We are coming to the end of another graduation season which means plenty of advice is lurking in the air, but not all of it is good advice if you’re planning to get out there and truly kick ass. There are three big themes I keep hearing that I think pretty much suck. Master them and you will be on the road to average, boring, and unsatisfied. So watch out for these three bad pieces of advice:
BAD ADVICE #1: Set a goal, make a plan, and keep your head down till you get there.
Yes, yes, sure – we all need to develop some discipline so we can get shit done. But it is totally misguided to tell young people to focus on their end goal because it’s too soon to know what that ultimate goal will be. As my friend Casey Wasserman says, (he’s the Chairman and CEO of the Wasserman Media Group – a total badass in the sports world so he knows a thing or two about great careers) “Anyone who tells you where they are going to be in five years is probably lying, and if they do know the goal they don’t know how to get there.” These days, even if you go for the supposedly safe graduate degree, you will have no idea how your profession and your entire country may be disrupted by the time you’re graduating again. So instead of focusing on the end goal (I want to accomplish X), look more to the goal of developing yourself (I want to discover my ultimate potential, Extreme ME.)
BAD ADVICE #2: Hold out for the most impressive first job you can get.
People will tell you that your resume is competing with loads of resumes from highly qualified other people, so you just have to get as close to perfection as possible. The assumption is that successful people succeed really early – in the crib, if at all possible – and then they just keep “building on” their successes thereafter. But in a career where I have met and worked with some of the most highly accomplished athletes, artists and business people in the world and interviewed many of them for my book, EXTREME YOU, what I found is that the most successful people in the world didn’t know in their 20s what they were going to do. When I talked to Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, she told me that her trailblazing path into politics started when she went to college and became – wait for it – a failed piano major.
What the successful have in common is not their error-free resume but a willingness to throw themselves fully into opportunities. Condi went for it with piano, and when she failed, she went for it with politics, and she could tell which one was right for her because she’d tried both. She didn’t figure it out in her head first. She learned by doing.
Rather than try to have a perfect resume, focus on what I call your anti-resume. Get out there and try things. Sometimes you’ll fail, and that’s great. Learn from them. (And if you don’t have your own list of gnarly humiliating fuck-ups then you’re going to come off in interviews like a robot with no real depth of experience – which is a disaster, no matter what your resume looks like.)
BAD ADVICE #3: Just find your passion and be yourself.
Passion rules. The trouble comes when people think they can find their passion by tasting a little bit of this and a little bit of that, as if life were a brunch buffet. You can’t find your passion with Google searches or endless job-hopping, one short stint here followed by another short stint there because the last job didn’t feel like it was really “it.”
Yes, you need to discover what piques your interest, but then you have to go in deep and work at it – harder than you’ve ever worked at anything. Then, if you still love it, you’ve found your passion. I’ll never forget what the psychologist Angela Duckworth told me about the long hours she puts in studying and teaching about the grit that makes people succeed: If anyone had ever asked me, “When you’re 46 years old with two kids and husband, will you work 80 hours a week? I’d have said probably not. But my interest has gotten so deep that I wish I didn’t have to sleep. I wish I could just read articles and talk to people about grit.” That’s passion!
You may feel, as you graduate, that you don’t have all the answers. That’s great! Don’t worry yet about having the answers, just have the ATTITUDE. Take risks, give your all, make a fool of yourself sometimes, then step back, listen and learn, and go find another risk to take that’s even more you. That is how you hit the goals that are true to your own potential, your own nature. That is success.
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