Commencement Time

College graduation is one of the great inflection points in life, ripe with unlimited possibilities. Here is what I wish I knew when I graduated college.

Work experience cannot be duplicated for the discipline, knowledge and skills it builds. Malcolm Gladwell in his fine book, Outliers, popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. So why wait?

Your generation is derisively nicknamed the “trophy kids” because your parents would never let you fail. You received trophies for just playing sports, benefitted from grade inflation and were considered prodigies. Your new reality is that only winners get trophies, a B+ is an average grade and you are no more prodigious than your peers.

Everyone is smart. On the streets of New York, Beijing, Mumbai and the balance of the globe there are individuals who are as smart and work as hard as you. Never confuse your brains for a bull market. It is easy to look really smart in a good market but don’t become complacent. So take advantage of good market runs but be careful to never think you are smarter than you are.

Don’t extrapolate your talents. Know your strengths and weaknesses; never confuse the two. Talents in one area do not necessarily translate into others.

Career paths are circuitous, possessing ups and downs, accomplishments, setbacks, promotions and firings. At some point you will probably be fired, unemployed, underemployed or stuck in a dead-end job. The world will test you physically and emotionally. How you respond to adversity is a great differentiator.

Hard work is the price of entry. Everyone works long hours; work smart and build relationships. You can leverage technology to support relationships but relationships are built and cultivated face to face.

There are no experts. There are a lot of smart people in the world but no one knows what the future holds so calibrate remembering that honest advice is not necessarily good advice. Everyone has a different personality, goal and comfort zone. In other words, what is good for someone else may not be good for you. Take the advice, but adjust it to who you are. Make it applicable to you.

Moral relativism is a myth. Things are right or wrong. There are gray lines but in the end doing the right thing is almost always clear. If you need to hide your actions from family, friends or peers you behaved inappropriately. Establish a bedrock of principles and a moral compass. Making ethical choices never requires an apology.

Attitude. A positive attitude is a force multiplier that makes you smarter, more confident, a harder worker and more promotable. Without self-belief you exist in a world of doubt that saps energy and enthusiasm.

Read the great disciplines – history, science, psychology and philosophy. Newton’s Laws, Plutarch’s Lives and Montaigne’s Essays are more relevant than the best business books. The laws of human nature are immutable; names and faces change but behavior does not.

People are the most important aspect of life and surrounding yourself with the right ones is important. Peers can raise or diminish you. Choose those with equal or higher aspirations.

Live fully. There are no mulligans in life. The days are long but the years are short. Be a real life Walter Mitty. You can climb mountains, jump out of planes, run ultra-marathons and marry the girl of your dreams. I did. Everything I ever wanted in life I asked for and most of it I received.

Love those close to you like there is no tomorrow because when you get right down to it there may not be. When people need you the most they deserve you the least. Be there for others in their times of need even if they do not deserve it.

Life is finite. And every day is a gift. Live life on your terms. Every year, month, week, day, hour and minute are sacred. Value each moment. Choose to live, not survive.

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