My Advice to New Graduates

Last week, I did an interview at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. James Bradford, the dean, interviewed me for an online video program they do called “From the Corner Office.” He asked me some great questions about what it is really like to be a CEO.

A Graduating Student - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/RichVintage, Image #6080483

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/RichVintage

The last question he asked me was this: “What two things would you say to our students, particularly those who are graduating and about to enter the workplace?” I gave him the two answers he requested, but, upon further reflection, I would like to add a third:

  1. You aren’t as smart as you think. A formal, academic education is wonderful, especially from such an esteemed institution as Vanderbilt. (Here in Nashville, we refer to Harvard as the Vanderbilt of the Northeast.) However, academic and experiential knowledge are two different things. You will do yourself a huge favor by downplaying your education and assuming the posture of a beginner.
  2. You have more potential than you can imagine. Over the years, I have been amazed at what people can do. It is way more than I ever thought possible. Everything matters. Small actions can lead to big consequences. Don’t let corporate cynicism diminish or obliterate your dreams. You can be that person who changes everything and makes a huge difference.
  3. You are just beginning your education. The world is changing so fast that your education is almost obsolete by the time you graduate. But your attitude and the tools you have acquired are timeless. If you are going to be successful, you must be a lifelong learner. Above all, read. As John C. Maxwell says, “Leaders are readers, and readers are leaders.” I have seen this play out again and again. Read books. Subscribe to key blogs. Listen to podcasts.

If you are graduating this spring, congratulations. You have accomplished something very significant. But don’t be fooled. The real journey—and the adventure—is just beginning.

Questions: What advice would you give to new graduates?
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  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/jalc6927 jalc6927

    Your degree is only a stepping stone and does not guarantee your success. Learning is a lifelong process and the hard work has only just begun. Take a few days to set meaningful goals and develop a game plan to reach them. Good things happen to those who are patient and understand God's timing.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jodyfransch Jody Fransch

    I really appreciated this post Mike. I’m a big proponent of lifelong learning and continuous education and really concur with all 3 answers you gave.

    Indeed it’s so true that “leaders are readers”! If there is one thing that has tremendously benefited me in the past 5 years, it’s reading and subscribing to great blogs…like yours!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jody.

  • http://www.mattedmundson.com matt Edmundson

    My message would be a simple one (just posted a comment on LiveIntentionally that reminded me): don’t be afraid to fail. God can handle your failure. He can’t handle disobedience. Learn to deal with failure in a balanced and Godly way – and the sky’s the limit!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Amen to that! Failures don't have to be fatal!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Amen to that! Failures don't have to be fatal!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/petereleazar petereleazar

        … and for me that's real education – I never learnt so much about life and living as when I failed. That's where all the theory became practice. It was tough, still is, but I am sure I would not want to go back anymore – too much behind me now, too many sound lessons – need to build on that and go on.

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  • http://www.mattruff.com/impress.html Matt Ruff

    1st I have then listen to Arthur Benjamin (TED Talk, he can square a 5 digit number in his head, it drives home your 1st point. 2nd I have then listen to Steve Jobs at Stanford (though I'm a critic of Mr. Jobs he is a genius in so many ways) 3rd I have then listen to J. K. Rowling at Harward (it drives home point number 2) and last I have then listen to a Focus on the Family Podcast of Ken Davis to drive home point 1 again. If they ask for more I tell them to buy book or audio of 7 Habits, Good to Great, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, for the very few that come back for more I send them to Larry Warren at African Leadership because Africa need these select few!http://www.mattruff.com/impress.html

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/drockwel Dan Rockwell

    Thanks Michael,

    I'll add life mission won't take you there. You need vision. One difference between the two is mission is present tense vision is future tense. Mission without vision results in falling short.

    Regards,

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Geoffreywebb Geoff Webb

    Great advice – both from you, Mike, and everyone else.

    I'd just add: Guard your idealism. Strive to make it practical, but don't let us "old" folks crush it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    Be flexible–sometimes things don't proceed as planned. If you have to detour, don't get bent out of shape, but enjoy the unexpected scenery. And, remember that true happiness comes from within rather than from outside circumstances. Try to be an optimist even when things look like they're not going to work out. A positive attitude goes a long way!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    Be flexible–sometimes things don't proceed as planned. If you have to detour, don't get bent out of shape, but enjoy the unexpected scenery. And, remember that true happiness comes from within rather than from outside circumstances. Try to be an optimist even when things look like they're not going to work out. A positive attitude goes a long way!

