The Real World Commencement Address Graduates Need to Hear, But Won’t

Random Rants

It’s that time of year when kids all over are graduating from college, and for most, entering the world of reality. Not like reality TV shows, but the real world of life.

I haven’t been invited to be anyone’s commencement speaker, but over the past 33 years of being in business for myself I have collected pieces of valuable wisdom that I learned—sometimes the hard way–and wish I would have known and followed right out of the gate.

I believe this will be useful for graduates leaving the bubble of a “formal education” environment.I first shared it a couple of years ago and each year at graduation time I get requests to highlight it again. I’ve done one better. I did the speech… on video anyway.

And here’s the draft below. Please do share it.

Congratulations Recent Graduate,

Welcome to the Real World, and The Way Things Actually Work.  It will be an eye-opener and downright shocking for some of you.

Here are some nuggets, that if you choose to heed them, will help you become more successful, more quickly in the real world, IF that is your goal.

You have spent the past four years or more focusing on trying to impress college professors in order to earn grades. You will now need to impress people who have REAL control over your destiny: prospects, customers, clients, bosses, co-workers, boards and committees. These might be old people whom you previously considered to be un-hip. Even the nerds who graduated just a year ahead of you might be in this group. They all have something you don’t: real world experience. Get used to it. Be humble.

You will not be paid proportionate to your GPA, what school you went to, or if you have a graduate degree with letters behind your name. The market does not care. You will be paid in direct correlation to the value you provide other people and organizations. (The exceptions are grade school and high school teachers, nurses and other caregivers, military personnel, clergy,  politicians and other government workers.)  Money always flows to value in a market economy. Your economics professor might have missed that one amidst all the charts and graphs and white noise babble.

No job or work is beneath you, ESPECIALLY if you don’t have a job.  What is beneath you is thinking you are owed something, or expecting someone else to take care of you. In addition to trading time for money, you can learn something from every job, regardless how menial it might seem.

Even if you do have a job, what you likely have right now is more time than money. Invest that time in becoming an expert in one, or several areas. Specialists are always paid more than generalists. (Sorry about that liberal arts degree, by the way.)

Volunteer to tackle any task that most others avoid in any organization you become a part of. Become known as the “go-to” person that gets things done.

No one who is truly successful works 9-5. The days of regularly sleeping til noon and staying out late are over, IF you plan to be anything other than average. Easy ways to success exist only in spam emails.

You won’t get awards for attendance. There is no grading on the curve here. You will be rewarded for results, and winning. By being better than the competition, whether they be in the form of another company or someone going for the same job, contract, or piece of business.

If you thought staying up late cramming for a test was hard work and now that is behind you because you have a degree, you are wrong.  The tests and presentations now have much higher stakes, and will make the difference between getting the job, the sale, the promotion, or whatever you want.

Speaking of losing, if you are really trying, you will not get what you want many, many times. That’s OK, and will be valuable when you learn from every experience.

The real world you are entering is not “fair” according to the definition of many of the kids you went to school with, and might have discussed in some woo woo philosophy class. Whatever. In this real world, breaks are not given, they are created.  Opportunities to succeed are not handed out equally; they are earned with a combination of attitude, risk, and massive action.

You, or more likely your parents, have paid—or taken out loans—for a huge sum of money to study lots of minutiae you will never use.  (You probably said that many times while in an insanely stupid lecture from a professor who has never done anything other than profess.) The REAL learning that you will use now begins. Don’t be hesitant to invest money in advanced education in your career field. It will be more useful and pay off more than any other graduate degree.

If you did not excel at writing in school, do whatever it takes to get better. And the vocabulary you tap out on ur mobile device might be OK with ur friends and on Facebook, but it is not acceptable professional communication. LOL

Speaking of Facebook, people who can hire you use it, and won’t think the photos of you doing Jaeger shots and passing out are hilarious. Actually they might. And then they will hire someone else.

A perception of a person’s IQ goes down a point every time they say “like,”“ah,” “um,” “your  guyses,” and “dude.”  It’s like, not professional, and makes someone sound immature,  ya’ know? Join Toastmasters or take another speaking course.

It is not all about you anymore. Be selfless, curious, and grateful. You will be surprised at how it comes back to you.

Emailed “thank you’s” are not acceptable for most things worth thanking for. Get a nice pen and your own stationery and lots of stamps. Yes, some people still use regular mail. The very successful people.

Knowing all about the Kardashians, who’s remaining on “The Voice,” and what “celebrity” just got picked up for being stupid will not help you in the professional networks you will need to be present in, in order to get ahead. Consume your actual real-world news in whatever form you choose, and be familiar and conversant in local, national and international politics and events.

