With this cap and gown season upon us, here are some thoughts for new graduates as they transition from school to work or other pursuits.
1. Avoid making choices for the wrong reasons. You are probably under a lot of pressure, both self-imposed and externally thrust upon you. As you look at various work opportunities, even in this challenging job market, consider not only external motivations such as income and status but also internal motivations such as meaning, values, and fulfillment. You will spend lots of time at work, so work hard to find a good fit for you (not for others).
2. There will be a day of reckoning for the choices you make. With time, a job often leads to a series of promotions, or other jobs, and perhaps a career in that field. Much will be expected of you, and you’ll have your head down executing for much of your career. So don’t forget to look up and see the larger sweep of things, anticipating that, in ten or twenty years, you may find yourself wondering, like many of us, “How did I get here? Is this what I wanted? Did I choose this?” Consider both short- and long-term considerations, and regularly take stock of the path you’re on.
3. Your work now is to find your work. Don’t commit prematurely to the first path you walk. Don’t over-invest or over-identify with a professional area without having pressure-tested the reality of it against your initial conception of what you thought it would be. Don’t satisfice. Create a holding environment for your vocational search—a quest to discover your calling—and use “low-cost probes” to try things so you can learn where there is a fit with your strengths, passions, values, purpose, and opportunities, and where there isn’t. Work hard in what you do, but don’t forget to work on finding what you want to do and where you can make a difference.
4. Work on something that matters. Time is short. Eventually it will all add up to something, so make sure it’s something you’ll be proud of when you look back. What legacy will you leave? How will you have served and made a difference?
5. Choose work where you can drink lessons out of a fire hose—where you can really learn from great people and daunting challenges. Invest in learning, as it will likely pay dividends way beyond the safe and conventional path.
6. Don’t forget to lead your life—your whole life—including your professional endeavors, your health, mind, body, spirit, relationships, education, community, travel, joy, and whatever else you choose to pursue in life. Do you think you can presume to lead others without learning to lead yourself first? All the best as you enter this new chapter in life. Choose wisely, and enjoy the ride!
P.S. – What do you think about this list? Does it fit with your vision? What would you add or change? (That’s the real question.)
Gregg Vanourek is co-author of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (written with his father, Bob Vanourek). The book was a winner of the International Book Awards.