22 Reflections For College Graduates

Dan Roth, the executive editor at LinkedIn, sent an email inviting people on Linked In to write a post with the theme of "If I Were 22" as a message to college graduates. I smiled, because every year about this time I get more reflective about where my life journey has taken me. I was even given the chance to share my thoughts as the student commencement speaker at North Carolina State University (see picture above) way back in 1989. I often think about what I would do differently if I were starting my professional career again-or what choices I am thrilled that I made. So in honor of all the "22ish" college graduates (wanted to include those on the 6 year plan), here are my 22 reflections from that Linked In article:

  • I wish I had started my teaching career somewhere outside North Carolina. Don't get me wrong... I love North Carolina and unless I am called to be a missionary in some remote part of the world, I will probably die in this amazing state. It's just that I now understand the value in being stretched to understand other cultures and people with a different perspective on life. When Lisa and I first got married we had no obligations here, and could have moved to Oregon, Alaska, or anywhere in the world and taught for a few years. I now know the experience would have been priceless!
  • I am so glad I was taught to be financially savvy. Starting your own business, whether it's lawn maintenance or social media marketing, is not without significant financial investment. I had the freedom to go out on my own because I had learned the principles of saving and spending wisely. As Dave Ramsey says, "If you live like no one else now, you can live like no one else later."
  • The grass is not always greener on the other side. I changed jobs at one point in my teaching career because of a very charismatic manager who promised me the world. And I was gullible enough to believe him.
  • Go after the degrees while you are younger. I got my M.Ed. when I was 24. I started working on my MBA when I was 46. Oh how I wish I had started earlier.
  • Marry "up." My wife is my best friend and biggest supporter. I could never have achieved a tenth of my career success without her guidance and encouragement.
  • Make technology your servant instead of being a slave to it. The phrase is from Brian Tracy, and I wish I had followed it earlier in my career. I've always been behind the curve when it comes to figuring out how to leverage technology to improve my performance, marketing, or service to clients.
  • Don't rely on your friends for career success. When I started my own speaking and training business, I just knew that my friends in organizations that used services like mine would be a tremendous asset. They weren't.
  • Doing more than what's expected is always a good policy. Asking how you can WOW a client, coworker, or boss and then taking that action will pay off dividends in ways you can never imagine.
  • Maintain your integrity. At one point in my career I considered becoming an insurance agent. In a certification class, one of the instructors said, "The first time you sacrifice your ethics you are no better than a prostitute" (with apologies to anyone in that industry reading this post). You can always get another job-but you can never fully recover from a moral or ethical failure.
  • Be forever curious. There is so much to learn from other people's experiences, perspectives, and stories. Ask questions at every opportunity.
  • Invest in yourself. Earlier in my career I rarely took opportunities to attend conferences, classes, or events where I could improve my skills. The market is just too competitive not to be your best self throughout your career.
  • Having a ready list of clean and appropriate jokes is important. The workplace is such a pressure cooker environment. Being able to brighten the moment with a laugh is an opportunity too many people miss.
  • Read. One of my mentors, Marshall Stewart, says, "Leaders are readers." And when you finish reading something, ask yourself, "What's one new action I should take as a result of reading this book, article, or blog post?"
  • Taking risks is essential to career success. As one of the first licensed trainers in the country on Who Moved My Cheese?, I saw huge potential in training opportunities. I pushed aside other projects to make WMMC? programming a success-even before I had confirmation that it would pay off. While risky, it proved to be a turning point in my speaking and training career.
  • Exercise is more beneficial than I ever imagined. My daughter got me running when I was about 40 years old. Oh the things I could have accomplished if I had made exercise a priority earlier in my life. The physical, mental, and emotional benefits are amazing.
  • Expressing gratitude should be as natural as breathing. My friend Eddie Colvin has a grandmother who said, "If you don't give back, you are a thief-because somebody helped you get where you are today." You also never know when expressing gratitude could be just the boost someone needs.
  • Be YOUR Best. In the 1992 Winter Olympics Dan Jansen finally won a gold medal after failing at so many previous attempts. When asked why he thought he triumphed this time, he replied, "When I stopped trying to win, I won. When I started being MY best instead of trying to be THE best, I was successful." Focus on your strengths.
  • Find your niche. When I started my career as a speaker and trainer, I was a generalist and spoke on almost any topic. To really excel, however, I needed to focus my content toward just 3-4 areas.
  • Make mentoring a priority. As a new teacher, I will never forget the wisdom shared with me by a teacher of 35 years. He said, "You may be the best and the brightest now, but always remember there are others just like you graduating every year." As you become established in your career, take the time to pass on anything you have learned to those following behind you. They may not tell you now, but one day they will thank you.
  • I sure wish I had done more journaling. If I had captured my thoughts after each day, I could have written at least 10 more books. I've had so many amazing experiences, but too often rely on my memory to return them to me. Those stories are excellent tools to use in your career-if you have them at the ready.
  • Address your weaknesses early. I was always lousy at marketing, and struggled for years because of it. When I finally hired someone to help me, I was like, "You should have done this sooner!" Don't limit your career success because you aren't willing to address a weakness.
  • Reflect more often. Writing this post caused me to not only look at where I have been, but to ponder what the next few years will hold for me if I will apply what I know. Those who truly excel professionally AND personally know the value of sacred idleness.

Those are my thoughts. I'd love to hear yours. Post a comment or email me. Remember, I have a daughter that will be 22 in just three very short years.