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Advice for Graduates

Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 07:18AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off


It is graduation season, when commencement speakers dole out advice. I’m not a commencement speaker, but here’s my advice for graduates.  

1)     Strive to live a life of significance and joy. If you aim at significance and joy, you’ll get success and happiness thrown in. Intellect and talent are not predictors of significance, joy, success, or happiness; initiative and perseverance are. And besides, we now know that intellect and talent can be developed along the way. 

2)     Be confident and humble. They are not mutually exclusive. Be self-assured, self-disciplined, self-deprecating and selfless. The best way to develop confidence is to keep the promises you make to yourself.  

3)     Exercise often and vigorously; eat healthful foods - fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains; drink lots of water; get plenty of sleep. This lifestyle not only protects you from heart disease but also depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s and a bunch of other mental, emotional and physical stuff. It makes your body and your mind work better, for longer. It makes you healthier and also smarter and happier.

4)     Be self-reliant but involved: Trade organizations, civic organizations, neighborhood organizations, religious organizations, political organizations, fraternities, sororities, clubs, sports leagues. We are mammals. We do better in groups (this even applies to introverts like me). Just make sure you contribute more than you take.  

5)     Quality friendships are important. Initiate and nurture them, which entails making yourself into someone with whom people want to be friends. Make time for people, not just tasks. Be nice to everyone who will let you, but choose your true friends carefully. Surround yourself with good people.

6)     The #1 predictor of happiness is the quality of your marriage. Choose your spouse even more carefully than you choose your friends. Physical attraction is a factor, but marry the smartest, nicest, most honest person who will have you, not the best looking or the richest. Be faithful and continually work on your marriage. (This item is intended for college graduates. High school graduates should get a college degree or two before marriage.)

7)     You can have it all, just not all at once. There are only 24 hours in a day. But if God blesses you with even an average life-expectancy, you’ll have time to accomplish a lot, and in a lot of different areas. If you plan to have children, just remember, your kids are only kids once. Focus on them during their childhoods.

8)     It’s the journey more than the destination. But still, have a destination. Know what you value; set goals accordingly. Then learn to enjoy the process of getting there. Failure is part of the process. And lifetime learning is the only way to reach the goals and the only way to enjoy the process. Oh, and technology will keep quickly advancing; keep up.

9)     Create and contribute value. Give people more than they expect and more than you expect back. And never expect something for nothing. Everything has a value, especially time. Make a positive impact on as many people as you can.

10)   Money is a great servant, but a terrible master. Give away at least 10%, save at least 10%, invest 10%, live on the rest. Be debt free and always have a plan B and a plan C.  

11)   You cannot be great at your work unless you do work you love. Don’t let your parents or professors or promises of big money make this decision for you. And live near your work (physically or virtually). Commuting ranks high among factors that reduce quality of life.

12)   Develop a strong relationship with your God. This isn’t about pleasing your parents or your pastor. It’s not even about religion. It’s about God and you. Pray earnestly; meditate deeply; read the Bible. All three are transformative. 

And remember, all this stuff takes time, intentional effort and delayed gratification. It is achieved incremental step by incremental step. And delayed gratification does not mean waiting until tomorrow to get the same reward you could have had today. It means that by waiting you get an exponentially larger reward. A life of significance and joy is built brick by brick.