wasn’t something I could get fired up about.
Truth was, I could have lied and talked about the position being my dream job in an attempt to receive an offer. But I knew if I took the position, it’d be disrespectful to the company and also take away an opportunity for a more fitting, deserving, candidate.
Be honest with who you are; it’s much more liberating.
Tip #5: Time is your most valuable asset
I look back at my time in college and shake my head at the countless number of hours I spent playing FIFA and Call of Duty. I wish I could recoup those hours and apply them to my day today. There’s simply not enough time to accomplish what I want to get done.
Make the most of your time, especially in college when you don’t have too many responsibilities. I can guarantee once you graduate and the real world sets in, “free time” becomes a rarity.
Tip #6 Mistakes: It’s part of the game
You’re bound to make mistakes. Embrace them. This is especially true as a naive graduate set to take on the world. At my first job, I mistakenly sent out an email blast to 10,000 investors notifying them of a new investment opportunity. Unfortunately, the opportunity didn’t exist. I had scheduled the email to send without verification from the web department if the opportunity had gone live. We lost a couple thousand dollars that day because of my naivety.
I’m not proud of this, but we all make mistakes. Learn from them.
Tip # 7: Attach yourself to ethical leaders
One of the things I’ve been tremendously blessed with in my career has been the opportunity to work under individuals who have strong values and won’t compromise them for business. This can be a rarity.
It can be easy to nitpick not getting paid enough or not having enough responsibility at your job, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing worse than working for a boss who doesn’t allow you to be yourself. Work with people that appreciate you for being you. Life is too short to wake up living someone else’s identity.
Tip #8: Always aim to provide value
When I left my position at the VC firm, I had given myself an eight-month runway of “funemployment.” During this time, my goal was to reset, reflect and realign the heart. I visited teacher friends, read to their students, and helped small businesses improve their marketing and operations. It was through the concept of “always looking to provide value” that I ran into a mobile app startup at SXSW who I offered to do some pro bono consulting.
The startup happened to be a client with my current company. I wasn’t actively looking for a job, my (now) company wasn’t actively looking to hire, but we were both actively aiming to provide value to those around us. It was a perfect fit.
Tip #9: Be faithful with the little things
If I had a life creed, this would be it. In college, I always got excited about dreaming big. I wanted to be a CEO, I wanted to make X amount, I wanted my role to have meaning. Yet, I also had no idea how to accomplish these goals. Even today, most people desire big results without understanding what it takes to get there.
Big dreams are composed of countless, seemingly insignificant, tasks. As the adage goes — Rome wasn’t built in a day. The success to accomplishing big goals is in putting in the hard work and being faithful with the little things; things that compound together to provide big results.
“Those who are faithful with little will be faithful with much” — Luke 16:10.
Tip #10: Success is a journey, not an outcome
This would be another one of my life creeds. It’s taken me years to understand this — and I’m still learning how to apply it — but having a mindset that focuses less on the outcome and more on the process has been one of the most transformative shifts in how I operate.
I don’t think I’ve ever woken up one morning thinking, “Wow, yesterday made me really successful.” If anything, success is impossible to perceive in the moment. It’s only when you take a step back and examine your track record from a macro perspective do you begin to realize the obstacles and challenges you’ve overcome.
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
To all upcoming graduates, I wish you the best. The world is your oyster and many opportunities lay before you. My hope is that your education would continue, even after stepping outside your classroom one final time.
May the wind forever be at your back and may you leave a lasting impression on those around you. May you emerge as students who become teachers, followers who become leaders, and may you always, always, strive to make a positive impact in the world.
Stay true to who you are. You’re the best You there will ever be.