Congratulations to the class of 2017. To paraphrase Elle Woods from the Legally Blonde movie, you did it! Graduating from college is a tremendous milestone in life.
It's been quite a few years since I was in your position. However, I still remember sitting on the platform, waiting for my name to be called out. I had learned a lot in the years leading up to that moment, but I had no idea just how much I still needed to learn. Here are seven things I wish I knew when I graduated college.
1. The journey is more important than the destination
Yes, this is one of those cliches that are often stated in graduation speeches. But it's 100% true.
I thought I knew my destination as I anticipated getting my college diploma. I had a great job lined up. My plans were to climb the ladder and stay with the same company for a long time.
That didn't happen. In less than five years, I changed jobs. Although I didn't reach my planned destination of rising to the upper ranks at that company, I'm still benefiting from the experiences I had during my time there. The journey really is more important than the destination.
2. Career is better as a verb than a noun
When I graduated from college, my definition of career was similar to one you'd find for the noun in a dictionary. It boiled down to having a job and moving up. I really wished I had, instead, thought about career as a verb.
We don't use the verb from of career much anymore. It means to move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction. The direction is specific -- but not precise. The path to get there isn't planned out in detail -- it's uncontrolled. And the key part of the definition of the verb is to move swiftly. Viewing your career in this way will help in more ways than you might think.
3. Pick jobs based on how much you'll grow
Some people will tell you to pick your first job based on the experience that it will give you. I agree, but I'd take it a step further: Pick every job based on how much you'll grow.
Had I known this when I graduated from college, I would have sought assignments and positions that would have helped me grow the most professionally and personally. I did do this in some cases, but not every time. Looking back, I think I would have learned much more had I known this back then.
4. Taking calculated risks beats playing it safe
I was an engineering grad. Engineers are more known for playing it safe and being cautious than they are for taking risks. However, the biggest rewards in life come from taking calculated risks.
Calculated risks are different from wild risks. It's a good thing to think things through as much as possible. Jumping head first into something without doing so is often a recipe for disaster. However, it's tempting to stay away even from risks that are worth taking. I now regret playing it safe at times during the years following my college graduation.
5. You're always ultimately your own boss
After several years of working, I overheard a man say something that has stuck with me. In referring to his direct supervisor, he said, "I report to him and complete every assignment as well as I possibly can, but in the end, I really work for myself." At first, that remark might sound somewhat negative, but it actually makes sense -- and I wish I had thought about my employment in those terms earlier on.
Ultimately, you're always your own boss. You decide what you're willing to do. You decide what you'll accept and won't accept in a work environment. Sooner or later, you'll probably report to someone who isn't a great manager. You always have the choice as to whether or not you'll work for the person, or for the organization.
6. Focus more on the present than the future
I spent a lot of time in the days leading up to graduating from college thinking about what was going to happen afterwards in my new job. I then spent a lot of time in my first job thinking about the next move up. In hindsight, I wish I had focused more on the present than on the future.
As it turned out, most things I thought would happen didn't. The reality of the future was much different than my preconceived vision of it. I'm certainly not saying that having a dream and planning for the future isn't good. It is. However, you're more likely to achieve those dreams and plans by pouring your effort into what you can do in the present to make them happen.
7. The power of compounding
If there's one piece of financial information that new college graduates really need to know, it's the power of compounding. The Motley Fool once nominated the formula for calculating compound interest as the eighth wonder of the world. I'll second that nomination.
It's incredible how much money can grow over time, even at relatively low interest rates. But if you invest in the right stocks, the rates of return can be much higher. If I could slip a note to the newly graduated version of myself, it would probably say something like this: "Invest every dollar you can into stocks with solid growth prospects. It will pay off more than you can imagine over the long run."
If you're a college graduate, take heed of this advice that, unfortunately, I can't go back in time to give to a younger me. If you do, it will be something you'll one day be glad you knew.
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