Advice for Graduates: 3 Tips You Won’t Hear in Any Commencement Speech

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.

Graduate Advice

Listen here, graduates. Plenty of people will tell you to enjoy this time and not worry about what’s to come. And that’s just plain bad advice.

This season of life ahead of you is important. 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 some advice I’ve pulled together, much of it from my recent book, The Art of Work (which a reader recently pointed out makes for a great graduation gift).

Don’t worry about what to do

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.

Whether or not you’re continuing your education, never stop learning. Become a student of the world around you. Travel to new places. Meet interesting people. Read as many books as possible. Pray and meditate, reflecting on who you are and are becoming. These practices offer your soul the quiet it needs in a world where such practices are becoming obsolete.

As 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.

Stop trying to find the perfect job

One of the great illusions in our world today is the idea that there’s some perfect job out there, waiting for you. You can’t find the perfect job, but you can create it.

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 who had found their calling – people ages 18 to 80 – one recurring theme was almost every person was a business owner. From the college-aged computer programmer, to the couple in Burundi starting a coffee company, to 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.

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 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.


In summary (or in case you skimmed all of the above):

  • Don’t worry about what to do. Worry about who you are becoming. Focus on continued growth and learning, and what you’re meant to do will become clear over time.
  • Stop looking for the perfect job and start creating it. The best way to do what you love is to build the perfect job for yourself. Start a small business, if even as a hobby, so you’re never completely on someone else to earn a living.
  • Instead of chasing your dream, serve someone else’s dream first. This will save you years of pain and accelerate your growth in ways you can’t imagine. And it will humble you.

So that’s my advice. Do with it what you will, but please do something. If you need more help, are some next steps:

Bonus resource: Watch this video from my friend Yahya. He highlights some of the same points I do.

And if this post resonated with you, please share it with someone you know.

What’s the best graduation advice you’ve either given or received? Share in the comments.