Advice for Graduates (and myself…maybe you, too!)

My niece just graduated from high school…and I started thinking, as I signed a card for her, “Have I shared enough with her? Have I really given her some of the advice I learned along the way, mostly through my own mistakes and failures? If I share some of these things with her, is there a chance it will help her avoid a few of the pitfalls I found myself in from time to time?”

I’ve spent lots of time with her these past 18 years, but I know that I haven’t really opened up my heart to her and given her some of these pieces of advice that would have served me well had I known them, really known them, way back when I first started my adult life.


As I started writing down a few tips for her, it turned into a bit of a lengthy list…and I thought I’d just go ahead and post them here. Who knows, maybe some other grads out there are looking for advice? Or maybe it’s you?

I’m no Dr. Seuss, but you can feel free to pass these along.



In College * In Career * In Life


  1. Start Strong – It’s tougher to bring up a low GPA than it is to maintain one later on. If you start out with low scores, you’ll find yourself working extra hard to bring up your grades to maintain scholarships, get into programs of interest, etc… Work extra hard your first year, then you’ll know what you’re able to handle.
  2. Equip yourself, daily, so that you will be able to stand up for your beliefs. Know your enemy, and know how to defend your faith and share the light of Truth. Find a church to attend on Sundays, and a small group of friends to meet regularly for Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. And just as you are taking care of yourself spiritually, be sure to tend to your physical, mental, and emotional sides as well! Exercise, eat right, get sleep, and take time to do the things you love!
  3. If you wish to join a sorority/fraternity, or any type of social club that will require lots of time and/or money, put it off until after your first year. Everyone will tell you not to do this, that it’s harder to get into one after your Freshman year. This may be true, however, by staying free that first year you will know how to handle yourself better in these type of social situations, as well as how to manage your time better. In addition, you’ll know yourself better, and you’ll know the different sororities/fraternities characteristics and culture better, and will make a better decision in which one you choose to join, if you still want to do so. In the meantime, use your Freshman year to try out lots of different activities and really get an overall taste of campus life without fully committing yourself. AND STUDY! You may discover that you don’t “need” frat life to fit in, make friends, or get involved. There are PLENTY of alternatives that just might fit your interests better.
  4. Keep records of ALL of your achievements. Create an “ILM file” (“I Love Me”) – and keep a record of every achievement, every award, networking contact information, and anything and everything that may prove helpful in proving your value to future employers.
  5. Try out things that have nothing to do with your major of what you think will be your life course. For instance, I now wish I had taken classes that had nothing to do with science and education, but pure interests. I know that if I had done so, I would have known more about things that would help me in my career today, such as theology, photography, digital media, videography, journalism, creative writing, cultural studies, anthropology, etc… Don’t be afraid to branch out…NOW is your time to explore!
  6. Get to know your professors, especially those in your major. You’ll need them for references and counsel. This is important in finding opportunities to gain experience within your field of study, and in gaining references for getting into graduate/professional programs of your choice, or jobs.
  7. Safety – Trust your instincts! Do not underestimate the dangerous situation you could find yourself in, whether walking home from a class alone late in the evening, or making a decision to trust someone enough to go out on a date alone. There is safety in numbers!
  8. To get along with your roommates, be a good roommate. Set up some “house rules” at the very beginning, such as study hours, noise levels, time for and type of guests allowed in the room, tidiness, cooking/cleaning, etc… and DO YOUR PART! This can go a long way in ensuring you have a pleasant experience, and cultivate lifelong friendships. It also might ensure that nobody’s spiking or spitting in your food on the sly…
  9. Evaluate your progress on a regular basis. Look back over the goals you have set on a regular basis and truthfully evaluate your own progress. Make sure you are on track to graduate at a reasonable time. Determine if the classes and experiences you are gaining are worthwhile, a waste of time, or enough. Then, approach someone you trust for feedback as well. Never go more than six months with evaluating your progress.
  10. Take the Myers-Brigg Personality Test (or similar one) and Career Choice Tests. These are not definitive, and don’t allow them to be used to put you in a box of stereotypes. However, they can be very useful in helping you understand your personality traits and underlying motivators, strengths, and weaknesses. Put them to work for you as you go forward and make decisions that will affect your life for a long time to come.
  11. Learn how to work well with others – Teamwork. It is so important to learn how to communicate and work well with others. This means sharing ideas, sharing responsibility and workloads, knowing when to give in to the ideas of others, and also when to stand up for something you truly believe in and feel strongly about. But do so in a way that hopefully does not alienate others. Always be kind and gracious, professional and courteous, strong and efficient.
  12. Don’t be afraid to change your course! If the map’s not working, don’t be afraid to chart a new course! Don’t be afraid of change, don’t be afraid to test the waters in areas that you may have never thought about before. You are going to be exposed to and learn about so many different life and career opportunities that are available to you that you never even heard of before! Keep your eyes wide open, and be flexible. Your true passion may not have been revealed to you just yet!


