Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lessons for Graduates

I was interviewed for an article. In the process, I said this:

A long line of commencement speeches have warned graduates that success in the real world requires unlearning key things they learned in college. Here are six such things:

1. Do not blame your lack of success on your race, class, gender, sexual orientation, what your parents did to you, or the evil capitalist system. It's usually not as true as you think and to the extent it is, thinking about that will disempower you and make you more likely to fail. Winners focus on working hard and smart, and when the inevitable failures occur, simply ask themselves what they can learn from it and move on. Wallowing is unacceptable; that would merely make you descend deeper into a quicksand of inertia. I know many Holocaust survivors and the ones who spent a lot of time "processing" it, often stayed stuck for a lifetime. Usually, the ones who moved on, well, moved on to a better life.

2. Dabbling is death. To succeed in the real world requires sustained focus on becoming the go-to guy or gal in something marketable.

3. Working smart is not enough. Today, you must work smart and long or you'll likely be viewed as expendable or relegated to low-level jobs. Don't worry. Working lot at what you're good at and toward an ethical goal will likely feel more rewarding than a more recreation-heavy life.

4. The most important skill you didn't learn in college is ethics. Sure, the professors may have preached ethics but by biasing their instruction to the left, their actions demonstrate that they value brainwashing you over exposing you to the full range of benevolently derived wisdom. Not all wisdom resides left of center. Too, professors not giving an automatic F in a course to a student caught cheating lets the other students know that ethics don't matter much to professors. In truth, cheaters usually win in the college and career games but lose in the most important game, the game of life: When you die, how much good or bad net impact you've had on the world. Want to get inspired? Read about Gandhi, for example, THIS.

5. The next most important skill they didn't teach you in college is entrepreneurship. You need it whether you're self-employed, working for a corporation, a non-profit, or the government. Well, maybe not the government.

6. Procrastination is career cancer. Professors actually gave you that cancer by allowing you, when you procrastinated studying for that test or doing that paper until the last minute, giving you a good grade. In the real world, except in low-level jobs and in low-level organizations, there's far less grade inflation.

Class dismissed.


Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Pithy and poignant as always, Marty.

Sid said...

"2. Dabbling is death. To succeed in the real world requires sustained focus on becoming the go-to guy or gal in something marketable."

The irony is that undergrad encourages being "broadly educated." Graduate programs, however, demand a specialization over a breadth of knowledge that is thinner than a razor.

Dan said...

"Not all wisdom resides left of center"?! Marty, you can't say that. You'll get kicked off KGO...Oh, right, you already were.

Just like what Obi Wan Kenobi said to Darth Vader at their concluding light saber duel in Star Wars -- "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

Anonymous said...

Marty, I find that first comment interesting:

"Do not blame your lack of success on your race, class, gender, sexual orientation, what your parents did to you, or the evil capitalist system. It's rarely as true as you think and even to the extent it is, thinking about that will disempower you and make you more likely to fail."

Especially, as you have repeatedly talked about how white males have been impacted by all the negative media and feedback from society in general. Being a white male (and an older man), I have experienced some of that negative impact as a direct result of both my age and my gender. I try never to give up, but when I see a lot of my friends, (white, black, asian and latino--yes, men from all these backgrounds, with degrees and experience), the same age or older (40s and 50s), get laid off and still not finding jobs after 2 years, they are truly depressed and frustrated. I too, get I get saddened and worried, especially every few months when my employer talks about cutting expenses because they need to make the quarter numbers that they promised wall street, even though, they are already making a huge profit in a rough, but slightly improving economy. Its not like they are losing money, its that they promised a number and if they don't make it, their stock price will dip a little. I just don't understand why doing well is not good enough, when the world around us is still trying to recover from a modern depression (economists can call it recession all they want, I know the people affected, and it is a depression for us).

I understand you can encourage new graduates with this advice, even as they move into their parents home, have mounting school debt, and probably no prospects for a decent job if even a part-time job at the mall. However, what advice do you give the guys like us? The 45-60 age group, who want to work to support our families, and cannot find jobs? And its not for a lack of desire to learn, as many of my friends have learned many new skills outside their comfort zones just to prove they are flexible, capable of learning new concepts, have the energy to take on new tasks, and are willing to take the lower wage employers are offering, but still, no takers. As a friend, I provide support and point them to possible jobs, provide recommendations and references, and direct them to people who are hiring. I don't know what else to do to help them, and I am afraid that I will be joining their ranks soon because my employer is only interested in cutting costs and making unrealistic profit promises to an investment system that only cares for more, more, and more at any expense. What kind of advice and encouragement do you give those guys on the brink of losing their cars and their homes when they can't find anything to support their families any more?

Marty Nemko said...

Excellent comment, Anonymous.

Yes, private employers do try to maximize profit, which decreases wages and employment. On the other hand, without that profit motive, all businesses would go out of business, which would eliminate all jobs. And if you leave it to the government to create all jobs, as we saw in the Soviet Union, without a profit or merit-pay incentive, too few people work hard, with the result that there are long lines even for bread, let alone butter--I mean the latter metaphorically.

I truly believe that, the current government's placing ever more burdens on employers (e.g., ObamaCare on top of everything else) puts the business at risk of going under if employers hire in significant numbers. The job market for white males is, of course, much worse under current administration policies--the government imposes great pressure to hire and promote women and especially "underrepresented" minorities. And the desire to provide amnesty (comprehensive immigration reform is an Obama focus group-concocted phrase designed to anesthetize the public to the amnesty) of course, exacerbates the job situation for all legal Americans. The also Obama-concocted/media parroted assertion that illegals only take jobs legal Americans won't do is a canard--if it weren't for the illegals, employers would have to raise the wages until legal people would take those jobs.

So, what advice do I have for the middle-age white male who's not a star? Of course, it will vary with the person's strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, but the most often successful approach is to do what makes that company owner you revile wealthy: start a business, a simple one. It needn't be an innovation. Replicate a proven business. Countless people have become wealthy simply by copying a simple successful business: a successful shoeshine stand, a successful gourmet sandwich truck, whatever, and once you get the hang of it, keep cloning it until you make $150,000 a year. I recommend stopping at that amount because to go beyond that usually means you lose control and quality. Then either keep your business at that level or, if you get bored, sell it, and start a different one.

That is NOT a guarantor of success, but NOTHING is--including owning or being CEO of a corporation. Many corporations go out of business and many CEOs get fired and can't get jobs despite MBAs from Harvard and a good track record.

The only guaranteed reward is when you express yourself (in writing, art, whatever) or when you're kind to others. Candidly, I feel rewarded in taking the time to give you this gift of an extended answer to your question. I do hope it is of some value.


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