Open letter to college graduates

Dear college graduates:

I will share what no one told me when I graduated: live for yourself. Do not make life choices based on what parents, girlfriends, boyfriends or buddies will judge you for doing or not doing. Be wary of people who tell you about regrets – they are projecting theirs onto you. At 21 it is far harder to figure out how to live for yourself than you think. You probably haven’t yet discovered that you don’t know who you are.

Eventually you may find living for yourself hinges on living with and for others, but you’ll need to live for yourself first to find that out. Spend an hour a day believing nothing – it will be good for you. Some of the best things about college are what you unlearn.

Make bets. For every day since you entered kindergarten there have been safe choices waiting for you. Go to elementary school. Go to high school. Go to college. You’ve done all the safe choices already. Don’t die with a headstone that merely says “was safe”. Make some bets. Expect to lose some, and be open to surprise about which ones. Your profit in all outcomes will be to figure out who you are. If  you were good at playing it safe, your mistakes and failures will be the first things in your life that are truly your own.

Move. Escape your house / town / state / country for a time. Every year that goes by in a career makes it harder to ever wander again. Work as hard as you have to, doing shit jobs, if it lets you get out of your hometown. See something else. Don’t complain about your old stomping ground as if it were the world. You’re still a kid – go see something before you decide anything. If you go somewhere you hate, you can always move somewhere else. That’s the upside of learning how to move.

Stay in touch. The surprise of my degree was  the people I met – my education could have been obtained elsewhere, but the collection of insane and wonderful people I met would be hard to replicate, many of whom I’m friends with today. Had I been less of a fool, I’d have stayed connected to more of them. Don’t be shallow – don’t use people. But do stay connected with the people you have bonds with. You’ll lose most,  but you can help pick which ones you’ll keep.

Accept the Paradox. The confusion you feel about what to do or where to go may never leave you, and that’s OK. Don’t wait around expecting it to resolve itself. Graduation does not guarantee clarity. Most people twice your age don’t know what to do with their lives either – why believe you should have it all figured out now? Certainly try, but know the odds. Make commitments and work for goals, but never believe their utility is persistent or guaranteed.

Believe in work. All things equal, those who put more in, get more out. If you can’t find the job you want, make it. Do it for free, and do it better, and you’ll find someone who will hire you.  It may not be easy to get what you want, but if you swallow your pride and put in more passion than the slackers, you’ll be rewarded. Not by the universe, but by your self-respect.

Best wishes.

11 Responses to “Open letter to college graduates”

  1. John James Jacoby

    This makes so much sense to me, for the first time in my life, I used the Facebook “Like” button.

    Everyone should do all of those things, everyday.

  2. Isaac Keyet

    So very true – I wish someone had told me something like this when I quit school. I’m 24 now, which to some is still young, but I often feel like I’ve lost out on many of the things I could do just a few years ago just because I was working towards what I saw as the “ultimate goal” at the time.

    Go out and change the world. Just remember to change your environment, your perspective, and eventually yourself along the way.

  3. Craig Micon

    It’s rare I agree 100% with a blog post. I’m 25, quit my job (no performance issues), am moving literally from see to shining see, and I don’t have another job locked down. Most people openly support me and secretly think I’m psychotic. I should just tell them to read this.

  4. Mary Keill

    Excellent Advice!! I have been doing all of those things except for one the last 20 plus years.. I am working on doing what I am passionate about.

    I dropped out of college at 20, joined the military and traveled the world. I have moved to a new city or country every 3 to 5 years for the last 20 plus years. I left the service 11 years ago. New people, new job, new city is a challenge I enjoy.

  5. Alex

    Open letter to *male* college graduates.

    Fixed that for you.

  6. Mike Nitabach

    Great post, Scott! It took me until nearly the age of thirty to finally muster up the courage to “disappoint” people I am close with in order to finally recognize my dream and pursue it with vigor.

  7. Hélio Campos Ferreira

    Obrigado Instrutor, pelos conselhos e palavras de encorajamento, ah! meus 30 anos, estou muito confiante
    mesmo aos 54 anos.

    Saudações Instrutor.
    Conselhos para o resto de nossas vidas.

  8. Gervase Caycedo

    This has bits and pieces of all the good advice I’ve ever been given and/or tried to give to others (including my husband, when trying to convince him to move). Thank you for such a well-written, inspirational article!

  9. Aaron Evans

    This sounds exactly like every bit of “advice” given to college graduates since Scott Berkun was 5 years old, and was popularized circa 1984 in a famous television commercial.



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