Each year, on the anniversary of my college graduation from Penn State, I reflect on the lessons ensuing years have taught me. In college, the world feels small, safe and provides a great platform to make mistakes and grow. After graduation, life is not as forgiving and mistakes are amplified. Here, Graduates of the Class of 2013, is my advice for you.
Be yourself. Your commencement ceremony serves as both the ending of a chapter and the beginning of a new one. Choose to live your life by maximizing the gifts you have been given. Your combination of talents is unique in the world. There are billions of people but only one who thinks like you. Embrace your individuality. At times it may lead to loneliness but over the course of your life you will generate myriad accomplishments. Don't try to be like others; endeavor to be the best you.
Embrace life. Life feels infinite but it is finite. I was reminded of that this week when another of my college friends passed. So it is important that you find and pursue your passion. Identify the career and job that encourage you to bound out of bed every morning. Also, find the partner who allures you to return to it every night.
Avoid comparison. You and your peers have different career and life objectives and trajectories. Help those who struggle and be proud of those who succeed, but never desire to walk in another's shoes. It is impossible to know what another person is going through but I am confident that if everyone's problems were in a bucket we would all chose our own.
Love those close to you. Over time the trappings of success will become less important. Work hard, strive for professional success and the freedom and comfort it provides but understand that the real meaning in life comes from personal fulfillment. Being there for my children and watching them grow provides more satisfaction than anything else in the world. Prioritize time with family and friends. Make special time for your parents every day. You will never remember an extra late night at the office but will never forget missing your child's concert.
Learn from others. You don't have the answers but your experienced peers and bosses may. Listen, observe and learn. Be an active participant in your professional development by reading, asking questions and trying new things. Expand your comfort zone and competencies. In college, the curriculum was laid out for you; professionally you are lucky if someone points the direction.
Live free. Do not let environmental and technological distractions reduce your functioning. We live afflicted with constant partial attention - the idea that one is never fully attentive because there is too much informational "noise". The resultant difficulty in assessing, processing and making decisions at optimal levels leads to avoidable errors. Stay engaged. Don't look at a computer; instead look into the eyes of another. Don't take your phone to a meeting; take your openness to listening. Don't choose to be distracted; choose to be fully present.
Be hard on yourself. Last week I gave someone advice, that with 20/20 hindsight, was wrong. I fault myself for not reading the situation correctly. I racked my brain to think about what signs or signals could have alerted me to the potential misstep. I am hard on myself not as punishment but instead as motivation to learn and improve. Strive for never ending improvement by expecting as much from yourself as you are capable of. If you sell yourself short the world will too.
Find an outlet. I love to run. It frees me, if only for a few moments, from the stress of life. When I run I think about running. I don't consciously think about work, current events or anything substantive. I think about running. But after a run all the other aspects of my life become clear, and my answers become right. I run through opacity to clarity. Find an outlet that cleanses your mind and body.
You will always feel eighteen. As the years pass the mirror will reflect an older, but strikingly handsome, version of yourself looking back at you, but in many ways you will always feel as if you are in college. The college years are so formative, the friendships so deep and the experiences so intense that you will stay connected to your college experience forever. However, the beauty of life is that each day and year has the chance of being better than the previous one. Never forget college but I promise that the best is yet to come.
Covet wisdom. Technology has placed the vast body of human knowledge at our fingertips but information is decidedly not wisdom. Wisdom is recognizing a situation, analyzing it properly and making the correct decision. Wisdom comes from experience, observation and thinking. As the British author Miles Kington noted knowledge is realizing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in fruit salad. Make wisdom, not knowledge your goal and never confuse the two.
So graduates, now is your time. Seize it. Pay your dues, grow and learn. Time passes, the days are slow but the months and years go quickly. Do not waste a moment. There are no mulligans in life.
Congratulations and best of luck Class of 2013!
Mark Schnurman is the Director of Sales and Training at Eastern Consolidated. He is a veteran sales manager and coach with diverse sales management, training, recruiting, strategy and coaching experience in real estate and financial services. He is also a faculty member at Penn State's World Campus and Fairleigh Dickinson University.