Unsolicited Advice for High School Grads

“The one piece of advice I would give recent high school graduates is….”

That is the question posed last week by the the dee-jays of a radio station on its “Finish Line Friday” program. People called in with all sorts of endings to that statement, ranging from the silly to the serious (and sort of depressing). As I listened to what everyone else thought was good advice for new high school graduates, I couldn’t help but think of what would say. It actually turned out to be harder than I thought, as the longer I thought about the advice that popped into my head right away, I found they weren’t necessarily the best nuggets of advice to give our high school graduates. For example…

Stay in college as long as possible. Working in the real world isn’t great as it looks. Yes, that may be true: for most working adults, the joys of college are a distant memory. No more month-long breaks for the holidays; no more hanging out with your best friends 24/7; no more functioning on less than 4 hours of sleep. But while staying in college certainly has its perks, those student loan balances you will face later in life won’t be so awesome. When I started working, I was sad that I didn’t take the 5- or 6- or 7-year path to getting my degree. But now as I pay out my hard-earned money each month towards my student loans, I’m so thankful I completed my under-grad in four years. Think forward, grads!

Do what you love, no matter what anyone tells you. I strongly believe this. Certainly, following your dreams and passions is probably the quickest way to happiness. But…to an 18-year-old, perhaps this isn’t the best advice. When I was headed to college, I had big dreams of becoming a famous author and living in a fabulous apartment in NYC. That changed after I took an introductory accounting class my first semester and switched my major to accounting before the class was even over. My decision was fueled by two factors:

1. I was very good at all this debit and credit stuff, and

2. I would never have to look too hard for a job in the accounting field, according to my professor (and my career advisor, my parents, my upper-classmen friends and just about everyone else I told I was going to major in accounting)

And they were right. I was BLESSED to have multiple jobs offers when I graduated from Heidelberg with a bachelors in accounting and later when I graduated with a masters in the same field. And it’s not that I was some sort of accounting wizard – it’s just that accountants are very much needed. Do I have the big apartment in NYC where I spend countless hours pouring my heart and soul into the written word? Um, no. But do I have a stable career and steady income? Yes, I do. Job security is what allows me to follow my passion because of I love to write, not because I need to make rent.

So what would I tell a recent high school graduate?

I’ve thought about it a lot, and what I truly wish someone would have told me when I was 18-years-old was just to RELAX. People all around me kept stressing the importance of going to college, getting a job and finding someone to start a family with, all while enjoying myself because “these are the best years” of my life. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid – and, as I found out, it was unnecessary pressure. As they always do, things work out – and almost nothing like you have planned.

So, class of 2013, here is my advice:

Take your time deciding what you want to do now that you’ll be entering the “real world”.

Don’t stress about letting others down – you’ll never, ever make everyone happy.

Enjoy your college years, but remember that hard work will pay off, so make sure you find time to beef up your resume in between all the fun.

Treat everyone you encounter with respect; that is a true measure of character, and I guarantee you will never regret it.

And finally, whenever anyone says life doesn’t get any better than this, have peace knowing that they are wrong. Because it does.

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