Sunday, March 13, 2016
Ten Things I Wish I Had Been Told Before Graduating From College – Part I
Graduation “Season” is nearly upon us now and I thought it would be appropriate to share some lessons I have learned long after graduation but wish I had known then. I won’t tell you how long ago I graduated from college but It all depends on your age and time in the workforce on how you might perceive this post. That said, whether you are about to graduate from school or are more of “Seasoned” vet; it’s never too late for some perspective and a shift in your focus. Below I reveal the first five (I will reveal the second five next week) of my ten (Plus a bonus) things I wish I had been told prior to heading out into the real world.
1. Find a Job That Gives You Valuable Experience…Not Just “Great Pay”
Right out of college I decided I wanted to be in “Sales”. I had a couple of friends who were doing that and they were “Making a killing” according to them. Truth be told they were paid about the norm for their jobs. They were not getting rich but they felt like it because they were so far ahead compared to their college days of Ramen noodles and tap water as a basic “meal.”
I had other friends who skipped college (nothing wrong with this approach) to make some money for a year or two in construction or manufacturing. Some were admittedly chasing a buck while others wanted to use the experience to start their own businesses using a trade skill.
I on the other hand landed with a small office equipment company that was a local (not even a regional player). They had no name recognition or a training program and ALL my sales were generated through cold calling. I did not get paid very much and while I did learn sales was not for me I gained very little applicable experience mostly because I was not very good at it or into the work. In fact I sucked at it. I lasted six months.
My next job led me down the path I am on today…negotiating union contracts for management. It was for a construction trade association and their primary role was to represent their members in dealing with their unions. I had no idea how to do this but they were willing to give me a shot. It turned out I was pretty good at it. The pay was “okay” and they too did not have a high level of name recognition but the experience was invaluable. We both took a chance on each other. Years later this experience has translated into a high level executive position. Most of my sales friends have moved to other jobs and have had great careers. The same goes for those who wanted to start their businesses. Those who chased the buck have continued to “chase” more than “catch” and I believe it is because when you start out working if you only care about the paycheck then you won’t pursue your passion…you pursue the money and that rarely leads to long term happiness or job satisfaction. For those of us who were able to find jobs that paid the bills but that also provided the foundation for a great career this gave us a lasting benefit well beyond pay…happiness.
2. It’s okay to not have a set, defined plan for your life
There is a saying that if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. Shortly after I started my job with the trade association I got married. My girlfriend at the time moved to St. Louis where I had started my “Career” and she too found a job. We were married eighteen months later. She started law school while working and I was getting my MBA at night and working as well. We were busy but we had a seven year plan. Save money while getting our degrees. Graduate, find “power jobs” on the East Coast (Boston) and start a family three to four years after getting ourselves established. We were focused…and naïve. One semester into Law School my wife announced she was pregnant and our seven year plan was in the trash can.
More than twenty years later we have three children, my wife never finished law school. I have a “Power job”; we have moved seven times. My wife has returned to the workforce now that our kids are older and she is growing her career…just not in law. We have never lived in Boston and Florida is now our longer term goal. Our plan got derailed and it was okay. In fact it was better than okay. We wouldn’t change much of anything. It is great to have a plan…just keep it flexible.
3. There never is a perfect time for anything
Three months before our second child was born my wife was given a promotion. She would make more money and she was allowed to work from home two days a week (A nearly unheard of thing back twenty years ago). At the same time I took a call from a recruiter. I did this just to “Test the waters.” Our son was born in November. I was offered the job in December. We discussed it and my wife was feeling more “mom” than corporate executive to be. We moved for my new job in January. My salary went up. Hers disappeared. Our mortgage was bigger and we made a lot less money. We lived near Toledo, Ohio and it was the dead of winter.
Looking back on it I would have struggled to recommend this move to my younger self. My job was going fine (I still had another two semesters to finish my MBA so this complicated things). My wife’s career was growing; we had another child and a very flexible work situation. Yet, that move led to me gaining the right experience to make another move… away from the cold Midwest down to Jacksonville, Florida with a fortune 200 company (Anheuser-Busch) while allowing my wife to stay home with the kids which was part of our “new” plan. This all happened in under three years.
Had we stayed I am confident things would have been “fine” but the move we made actually was more closely aligned with how we wanted to live our lives then and into the future. It led to a very good career for me and allowed my wife to focus on the kids (which had become her true priority) who though I am admittedly biased have turned out very well. It just wasn’t a slam dunk from a timing perspective. In reality there never would have been a perfect time. If it feels like the right move and you have aligned your thinking and goals then I suggest you worry less about the timing and focus more on the degree to which the move helps you meet your goals and dreams.
4. Compounding Interest Makes You Rich…If You Start Early
As soon as you can you need to start planning for your retirement. Yes, you may have just graduated or you may be just about to graduate but retirement is in your future. The charts below detail the math much better than I can but if the thought of saving for your retirement now seems odd or even the wrong thing to do just after you have graduated, think of it this way…money gives you freedom. Everybody wants freedom so start saving for your freedom. It doesn’t mean you won’t work it just means you will have choices and not be forced to stay in a job or career that you’d rather leave. So save. Save to have choices. Save to be free.
5. Engage Your Community. Volunteering Can Be A Great Network
If I have one real complaint about my current role it is that I travel too often and find it hard to firmly establish firm roots in my town…even after nearly nine years. Being away on such a frequent yet inconsistent basis means I often miss out on chances to engage with my greater community. Whether it is a fund raiser, a motivational talk being offered at the local college or even a volunteering event on a weekend, I often find I am invited and unable to be in town due to work obligations and I find this frustrating.
One of the best ways to enhance your work life balance is get involved with something outside of work. I know a number of highly respected very successful business people and executives who have many things in common but the one thing that stands out is that they are involved in their community. One person in particular is my “Go to guy” for expanding my network and it never fails that he met the person he introduces me to through a community effort, board appointment or volunteer group. In short, it is a great way to clear your head and it can provide you countless contacts. So get involved…you won’t regret it.
Next Week – Part II