If you’re like me, you’ve attended quite a few high school graduations over the years. Granted it’s been a while, but I know every note of Pomp and Circumstance, and I can still recall the advice offered by overachieving 18-year-olds to their classmates:
“Reach for the stars!”
“The future is ours!”
“We can be anything we want to be!”
What I’ve noticed is that the tone at college graduations is drastically different. It’s more like, “You can go ahead and shoot for the moon, but better be prepared to settle for a ride on Space Mountain.”
Okay, that’s a little harsh. Maybe it’s more like, “You’re going to have to work hard — really hard. And you’re going to have to learn to deal with disappointment. You’re going to get knocked down, so you better be ready to get up.”
Of course, one of the key differences is that this time around, it isn’t a graduate delivering the speech, but rather an accomplished professional who has indeed been knocked down. Probably more than once.
I’ve been reading the “If I Were 22” series on LinkedIn in which influential men and women share lessons from their early career experiences with those who are about to hit the job market. The advice has been excellent, because it’s simple, practical, and honest.
In one recent post, US Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected. Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to entertain the improbable opportunity that comes looking for you. And never be so faithful to your plan that when you hit a bump in the road — or when the bumps hit you — you don’t have the fortitude, grace and resiliency to rethink and regroup… Plans or no plans, keep a little space in your heart for the improbable. You won’t regret it.”
So why are we waiting until kids enter “the real world” to offer such sage counsel? To me, that is 1,000 times more valuable than being told that the world is your oyster. To me, 18- and 22-year-olds need to understand that the world is most certainly not going to be their oyster, and that they’re going to have to put in a lot of long hours, take on undesirable tasks, and be willing to walk away from a job before finding one that they truly love.
As said by Sallie Krawcheck, former head of Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney and owner of the professional woman’s network 85 Broads, “The chance of the stars aligning on these fronts in your first job, or even your first couple of jobs, is very low, so you’ll have to keep searching.”
If you do that, the future just might be yours.