What If You Were Graduating Now?

Key Point: It’s never too late to take convocation advice. Across most North American and European campuses this past month, students regaled in caps and gowns have been listening to keynote speeches from distinguished leaders. Each speaker shared their best advice for that long post academia journey. The baby birds are all being nudged from their nests, propped up by the wise words of “eagles.”

My contention is that it’s never too late to embrace the sage insights shared with graduates. For many of us, taking each May as a renewed opportunity to have a graduation “do over,” and step into the world anew, could be a rather refreshing thought. Who says that convocation wisdom should be reserved for the newbies? And what if we intentionally considered every graduating season as a time to consider stepping out again? I’m in my 60’s, and I’d like to be able to think of myself as that fresh-faced beginner. 

Adam Grant is one of my favorite people, and although we’ve never personally met (he follows me on Twitter though), I think of him as one of my “thrive people.” I get advice from him all the time through the wonderfully connected world we live in. He is an organizational psychologist who has been repeatedly recognized as Wharton’s top-rated professor. He’s also written multiple New York Times bestsellers, including Give and Take – a must read, that makes the scientific case for why giving leads to success. This year, Grant delivered the commencement speech at Utah State University, where he shared some of the lessons from his years of research and teaching. So if you and I snuck into that ceremony, this is what we would have heard from professor Grant: 

  1. Be giving, abundant, generous AND invest in yourself first.

According to Grant’s research on teachers (as an example), the most effective ones were those that “cared deeply about their students but also did what we’re all supposed to do on airplanes – they secured their oxygen masks before assisting others. ‘They made sure to take care of their own needs first (which included identifying their limits and making sure to get the proper rest), then giving when they could. ‘They felt less altruistic,’ said Grant, ‘but they actually helped more. Their giving was energizing instead of exhausting.'”

  1. Apply grit to the right things; it’s ok to go to plan b, c… Maybe even z. 

Grant’s Advice: “Sometimes, quitting is a virtue. Grit doesn’t mean ‘keep doing the thing that’s failing.’ It means, ‘define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail.’ I needed to give up on my dream of making the NBA, but I didn’t need to give up on my dream of becoming a halfway decent athlete.”

It is important to find your purpose, apply what you’re good at, embrace what you like to do, define and stay true to your values. Those are the things NOT to quit on.

While being inspired by Grant, I thought I’d share this additional perspective to throw into the convocation message:   

  1. Don’t spend your life making up your mind by getting caught in the world of self-imposed “have to’s.”

This message was inspired by an HBR blog:

“Long ago I worked at a job I didn’t enjoy. It wasn’t a bad job; it was secure and pleasant. I was a success, but the job just wasn’t fulfilling in the ways I wanted. I spent my spare time tinkering with the simulations, research, and writing that still fascinate me. And the more I tinkered, the more I chafed at my job.

One day I complained to someone close to me, who gave me the gift of a question: ‘Then why don’t you quit your job and do what you want instead?’ I know the option of quitting seems obvious. It had occurred to me many times. But that was the first time I heard the ‘then why don’t you’ part.

Why hadn’t I quit? Because I’d wrapped myself in a thicket of ‘have to’s.’ I have to have a steady income. I have to have the respect that comes with a business card from a leading-edge company. I have to, not I want to. Assumptions, beliefs, and habits, not wrong but also not laws of nature that I have to obey.

When I noticed the self-imposed have to’s I could question their influence on my decision. I quit my job the next day. I wanted to live my dreams… I can attest that mañana is especially tempting on agonizing decisions. I was stuck for months on such a decision.

Two things got me unstuck. One was reframing the decision before me. I’d tried but just couldn’t answer, ‘What can I do to cause the outcome I want?’ I switched to ‘What are the best and worst out­comes I can expect?’ I answered that question immediately. I knew the answer was true even though I didn’t like it.

But what really unstuck me was advice from my best friend, a man I’d known for almost 40 years. He said, ‘Don’t spend your life making up your mind.’ He knew what he was talking about. It was our last conversation, three days before he died of leukemia.

Character Moves:

  1. Being generous, abundant and giving more starts with YOU first. Are you doing that or are you caught in the well-intended and sometimes disabling dishonesty of being a self-imposed victim and martyr? The test: The act of giving should be energizing NOT exhausting. 
  2. Have grit on the right stuff and have the guts to quit when your life is being sucked out of you… That only one life, I will remind you. Hanging too long on something that you’re failing at or not enjoying is just dumb. Why would you do that? Is that the right way to show grit? 
  3. Get out of the prickly thicket of self-imposed “have to’s.” What are the best and worst outcomes you can expect if you chose “not to” versus “have to?” Do you really, I mean REALLY, “have to?” Or are you worried about how you and others will judge you? How long will you wait? 

Graduating do over, in The Triangle,

Lorne

One Millennial View: There are some really valuable lessons here, and I agree that we can treat every May or June as if we’re graduating once again when these great commencement speeches surface. As Millennials, we’re probably in our least “have to” states in our lives, and I’m reminded that if I find myself needing to get out of a prickly thicket, it’s up to me to use the sheers to untangle myself. That’s something that I do “have to.”

– Garrett 

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

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