If I were asked to give a college’s commencement address (fat chance), here is what I would tell the graduates:
1. Lose the narcissism. Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr., recently covered this better than I ever could, and I agree with McCullough; I would tell graduating college students that “you are not all that special”, even though, as members of the Millennial Generation, you have been told that you are all of your lives. The difference here is that McCullough was addressing high school seniors. My commencement speech is to college students, whose egos, by this time, have been knocked down a peg of two. But the point is still important — you are not the center of the universe, so get over your self-importance. In the grand scheme of things, you are just one among many out there scratching to make it. That simply means that you are not entitled to a high starting salary or the job of your dreams immediately. You will have to earn what you get, beginning with an entry level job and working your way up.
2. Work means work. When you take a job, you are expected to earn your keep. Being hired is not a license to coast. You must work to prove yourself every day, with every task, and on every assignment. You are being paid to do a job. Do it to the best of your ability, and then improve on your performance continually.
3. Results are the only thing that matters. I love my Millennial Generation college students, but I get sick of hearing this excuse for a bad grade: “But I worked so hard on that!” Who cares that you worked hard? You are supposed to work hard. Do not ever tell an employer who critiques your poor performance that you tried really hard. The implication is, as it is with my students, that you should get some sort of credit for your effort. No way. You are supposed to give every task, every assignment, and every project your 100 percent effort. That is merely an entry fee. Results are all that matters. Yoda said it best: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”
4. The Golden Rule is the only thing you ever need to know about diversity. Simply treat people like you want to be treated. The Golden Rule is the golden key to living a successful, meaningful, and productive life in harmony with other people.
5. As members of the Millennial Generation, you must deal effectively with other generations in the work place. Learn to understand and respect Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. They got there first. They have paid their dues (if they are still employed there with you). Respect them. Help them. Learn from them.
6. You can’t text your way into super-stardom. You are not inherently smarter than the Boomers and Xers just because you “grew up digital”. Just because you can text and Tweet and Facebook and email and surf Websites, often all at the same time, does not mean you are smarter than they are. They can do these things, too. Being adept at Web 2.0-enabled social media, a hallmark of the Millennial Generation, is of small advantage in the face of the incredible life experience that these older generations have on you.
7. Never drink too much at an office social function. That is a career-limiting move for sure.
8. Happen to things; don’t let things happen to you. That was important advice from one of my mentors, David Hogan. When I went to him for advice about how to do a difficult project, he advised me to “go make something happen.” In other words, he advised me to figure it out. That is what he was paying me for anyway.
9. Accept the guidance of a mentor. Like David Hogan, and David Wesley before him (See my blog post below dated October 21, 2011), my mentors have been invaluable to my career success. You will find them, too, or they will find you. The is much truth to the old Zen proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
10. You, and you alone, must find your own way. And here is the good news — you will. I know you will, and it will all be okay.