Graduation Advice from an Average Person

July 02 [Mon], 2012, 15:26
All across America, highly successful and prominent people are being asked to give commencement addresses. Although I will probably never be asked to address a graduating class, I would like to join the growing chorus of advice-givers this graduation season. My advice many seem cynical, even negative, but it’s the things I wish someone had told me (although I doubt I would have been smart enough to listen). I’m sure others have things they also wish someone had told them; hopefully they’ll add them to the comments.

It’s the money, stupid. Six years ago, I went cold turkey on being bad with money. I was carrying big balances, had no savings, and was sloppy with bill payments. The Wall Street Journal writes disapprovingly about people like me. In the subsequent almost six years, I have paid my credit card bill off every single month, paid all my bills on time, built up my savings, and chipped away at my debt until it’s now almost gone. Here is what you need to know about this: the past six years have been some the most tedious, tiresome, brutally frustrating, irritating, and wearisome of my life. Paying off substantial debt sucks. Debt is voluntary bondage. You’ll hear a lot about saving for retirement. Listen to that. But more importantly, just plain save. For those of you hoodwinked into the student loan scam (no doubt while your school sits like a broody hen on a huge endowment), you can’t start with zero debt. But you can keep from going further down the consumer debt hole. Living within your means sucks. Living within your means while also coming up with money to pay off a ton of credit card debt really, really sucks. I mourn the money I wasted. Money means freedom. People will hate that sentiment, but it’s true.

Toxic people get promoted, but they rarely get fired. No doubt, you’ll end up in at least one job where your department head or program director or VP is an a-hole and possibly even a socio and/or psychopath. You will see it, your co-workers will see it, others at the a-hole’s level will see it. And nothing will happen. Ever. Publications like the Harvard Business Review and Forbesspend a lot of time and money churning out content about improving employee morale, keeping high-value employees, and fostering a productive work environment. All of that can be boiled down to one simple rule: Don’t keep, much less promote, toxic people, no matter how “valuable” they may be. No one works well with or under a toxic person. No one feels like giving their all to a company that keeps on an arrogant or incompetent or abusive or unethical or all-of-the-above employee. But for some reason they seem to flourish in the workplace, jumping ahead of more talented, more dedicated, more collegial employees. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to get your company to see what they are studiously avoiding seeing―just find a new job and move on..

You can’t be anything even if you do try hard enough. People love to tell you can be anything if you try hard enough, but the reality is far more sobering. In my perfect life, I would be a much taller Kristin Chenoweth, belting out tunes on the Great White Way when not accepting accolades, guesting onGlee, and signing autographs. I would have multiple solos during the Tony Awards, along with multiple Tony Awards and an Oscar for variety. The reality is that I can’t sing (I really, really can’t sing) and no amount of trying, lessons, praying, wishing, and/or thinking positive thoughts will ever change that. Hate math? You’ll probably never make it as an astronomer. But everyone is smart at something. You know you. Keep it real.

Do what you love, but don’t be surprised if the money doesn’t follow.You are reading this on a blogging site where people are willing to write for free. ‘Nuf said. Throughout history, people haven’t been paid for doing what they love. Throughout history, people have been paid to churn out awful things, while good things went unheralded. A lot of people made money making a movie like Showgirls. That didn’t make it good. If you are paid to do what you love, it’s gravy. Don’t measure how well you do something you love by how much you are or are not paid to do it.

There will always be someone who is more more successful, smarter, better-looking, and/or wealthier than you, no matter who you are and no matter what you do. Which sucks, but once you accept it, life is easier. All my friends are better-looking than I am. My choice is to only be friends with those I deem less attractive than me or just be glad that these lovely, intelligent, talented, charming people like me. I choose the latter. But if you can’t, that’s why God created the reality show. Try to get on one. It won’t make you feel any better about yourself, but you can turn your bottomless insecurity into some cash until the audience moves on..

So that’s it, graduates of 2012. Advice for those who will never be president, an Oscar winner, or a billionaire. Go forth and oversleep, spill coffee on yourselves, date the wrong people, let the bathroom get disgusting, and have some fun..
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