  • http://www.lissaraines.com Lissa Raines

    Great advice! I’d add “Care about what God cares about,” and “Learn from those who have gone before” which includes, of course, being a reader. Character and humility are essential for true success.

    I just had a book published, 8 Crucial Realities: Successful Choices for Graduates (I left a copy for you at the main reception desk when you were closed Monday!). It is filled with practical advice for successful daily living.

  • http://www.yuzzi.com Rick Yuzzi

    This is so true, especially point # 1. By the time college students graduate, they think they've learned everything, especially if they went on to an advanced degree. They often think they know more than those who have been away from school for years. What they don't realize is that life experience coupled with education is where learning really begins. It reminds me of the martial arts. When you get your black belt, there is a temptation to think that you've reached the pinnacle, and there is nothing more to learn–when, actually, that's when you're ready to start learning. That's when you've got the basics down. During black-belt tests my instructor made it a practice to "hammer down the nail that is sticking up" At the end of your test, when you were already worn out, you would spar other black-belts and upper ranks. Then you'd move down the ranks to middle and lower belts, most all of whom at that point would be "owning" you. This was his way of driving home the fact that you still have a lot to learn. It was a great lesson, and I did the same later when I was teaching.

  • http://www.yuzzi.com Rick Yuzzi

    This is so true, especially point # 1. By the time college students graduate, they think they've learned everything, especially if they went on to an advanced degree. They often think they know more than those who have been away from school for years. What they don't realize is that life experience coupled with education is where learning really begins. It reminds me of the martial arts. When you get your black belt, there is a temptation to think that you've reached the pinnacle, and there is nothing more to learn–when, actually, that's when you're ready to start learning. That's when you've got the basics down. During black-belt tests my instructor made it a practice to "hammer down the nail that is sticking up" At the end of your test, when you were already worn out, you would spar other black-belts and upper ranks. Then you'd move down the ranks to middle and lower belts, most all of whom at that point would be "owning" you. This was his way of driving home the fact that you still have a lot to learn. It was a great lesson, and I did the same later when I was teaching.

  • http://www.eftmagic.com Andrew

    Oh Michael,

    I could not agree more with your 1st point. You aren’t as smart as you think. So many graduates I meet come out of Univ. thinking they know it all and then wonder why they don't have that high flying job that they think that should or have pretty much been promised.

    I really do blame the education system for this. Yet, no matter how good most of the teachers are, most teachers have only ever known one thing. The school system and nothing else. The schooling system is still build around creating soldiers and factory workers.

    In most industries, a degree means nothing other than you can study and learn. School versus being employed are two very, very different things. You've got a degree…big deal. Some of the best people I've ever worked with didn't have a degree.

    Look many, many of the truly successful people, they didn't go to university or dropped out. Doesn't that tell you something?

    • Gail

      I agree! I have just finished my degree but having 15 yrs work experience is of much higher value in the work place. Having done a degree as a mature age student I place a lot less value on them than on work experience. Even in a business degree university does not teach you basics of work life i.e. work start time actually means 10-15 minutes BEFORE start time, always come to a meeting prepared (unlike lectures and tutorials), always be nice to the receptionist and never, ever tell a person who phones that you’re boss has gone to the bathroom!

  • http://www.tikesbestfriend.wordpress.com Tim Dahl

    Are there any particular Key Blogs that you recommend? Or, are Key Blogs dependent upon one's vocation, and therefore being different for every type of work?

    Tim

  • http://emergencymedic.blogspot.com Chew Keng Sheng

    Great post! These points are relevant even within the medical profession as well – interns and junior doctors would do well by remembering and applying these three simple points.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/jalc6927 jalc6927

    Your degree is only a stepping stone and does not guarantee your success. Learning is a lifelong process and the hard work has only just begun. Take a few days to set meaningful goals and develop a game plan to reach them. Good things happen to those who are patient and understand God's timing.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is excellent advice, too. I like the goal setting part!

  • http://danielcberman.com Daniel Berman

    My last semester, I walked into my academic advisor's office and asked him what I was supposed to be able to do with my minor. (BA in Ministry, Minor in Church Development & Evangelism) He looked me straight in the eye and said I don't know. Sobering when you have already racked up $16,000+ in student loan debt. The economy has been such that 35+ churches turned me down for pastoral ministry positions, so I am working retail IT now.

