Dear Class of 2017: CONGRATULATIONS!!
Although, at least for now, I may not officially be in the classroom, I still am a full, tenured professor of a very highly prestigious institution: the School of Hard Knocks, at Real World University. And, now that we are nearing graduation season, I wanted to give you some solid career advice as you advance either into college, graduate school, or scarier still, the real world.
My advice is based upon decades of experimentation with my own career, which included enumerable blunders, bad ideas, and failures. While I certainly may not be one to predict the future, I do try my best to stay ahead of the curve and watch what’s on the horizon in terms of career development. Based upon this passion, here’s my best advice for you as you embark into the next phase of your career and life this spring:
- Sorry, but you’re not really leaving the classroom. As much as I ran screaming from the building, several times, from institutions of higher knowledge, I’m both sorry and elated to state that you’re never going to stop learning moving forward. Life is a great teacher–the best teacher of all. And even though you might not be inside a classroom per se, your brain should always be on and absorbing knowledge. The world is changing way too quickly today to NOT be learning constantly – and to shut your brain off from education is a very dangerous thing to do in this era. Keep your brain on. Keep learning. Watch youtube how to videos, take a Coursera class online, go to the library and sign up for a computer course, or go back to the ivory tower if you want formal learning. Just. Keep. Learning.
- The train to Awesometown goes through Suckville. Eventually, you will get your butt kicked…by something…in your career. You’ll encounter a terrible boss or two that you can’t quite figure out how to manage, you’ll fail epically at a new idea you wanted to try, or you just won’t pass something, or need to try something again before mastering it. I’m here to tell you that this is OK. In fact, if you’re NOT failing enough, you’re not trying hard enough, in my opinion. Push and challenge yourself to grow and go beyond your wildest dreams. And if you’re embracing the suck of learning something new, it’s not really failure anyway. In fact, recognizing it is a faster ticket to Awesometown. Be proud of the fact that you may suck at a few things, because that means you’re trying, and trying means growing.
- Don’t put all your career eggs in one basket. If you ignore the rest of this letter, with the exception of this point, please let this one stick: do NOT put all your eggs in one career basket. What I mean by this is: diversify and niche. In my first profession (pharmacy) there are now 290,000 of us in the US. That’s a LOT of pharmacists! How do I stand out from the herd? Well, I narrowed my focus by going to law and business schools. There aren’t many pharmacists at the intersection of business, law and pharmacy. Fewer still at the intersection of pharmacy, business, law and podcasting. Even fewer in the podcasting realm of career development. So, even though I went to school several times to study wide bodies of knowledge, I’m paring down my areas of expertise and arriving at a very quiet and complex intersection of my career. I’m also warning you here that your career path will be a lot more complicated and less linear than your parents’ paths. Even MY path is going to be radically different than new generations, and I’m Gen X. What worked for the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, and Gen X probably won’t work for you and your generation. Keep that in mind as you move through the 40+ years of the working world. The good news here is that you’re more free than any other generation before! You don’t have to work 40 hours a week. You may not need to live in a city for a particular job. You may be able to travel and see the world while you have a laptop and smartphone for work. Embrace this freedom!
- Your career is a portfolio of projects – not a resume. Think about the last 5 projects you worked on, that no one gave you permission or mandated you to develop or run with – what were those? Do more of that. Maybe something made you mad. Maybe you tried to get someone to change. Maybe you wanted to make the world a better place. Whatever that “it” is, go do more of that. You may not only make the world a better place, but you may invent a unique career opportunity for yourself that doesn’t even exist on paper anywhere within the universe today. That is powerful, magical and unique. That energy we need more of in the universe. That’s what you are here to do.
- You are like the 5 people you hang around the most – choose carefully. I didn’t come up with this one – Jim Rohn did. If you don’t know who he is, Google him. I’m sure your parents have cautioned many of you about this as well – but it is true. From your well-being, mindset, and even your physical health, the 5 people you hang around the most influence your life the most too. Do you want that very powerful influence to be positive, or negative? Do you want to be inspired and uplifted by those around you, or pulled back? Do you want to be energized when you leave a conversation with one of your top 5, or drained? Do you want to be challenged, or stay where you are, comfortably? Choose very, very carefully. And note that your top 5 may change over time – that’s OK, just make sure you’re carefully and wisely choosing those amazing influencers in your life, because they hold a lot of force over you and your empire….
This is the best I’ve got for you, dear future leaders of the universe. You will need to discover the other superpowers and sage advice on your own. But that’s the wonderful thing about the real world – it’s a fantastic teacher – OUTSIDE the classroom.
Congratulations and all the best,