Every time another graduation season rolls around, I’m reminded how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. These are interesting times.
The world of predictability has been exchanged for uncertainty. There is no clear path to success. Sorry. In fact, it seems few people can even agree on what success means.
When I graduated from college, I had a pretty good idea of what life would look like. And I was (almost) completely wrong.
Part of your 20s is realizing that most people who talk about leadership and success have never done it nor experienced it. In the classroom, leadership seems ordinary. In life, leadership is rare.
Knowing what I know now, I would tell my 22-year-old self these things:
- Identify the people around you who are successful and those who are not—even if they aren’t a part of your discipline or interests. Some parts of success transcend categories. Learning to identify successful people will help you discern what will get you to where you’re going and what will simply distract you.
- Tell your manager you want to take on special projects. You will likely be the first person who has ever done that, and you’ll get the opportunity to do things you didn’t know you could do.
- Focus on measurable results. People who succeed in life get results. People don’t really care as much about what you know as they do what you have achieved.
- Read as much as you can. Most people stop learning and exposing themselves to new ideas after graduation.
- Get comfortable with chaos, and lean into transition. We are caught between two worlds—a world that largely stayed the same for a generation and a world that is constantly reinventing itself. Chaos is the new normal.
- Try new things. It can be as simple as finding a new route to a familiar location. Maintaining a beginner’s mind will help you stay curious, maintain focus, and generate creative ideas.
- Don’t focus on your current earning potential. Practice the things that will make you invaluable in the future: teachability, work ethic, the ability to sell your ideas, and consistently exceeding expectations.
- Take care of your body, mind, and soul. You’re the only one who can be you, and you’re the only one who will fight for you. You will have to live with yourself for a lifetime. Your current job is temporary—even if it spans your entire professional life.
- Take a lot of risks. There isn’t a successful person who also doesn’t understand the need to take risks.
- Success doesn’t come without consequences. It will cost you time, money, relationships, and more.
- When you are faced with two options, always take the one that scares you the most. It is the path that will teach you the most about life, yourself, and the world around you.
Just in case you might be interested, here are a few books that have inspired me along my journey:
- The Brand You! by Tom Peters
- Letters to A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
- Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
- The Echo Within by Robert Benson
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek
- Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud
One final piece of advice I would give if I were 22 again would be: Look life in the teeth, even when it bites back.
What would you say to your 22-year-old self?
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