    After almost three years of that it looks like the Lord is opening a door to serve with an international church planting organization, helping out with their IT needs. What's God got in mind? I haven't a clue but its turning into an interesting ride.

  • http://building-his-body.blogspot.com/ Anne Lang Bundy

    Do not be afraid to honor God, whatever the apparent, temporary cost. He has said, "Those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed." (1 Samuel 2:30 NKJV) Remaining faithful to Him reaps not just eternal reward, but also benefits career in the here and now.

    • http://building-his-body.blogspot.com/ Anne Lang Bundy

      (PS ~ And your three points are outstanding, as usual, Mike.)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, this is probably the most important thing. Had I been in a Christian school context, this would have been first!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/kaikunane ThatGuyKC

    Great advice Michael!

    As a grad student smack dab in the middle of an MBA program your words of wisdom hit home. Especially the part about not being as smart as I think I am. Haha.

    My advice to graduates: You can't do it alone.

    This kind of ties sits between 1 & 2 above. Because your not as smart as you think you are you need to leverage the experience and wisdom of those around you. Your individual potential may be far beyond your imagination, but the potential of a team is even greater.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/petereleazar petereleazar

    A degree certainly endows vital disciplines and the culture of business and that opens doors to jobs and influencers. It also develops vital networks. There is evidence that those with the best inschool networks do better in their careers over the long term, whilst those who get the highest grades often fail to reach their potential. I am convinced that the greatest career driver of all is not even knowledge, but the ability to build and sustain relationships. Kotler said, "future competition is between networks, not firms", confirming my view that, whilst the currency of past decades was knowledge and technology, that of future decades will be relationships. When Christians get that right (I am writing on it), we will achieve a practical faith, reasonable mutuality (in love) and a sense of having all things in common – by such means we will transcend "the system" and outlive coming adversities.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is why I think it so important to get involved in social media. It is a way to leverage your networks and extend them.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/petereleazar petereleazar

        Amen to that – I thought later that in coming generations maybe there won't be much work or the luxury of education – if so young people better be street-wise enough and connected enough to negotiate that reality – it will demand a very different, get up and go kind of skill.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/petereleazar petereleazar

        Amen to that – I thought later that in coming generations maybe there won't be much work or the luxury of education – if so young people better be street-wise enough and connected enough to negotiate that reality – it will demand a very different, get up and go kind of skill.

  • http://touchyourdream.wordpress.com/ Touchyourdream

    Take a deep breath for your future life, and then think about the most uncertain and important factors affecting your future life. Create your life-long scenario on which your dream and goals are built.

  • http://www.mattruff.com/impress.html Matt Ruff

    1st I have then listen to Arthur Benjamin (TED Talk, he can square a 5 digit number in his head, it drives home your 1st point. 2nd I have then listen to Steve Jobs at Stanford (though I'm a critic of Mr. Jobs he is a genius in so many ways) 3rd I have then listen to J. K. Rowling at Harward (it drives home point number 2) and last I have then listen to a Focus on the Family Podcast of Ken Davis to drive home point 1 again. If they ask for more I tell them to buy book or audio of 7 Habits, Good to Great, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, for the very few that come back for more I send them to Larry Warren at African Leadership because Africa need these select few!http://www.mattruff.com/impress.html

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Geoffreywebb Geoff Webb

    Great advice – both from you, Mike, and everyone else.

    I'd just add: Guard your idealism. Strive to make it practical, but don't let us "old" folks crush it.

  • http://www.eftmagic.com Andrew

    Oh Michael,

    I could not agree more with your 1st point. You aren’t as smart as you think. So many graduates I meet come out of Univ. thinking they know it all and then wonder why they don't have that high flying job that they think that should or have pretty much been promised.

    I really do blame the education system for this. Yet, no matter how good most of the teachers are, most teachers have only ever known one thing. The school system and nothing else. The schooling system is still build around creating soldiers and factory workers.

    In most industries, a degree means nothing other than you can study and learn. School versus being employed are two very, very different things. You've got a degree…big deal. Some of the best people I've ever worked with didn't have a degree.

    Look many, many of the truly successful people, they didn't go to university or dropped out. Doesn't that tell you something?

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/jayemarie Jacklyn Johnston

    Looks like we had the same idea for a blog post today! Today I introduced a series I'm doing in May where I've asked people who inspire me to post what they would tell their graduating class if they went back. I think you can learn so much for this because like you said, graduating is only the beginning. So now that they know what they do…what would they say. It was actually inspired by one of our Thomas Nelson authors. Great post Mike!

