It’s that time of year again. The birds are chirping. The flowers are in bloom. And graduates everywhere are wondering what the heck they’re doing with their lives.
Listen here, graduates: Plenty of people will tell you to enjoy this time and not worry about what's to come. That’s bad advice. This season of life ahead of you is important, so don’t waste it. At the same time, don’t drive yourself crazy with the fear of missing out or the stress of making the wrong choice. You will miss out and you will mess up. This season is all a delicate balancing act.
The difference between squandering this time and making the most of it is understanding what to do with what’s ahead of you.
So here's three pieces of advice that you won't be hearing at your graduate commencement speech.
1. Your education isn't over yet
When my friend and former roommate Andrew Chipman was getting ready to graduate college, I asked if he was excited about completing his education.
“No,” he said. “My education will never end.” He told me the one thing he was looking forward to was deciding what he would learn. He was eager to get back to reading what he wanted to read, not what he was told. His education hadn’t ended; it just changed shape.
Andrew was right. You never really leave the classroom. There’s always a new lesson life has to teach you, if you’re willing to listen. So don't worry too much about what to do. Worry, instead, about who you are becoming.
As author Parker Palmer once wrote: "Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am."
Spend some time learning who you are and what you're supposed to do will become more clear.
2. Stop trying to find the perfect job.
The world of work is changing. Companies are getting smaller, not larger. Organizations are shrinking and employers are outsourcing more and more, hiring contractors instead of employees as they look for ways to decrease their risk. And this is actually a wonderful opportunity for those entering the workforce.
When I interviewed hundreds of people for my book, The Art of Work, -- people ranging in ages from 18 to 80 who had found their calling -- there was one recurring theme: almost every person was a business owner. From the college-aged computer programmer to the couple in Burundi starting a coffee company and the Singaporean doula, each person understood their life’s work would not simply be handed to them. They had to create it.
The job market isn’t great, and it probably won’t be getting any better in the foreseeable future. If the studies are true, by the year 2020, we will see over half the workforce functioning as freelancers,with no steady job but a portfolio of gigs that provide a living. This may not sound like good news to everyone, especially those who are less entrepreneurial. But it is. If you embrace this reality, you won’t have to settle for a position that doesn’t fulfill your potential. You can create the perfect job for yourself.
3. Don’t chase your dream yet.
I often hear older people tell young people that the best thing they could do is chase their dreams. Hogwash. Blindly pursuing your passion is the fastest way to the unemployment line.
The world is full of dreamers who hate their lives and blame their bosses. Passion won’t save you from failure, and it won’t protect you from economic hardship. Deferring your dream, though, as the proverb says, “makes the heart go sick.”
So what do you do?
"Serve someone else’s dream first," my former boss Seth Barnes used to say. In other words, become an apprentice. Stop wasting your time in search of the perfect mentor and instead help someone else's dream come true. I did this for seven years, and it taught me more than a master’s degree.
The world doesn’t owe you anything, least of all the privilege to do work you love. And chances are, there are already people out there doing it. So find them, help them, and learn from them. Don't chase your dream; serve someone else's.