Advice for Graduates

Here is some completely unsolicited advice in no particular order from someone who is rapidly approaching his get-off-my-lawn stage. Respect your elders, kids.

Do not procrastinate. No good ever comes from leaving something to the last minute. Your responsibilities don’t go away when you put them off; they just become scarier, more daunting, more unpleasant. Plus, when you procrastinate, you often find yourself offering excuses, which leads to the next bit of advice.

Don’t offer excuses. Everyone sounds completely lame when they offer excuses. When I hear people offer excuses for why they didn’t accomplish this or that, I want to play an audio clip of a baby crying. Unless you want to appear weak, don’t offer excuses.

Treat deadlines as sacred. Deadlines aren’t optional. You can’t swipe left to dismiss a deadline. Pretend “deadline” is a compound word whose parts are to be taken literally. If you think you look bad offering excuses, imagine how bad you’ll look offering excuses for missing a deadline.

Volunteer to take notes. If you want to distinguish yourself quickly and get noticed, volunteer to take notes at meetings, and then write down everything that is said. After the meeting, clean up the notes you took and send them out promptly. The note taker is the most important person in the room and the one person everyone will remember.

A business has no feelings, so don’t expect it to care about you. This may be an overly negative and cynical way of looking at things, or it may not be. It depends on your particular situation. But it is important to note this, because then you won’t be disappointed when your contributions don’t get noticed the way you thought they would. Ultimately, no one owes you accolades, and it may very well be that no one will ever feel inclined to offer you praise or even thanks, no matter how amazing your work. Ultimately, accolades are more fragile than flowers. You don’t need them. You aren’t Pavlov’s dog responding to a bell.

Care about others. The machine that employs you may be faceless and uncaring. It may sport a culture in which the individual ultimately means extraordinarily little in the grand scheme of the bottom line. Let the machine be the machine. You, on the other hand, must balance that by being the human: the compassionate, honest, supportive, encouraging kind, not the boastful, selfish, spiteful scheming kind. If you aren’t human in the best sense, the machine will swallow you and your colleagues up. Here’s an oldie but a goodie: treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s that simple.

In all things, do your best work, JUST BECAUSE YOU OWE THAT TO YOURSELF. Why associate yourself with work that doesn’t demonstrate what you are capable of achieving? You wouldn’t show up at a fancy dinner wearing clown shoes and a big red nose, so why do work that looks clownish and unprofessional? Put forth maximum effort and do your best work in everything you try, not for the purpose of pleasing or impressing others, but because anything less reflects poorly on you and cheats you of the chance to use your gifts and talents.

Don’t aim to please or dazzle others. Dazzle yourself. If you look for affirmation from others, you will always be disappointed. Affirm yourself by following the previous advice: do your best work in all things, because you owe that to yourself.

Don’t be jealous. When a colleague succeeds, celebrate them. Don’t envy them. You do your best work in all things because you owe that to yourself, remember? You aren’t looking for fragilest-of-flowers accolades. When others succeed, congratulate them, and keep doing your thing. Their successes don’t cheapen or obstruct yours.

Never lie. Never cheat. People see through schemes, and people remember them. The most damaging offense is one that imperils your credibility. And, if you cheat at work, how can you be sure you won’t cheat at other, much more meaningful things? Be honest with others and with yourself.

Diversify. Your work is not your life. Don’t let it take over. Put forth maximum effort and demand top quality from yourself as you work, but then put it away so you can put forth maximum effort and demand top quality from yourself in your other pursuits. Your work is not your life. It is one component of it.

Congratulations, graduates. Now go do yourself proud.

About Ray Klump

Professor and chair of Mathematics and Computer Science Director, Master of Science in Information Security Lewis University http://online.lewisu.edu/ms-information-security.asp, http://online.lewisu.edu/resource/engineering-technology/articles.asp, http://cs.lewisu.edu. You can find him on Google+.

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