  • http://danielcberman.com Daniel Berman

    My last semester, I walked into my academic advisor's office and asked him what I was supposed to be able to do with my minor. (BA in Ministry, Minor in Church Development & Evangelism) He looked me straight in the eye and said I don't know. Sobering when you have already racked up $16,000+ in student loan debt. The economy has been such that 35+ churches turned me down for pastoral ministry positions, so I am working retail IT now.

    After almost three years of that it looks like the Lord is opening a door to serve with an international church planting organization, helping out with their IT needs. What's God got in mind? I haven't a clue but its turning into an interesting ride.

  • http://twitter.com/ryanjriehl @ryanjriehl

    Thanks for the advice Michael, and everyone else! I wish I could have found this post (and your blog) two or three years ago when I was still in the middle of school.

    My advice: Make your future your own. Set goals, gain discipline, build networks, read and research, and work hard. Don't expect your degree or school experience to make everything work out.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Peter G

    I never graduated. The American graduation uniform scares me. I do, however, read some key blogs.

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    My advice: never stop learning and the sky is the limit!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/wesleycolemarketing wesleycolemarketing

    As a new graduate myself, the advice I would give is to not go into your future thinking that you are entitled to anything. I have learned that success in the workplace is completely different from success in college. I myself thought that I could breeze through everything and succeed at it beyond anyone's expectations, but quickly found that it really does take a lot of hard work and working up and building from the ground up to achieve success and to really have the impact that you desire to have. It takes a lot of patience and humbling. Thanks for the great post!

  • Emily

    I am graduating TOMORROW from University of Tennessee. I can't believe my 4 years are up, but I'm excited to begin this new adventure. Thanks for the advice, Michael. Good reminder to seek humility while recognizing my potential!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Congratulations!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/carolzuegner carolzuegner

    Do something that challenges you, but figure out your own definition of success. Life is always a balancing act. Your balance will change over time. That's OK.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/jackjcollins Jack Collins

    One piece of advice I would add is to stay plugged into things that inspire you to a higher level of thinking. Such as a mentor and those you admire in your industry or life in general. The great ones that share their inspirational experiences. This can help you stretch yourself to greater achievement. jack

  • http://www.jasonyounglive.com Jason Young

    i learned this from jim collins: i would take the time to create a personal board of directors and a personal band of brothers. that way you can receive coaching, mentoring, and accountability. pick people for not for popularity but for character and direction. may these two groups hold you to a severe standard of character you hope to grow into. never live the journey alone.

  • http://www.opcamp.com Ben Wall

    Bill Cosby was the speaker at my college graduation a few years ago and he stressed the importance of setting a goal, reaching it and then setting a new goal. In Cosby style, we were laughing the whole way to the point.

    He also told the story of a philosophy class he was in. He came home at the end of the semester to his "uneducated" gramma who knew "nothing" (no school past elementary) and was "beneath him" now that he was a college man. She asked about what he was learning and he brushed her off claiming she wouldn't understand and that this assignment was his final exam. She challenged him and he shared the question: A cup is filled 1/2 way with water. Is it half empty or half full? Her response was quick and to the point, "It depends on how thirsty you are!"

    The next day he wrote that answer down on his paper and got an "A" in the class. So stay humble he encouraged us, we (fresh college grads) still have a lot to learn!

  • http://www.justopenthebook.com justopenthebook.com

    Stay true to God and avoid sin. The world will tempt you to pursue idols – greed, success, sexual immorality, the praise of others, etc. You will truly be on your own if you don't have your relationship with God settled and centered as the primary focus of your life. School and parents won't be there for you anymore. Remember, your success is 100% dependent on God's plans for you and your willingness to obey Him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pnicholson Pete Nicholson

    Thank you once again for attending our "From the Corner Office" session at Owen. It was a pleasure to hear your words. Truly inspirational to young professionals with dreams of making it to the corner office!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/ruach ruach

    I have preached the idea of being a life-long learner ever since sitting under Bobby Clinton in 1996. But, recently, I concluded:
    1. Not everyone is a reader
    2. When i suggest a book to someone, I may be trying to fix them.

    To be honest, I have tended to write-off people who are non-readers which is wrong. How can a non-reader be a life-long learner and how can i encourage them?