June 7, 2005
Unsolicited Advice to The Class of 2005
My son, Christopher, graduated from college this Spring. As I sat there in the stands looking down on a sea of black hats and gowns, I felt a strange mixture of nostalgia and dread. Of course I was proud of my son for accomplishing something I did not. (I didn't just flunk out of any college.. I flunked out of JUNIOR college. That was 1965 and, being the genius I was at the time, I lost my student deferment and my sorry ass landed itself in Marine Corps boot camp as the Vietnam War was heating up. This was an IQ test, and I flunked it.)
I was very proud of Chris, and relieved. History tends to repeat itself, so another unpopular war is once again lurching along getting kids my kid's age killed. So I was greatly relieved Chris had a diploma in hand rather than enlistment papers.
Then I started thinking about what changes those kids down there were about to experience. After four or five years of idyllic campus life, where professors were careful not to say anything that might bruise egos, erode self-esteem, crush dreams or dampen enthusiasm, these kids were about to enter an environment where all that's called a "a day at the office."
I did it all and so did his mother. We both had our careers and raised two boys. It was a frustrating, furious, sometimes frightening, and absolutely fabulous 35 years. Now retired, my days at the office are behind me, (Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last.)
Recalling those three decades of work and family, ups and downs, victories and loses, disappointments followed by elation, shit before the Shinola, I felt a mixture of envy and exhaustion as I watched the young grads take their diplomas and walk, skip or dance back to their seats. I know, at least in broad strokes, what lays in front of them, and it's at once awful and awesome. They are cursed and blessed -- captives of the immutable laws of Yin & Yang.
A quarter century from now they will each know if their lives were a success of something less. I learned a few things along the way -- all the hard way -- I want to share with Chris and his 2005 classmates. Chances are they will still have to learn them the same way I did, because my father also tried -- with little success -- to give me a clue too. Still it's my final job as a father to try, so here we go. Chris, pay attention. (And sit up straight or you will grow up crooked, and don't crack your knuckles or you will get arthritis, and then you'll be sorry..)
14 Rules of Life for Grads
Be suspicious of all hard-and-fast and rules, including the ones that follow.
There is no single path to success -- there are many -- millions in fact.
Paths to success are always unmarked, but you will greatly improve your chances by avoiding well-traveled paths.
There are no formulas for making money. Anyone peddling such a formula is just selling a scheme he/she purchased from someone else. Whatever they call it or however they describe it, that IS the formula -- the whole formula.
You will always succeed if you pursue your dreams, but only if you pursue them with genuine passion and vigor.
Never use money as your measure of success, but personal satisfaction. If you are happy and engaged in an endeavor, sufficient amounts of money will follow as a byproduct.
Integrity is your most valuable asset. Never do anything you know is wrong or that makes you feel uneasy - not for anyone, not to anyone, at any time, for any reason. Period. (There are no exceptions to this rule.)
Corporations are not your friends or benefactors. They are filling stations on the road of life. Companies are where, in return for your hard work, you are allowed to fill up on knowledge, contacts and money before moving further on down the road, hopefully to bigger and better things.
Never let fear stop you. Anything worth achieving requires risk -- risk of the unknown, risk of failure, risk of success. Fear is the parking brake of life. If you want to go anywhere you have to release it.
The same goes for worry. Worrying is like a rocking chair: You do a lot of work but it doesn't get you anywhere. When worry strikes stop and immediately deal with it. The cure is simple and certain: 1) Visualize the worst possible outcome. 2) Decide what you will do to survive if such an outcome should it occur. 3) You're done. Now get back out there.
Then there's chronic unhappiness. This is life's red warning light. DO NOT IGNORE IT. When it flashes pull over and stop. Identify the cause and do whatever it takes to make that light go out before proceeding. Unhappiness is a cancer of habit. Get rid of it early or it'll rule your life.
In all matters involving spending money, trust neither your heart nor your head. They are both world-class yes-men. They will often tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to know. Trust only your calculator. Do the numbers and heed their heartless wisdom. (The same applies to human financial advice. Your calculator is the best financial advisor you will ever meet. If you don't lie to your calculator, it will never lie to you.)
Life is serious business, so find yourself a good business partner. You can succeed alone, but it's a lot harder, and nowhere near as much fun. With the right life-partner you will not only help each other succeed but will share the most wonderful adventures life has to offer. (And what fun is an unshared adventure, anyway?)
Choosing a life-partner is the easy part. Maintaining that partnership will be one of your life's great tests -- a test of character -- both yours and your partner's. If your partnership lasts you will reap a reward only those who have achieved it can know. Suffice it to say it's more than worth the trip. If you achieve it you will consider your partnership the most precious possession of your lives, because it is nothing less than that.
So there you are kids. Take it, or leave it.
Good luck to the rest of the Class of 2005. I wish we were turning the nation and the world over to you in better shape. But then they were both a mess when we got them handed to us too.
Let's see how you do.