The three things I wish someone had the guts to tell me when I graduated from college

Millions graduate from colleges and universities across America in the months of May and June, and most of these graduates are under 25 years of age. This year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 1.0 million people will graduate with an associate's degree, 1.9 million with a bachelor's degree, 790,000 with a master's degree, and 183,000 with a doctor's degree. Years ago, I was one of these graduates, earning a bachelor’s degree in Design and then a master’s degree in Architecture. I made many decisions along the way as I earned these degrees, but I had no idea that the most important choices I would ever make - “trajectory decisions,” as I like to call them – were still ahead of me, the least of which was my choice of career.

As someone who now teaches regularly at a university and mentors students at Summit Worldview and Rethink Student Conferences, I’ve been sharing three things I wish someone had the guts to tell me when I graduated from college:

Choose the Right View: A “worldview” is “a mental model of reality - a comprehensive framework of ideas and attitudes about the world, ourselves, and life.” The way we view the world shapes the way we answer the most important questions of life: “How did we get here?”, “Why is everything so ‘messed-up?”, “How can we fix it?”, and “What is the purpose of life?” These questions are critical, and every college graduate should take the time to consider their worldview prior to making any other decision.

Are we simply the product of unguided evolutionary processes and natural selection, or were we created for a purpose? Are moral truths merely a matter of opinion and cultural consensus, or are they grounded in the mind of a transcendent, objective, moral Being? Is meaning and purpose purely a matter of personal preference, or are there ultimate (and even eternal) consequences related to such choices? These kinds of questions (and the answers they provoke) help us form the foundation for our decision making, even before we choose a career. They point us toward ourselves or toward our Creator. Choosing the right worldview is an important trajectory decision.

Choose the Right Person: I encourage students to be as intentional about their selection of mate as they are about their selection of education or career. I’ve known many educated, successful professionals who were derailed by bad relationships. On the other hand, I’ve also known many contented, happily married couples who were not particularly well educated nor successful as professionals. As a homicide detective, I’ve never heard anyone say they wish they had accomplished more at work or school when lying on their deathbed. Instead, they often wish they had spent more time with those they love. When push comes to shove, relationships are more important than accomplishments.

As I began to rethink my understanding of the world around me, I embraced the notion that I had been created for a purpose and called to a vocation.

Marriage is the most significant relationship we will ever have. Studies continue to find, for example, that married men are happier than single men and that married people are healthier, wealthier, and more satisfied. One study even found that married people have lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone), and therefore are less likely to have heart problems, decreased immunity, diabetes, or cancer. Married people are even more likely to survive cancer. Picking the right spouse is critical to marital success. The better the relationship between spouses, the happier and more satisfying the results. That’s why it’s important to identify and select your worldview before choosing a spouse who shares a similar view of the world.

Choosing the Right Mission: I earned two degrees in fine arts and took a position at a local architectural firm prior to changing course and entering the police academy. I considered my position as an architect to be a career, but my position as a police officer to be a calling. The difference between these two ways of looking at employment was largely the product of how I saw the world and understood my place in it, and that’s why worldview choices ought to come before career choices.

As I began to rethink my understanding of the world around me, I embraced the notion that I had been created for a purpose and called to a vocation. Because I saw my vocation in this way, I was able to endure the difficulties I encountered as a police officer without becoming bitter or disillusioned. It didn’t matter that I was underpaid - I didn’t become a police officer for the money. My difficult schedule wasn’t a problem either - I knew important missions often required extraordinary sacrifice. The daily danger wasn’t a deterrent - I embraced a view of life and mission that transcended my earthly existence. I didn’t choose a job or career when I decided to become a police officer (and ultimately a cold-case detective). Instead, I chose a mission that just happened to be served by my career choice.

I wish someone would have told me about the importance of these three decisions while I was still in college. Trajectory decisions are important, and they must be made early. If you’re guiding a rocket to the moon, a two-degree mistake a mile from the destination won’t prevent you from landing, but a two degree mistake a mile from your starting point will cause you to miss the moon by thousands of miles. That’s why it’s important for every graduate to make wise decisions early, especially when they are related to worldview, marriage and mission.