Graduation is Over, Now What?

Timeless Wisdom From an Old Man

This is a post I wrote several years ago as advice to my cousin who was graduating high school. Today, I’ll be attending my brother Rees’s graduation from the University of North Texas. As college graduates across the country walk across the stage today, this is the wisdom I would shared with myself this same day eight years ago.

It’s graduation season and boy is it in full swing. Colleges around the country are celebrating their most honored tradition. The football field is green as can be. The smell of freshly cut grass fills the air.  The old decorations that make their appearance only once a year are coming out for one more group of new graduates.

The hard work has paid off for these kids, it’s a time of joy and a time of fear as they open a new chapter after graduation and venture out into the world. Everyone is wondering who is going to give the next Steve Jobs worthy commencement speech? Families are gathering and wishing the young graduates well and much success. There’s cake and ice cream, presents, and great food.  It’s a magical time for all.

I just recently attended the graduation of one of my cousins. It was a magical moment that forced me to think back to my own graduation. What have I learned since then, besides grammar? What wisdom, if any, have I gained since that fateful day when I walked across that stage?

Welcome to The Ocean – you’ve heard the expression, “just a big fish in a little pond?” After graduation, you’ll find that you’re not in a pond anymore, welcome to the ocean. The worlds largest fish live here and so do some species you’ve never encountered before. The good news is, it’s impossible to grow huge in a little pond. Now that you’re in the ocean, you can grow as big and successful as you want.

Find Your Groove – You used to know your place in the small ecosystem of your little pond. Now that graduation is over, you are about to have that shattered, and you will struggle to find your place in this much larger ecosystem. Don’t stress, just stay true to you and you’ll fall right into a groove that will carry you forever.

Hard Work Doesn’t Count – Before graduation, putting in effort counted toward your grade. If a teacher saw you working hard, they’d bump your score a little bit. Heck, you’ve probably received some “participation” grades. Forget about that. In this world, you get paid for results, not effort. I don’t care how hard my mechanic works, if he can’t fix the car, he’s useless.

Big Rocks – Now that graduation is over, the world is open to you. You will be asked to do everything. You will not be able to do it all. Avoid doing things that don’t progress your life and focus on things that do. Look at your to-do list and prioritize them by importance. You can let your to-do list control you, or you can choose to control it. Do not let things that don’t matter find their way onto your list.

Dictate Life – Gone are the days where you do things because you’re told to. It is time to do things because they matter and will enrich your life. After graduation, do not make the mistake I see people making all the time. Do not accept life, dictate life. You have within you the power to tell your life what it is going to be like. You’ll have to make big decisions and sacrifices. Do not let life control you, you control life.

Now that graduation is over, you are in the driver’s seat. Your life will be what you make it from this day forward. You’ve got about 70 years left if you’re lucky, make each year compound off the previous so that as time passes, life gets sweeter. What you do during your 20s will dictate how your life will be during your 30s.  Your 20s and 30s dictate your 40s, get it? Also do yourself a favor and read The 4-Hour Workweek and The Traveler’s Gift.

Question: Do you know any graduates you can share this with?


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