  1. Start Strong. Know your job requirements, company mission, vision, and goals, departmental goals, and personal goals, and set out to achieve them. Set goals to achieve on an annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily basis, and keep a checklist to make sure you are on track.
  2. Strive to make your boss look good. If your boss looks good, it will help you out, believe it or not. This does not mean to allow him/her to take credit for all of your ideas/achievements. It simply means to ask your boss what his/her goals are, and how you can help achieve them. Then set about to do just that, but making sure that you achieve your job requirements first and foremost. Remember, if your boss gets a promotion, chances are you will be rewarded as well.
  3. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Some good ways to determine these is to take a personality type test, such as the Myers-Brigg. Also, ask others, ask your boss, ask your co-workers…be ready to handle their observations and opinions of you, knowing that it will help you to become a better worker, and a better person.
  4. Work to overcome your weaknesses. Determine ways and accept projects that will take you a little out of your comfort zone and help you to develop ways to overcome your weaknesses, and hopefully turn them into positives.
  5. Be a strong team member. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you will learn how to best use them in an atmosphere requiring teamwork. If you are an extrovert, be sure you learn how to communicate well with introverts. For example, understand that introverts don’t normally blurt out their ideas – they need to be asked their opinions.
  6. Keep records of ALL of your achievements (ILM file). Same as in college – keep a file of all of your achievements, awards, bonuses, and networking contacts. And please, keep your resume current.
  7. Learn how to deal with objections, rejections, and failures. Objections are simply opportunities in disguise. It means there is an opportunity to continue to sell your idea or learn from a mistake. Rejection is not personal. It’s business. Search within the rejection for an objection to overcome. If none exists, move on to the next client or venture. Failure in one thing can be the very thing that sets you up for success in the next project….so keep moving forward!
  8. Develop your elevator pitch – in 140 characters or less. This is how you introduce yourself to people you meet, describing your job position and purpose. Or, if you are an entrepreneur, this is how you are prepared to explain, very briefly, what the goal of your endeavor is, and how an interested party might be able to contribute or partner with you to achieve it. Very important!
  9. Take calculated risks. You don’t have to be extremely prudent or cautious all the time. You can take risks – if you are prepared to take risks. If you understand the consequences, all of them, and are prepared to deal with them no matter what, then go ahead and take that risk! Without taking a few risks, the rewards are small, few and far between.
  10. Don’t burn bridges. That saying… “be kind to everyone because the folks you meet on the way up the ladder, you may also meet on the way back down”….? Well, it’s true! When building your career, remember that PEOPLE are the most important.
  11. Know when to fold ‘em. Sometimes, you’ve got to count your losses and move on. When a job isn’t working for you, when a boss is holding you back, when a co-worker is making you miserable, when your schedule and stress are overwhelming and interfering with your life – it’s time to step back, take a look at the big picture again, and determine a way to move on or move out.
  12. Don’t neglect yourself! Don’t get so caught up in your work that you neglect to take care of yourself – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually!


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  1. Know your TRUE NORTH – the precepts of God, the ABSOLUTES of God – and live accordingly. Hold up everything, every decision you make, every step you take, to the precepts of God – your compass, your roadmap. If it doesn’t fit in, leave it out, move on.
  2. Relationships are the key to a beautiful, fulfilling life. Never let anything get in the way of the relationships that you have been blessed with in your life. You must make the time to nourish them – and first and foremost is your relationship with God. Set aside time every day to meet with Him, read His Word, pray, talk and walk with Him…simply listen. And make time for the loved ones in your life. Family and friends are the ones that will be there for you in the tough times, when work is going bad, when you lose jobs, when loves abandon you, when you experience loss, sickness, and pain – you will have friends and loved ones to hold you up. Don’t forget to cultivate those relationships – tend to them daily, like a treasured garden.
  3. Don’t be rash; think things through. Do not make a major decision until you have thought through all the potential consequences of each action. Then, make informed decisions … without procrastination, and without regrets.
  4. Spend your extra money and time on experiences, travel, or service opportunities, instead of material goods. You really and truly can’t take it with you, and things tie you down. If you want to experience all that life has to offer, don’t get bogged down with “things” that you don’t need or aren’t truly ready to handle. Studies show that the happiest, most contented individuals are the ones who spend their extra money on experiences instead of stuff.
  5. Start out financially sound – pay off your debts as you go. Study Dave Ramsey’s advice. Have at least one credit card so you can develop a credit score, but pay it off as you go. Before making large purchases, do your research to determine whether or not you should buy new or used, rent or own, purchase or lease, pay cash or credit, etc… Every decision is an important one. Don’t live outside your means.
  6. Date to mate. Don’t waste your time dating people you don’t think have the potential to be “the one.” It is a waste of time, and it is potentially dangerous. Preserve the gift of yourself for that special one – it is truly worth the wait. If you are not sure about someone, hang out with them in groups for as long as it takes to get to know them better before deciding if they have that potential. Read or listen to Tommy Nelson’s “Song of Solomon” study – it’s life-changing, and it could save you years of trouble!
  7. Join or create a community of Christ-followers to have small group fellowship and Bible study with on a regular basis. These are your people, the ones you can trust, lean on for advice and support, and enjoy life with. Encourage one another in the faith, in life choices, offering wise, godly counsel, and serving together.
  8. Remember that no one else will ever “complete you”, a la Jerry McGuire. The only One who will is the Lord. However, make sure that if you decide to marry, you marry someone who is “equally yoked “ spiritually. Make sure that each of you loves the Lord more than you love one another – and that you believe in commitment, making a covenant between the two of you and the Lord. Marriage is an everlasting bond of THREE. The goal of marriage should not be to make you more happy, but more holy.
  9. Trust is hard to earn, and almost impossible to earn back. Be a trustworthy person. And likewise, don’t put your trust in someone who is careless with your heart. Trust in God.
  10. Continue to grow and try new things. Continue your education. Expand your horizons, and your territory. And wherever you go, whatever you do, be an ambassador for Christ!
  11. Find opportunities to use your gift to serve. Serve God and others. There will always be need around you. When you are feeling especially low, especially neglected, especially burned out – turn your heart, mind, body, and soul to serving Christ and others – a surefire cure for your own troubles.
  12. Enjoy the journey and finish well! Life really is a journey – one step after another. It’s not about the achievement, it’s about the people you meet, the lives you touch, the relationships along the way. Don’t get so busy accumulating successes and reaching goals that you fail to live. If you find that your life is too busy to enjoy, it’s time to stop, take stock, and lighten your load for the journey ahead.

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