Your new social network is LinkedIn. Become as much of an expert at using it as you are with Twitter, YouTube and anywhere else you waste time online.

For whatever you want, ask yourself, “Who can give this to me, what do they want and care about, and how and what can I first do for them?”

Of course I’m biased, but pursue a job in sales. It’s the closest you can get to the financial rewards of owning your own company without taking the risk or making the investment, and having to meet a payroll.

Even if your formal job title is not sales, become great at sales, as its skills and results are required and used by the most successful people in every area of life. These skills include questioning, listening, recommending, negotiating, handling resistance, persuading, moving processes forward, having a great attitude, and more.

Become indispensable, irreplaceable and in-demand through hard work, building expertise, and delivering value. You likely know friends of your parents who lost their jobs because they were expendable.

Be obsessively interested in other people. Ask questions. Find out how you can help them. Follow up and stay in touch. Almost everything you achieve will be the result of people you meet and form relationships with along the way.

Always ask for what you want. In all areas of your life. Don’t wish, ask. Few things will be outright given to you without you initiating it first. This alone can make you millions of dollars, and help you become happier than you imagined. Trust me on this one.

Speaking of asking, you will remember the “yes” answers you hear, and always forget about the no’s.  If you want to count anything, celebrate your attempts… the yes’s will come.

Your attitude accounts for about 80% of your success. And that’s one thing you control totally.

Rejection is not an experience, it is the way you define an experience. Stuff happening is inevitable, rejection is optional. Learn from every experience and you never will look at it as rejection.

Most other people will not do what it takes to be wildly successful, and many would prefer that you don’t either. They will be jealous of your success and secretly hope you fail. Sad, but true. Distance yourself from them because they will pull you down.

Here’s your graduate degree in communication. Pay complete, undivided attention to every individual you communicate with. If face-to-face, make eye contact. Listen as if your life depended on it. Don’t interrupt. Pause after you ask a question and after they answer. Ask another related question. Don’t shift the topic to yourself.

And when you are in the presence of others, put the phone away and turn it off. Please. Paying attention to the phone instead of the person in front of you is the ultimate insult and makes you look like a self-absorbed fool.

If you’re easily offended by the words and beliefs by those different than you, I’m not going to sugarcoat this: It’s time to grow a pair. Quickly. There are no safe zones in the real world. You’re not going to agree with everyone. And you will deal with idiots, haters, bigots, and racists. Don’t let the words and beliefs of others affect you negatively.

Take personal responsibility for everything you do. Never point a finger elsewhere. “Victim” is synonymous with “loser” and “blamer.” Own it. Put your name on it. Act like you control your destiny, and you will realize that you actually do.

Most things you might want to worry about will never happen. If you can control it, act on it, and the potential worry subsides.

Treat everyone you come in contact with as the most important person in the world. You will be surprised who can actually buy from you and give you want you want. You might also be surprised who can prevent you from that as well.

Smile more often than you don’t. You feel better, and others react to you more favorably.

Being five minutes early is on time. Showing up right on time or later is late. It shows a lack of respect for the other person or people.

Movement toward any end goal trumps “planning paralysis,” and done is better than perfect.

Be serious about pursuing your success, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh easily and often. Including at yourself. That shows confidence and endears you to others.

Upon close examination, many things that might annoy you are truly petty. Sweating the small stuff makes you a small person. Be quick to let things go. Always apply this question: “In the big picture, does this really matter that much?”

Just as with products, people can be viewed as commodities, and therefore paid the lowest price for, IF that is how they allow themselves to be perceived. Differentiate yourself, set yourself apart, be unique and memorable. In the process you will not please everyone. That’s OK. In fact, if you are not pissing off some people you are playing it too safe and vanilla. Bonus advice: what you DO is more important than what you say about yourself.

Compliment often.

Your body is like software, not hardware. Like software you can regularly update and keep it running optimally with proper diet and exercise. Unlike hardware, you can’t  trade for a newer model. Take care of the only one you’ll ever have.

You will rarely regret risks you take, and saying “yes” to opportunities unless they are potentially physically harmful, immoral, unethical, or illegal. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I pursue this?” Then compare that to the best possible outcome.

Maybe you’ve heard size matters. It does, as it relates to your thinking, and subsequent actions. Think and act big. Huge. Whatever you think you can’t do is likely a self-imposed limitation.

Don’t wait for things to happen. MAKE things happen. Movement opens doors, creates opportunities, and gets results. Take massive action. Every day.

Welcome to the real world, newbies. Some of you will be wildly successful, and others will fail miserably. Your choice.

Now go out and attack life.


Please forward this to someone you feel could benefit. And  leave your comments below.

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