Dear Class of 2021 (And Leaders)

graduates tossing caps in the air

In a few months there will be the usual onslaught of commencement speakers, albeit this time on ZOOM, across the nation. Since I won’t be speaking anywhere, here is the advice I would give to graduates. It happens to be the same advice I would give to leaders.

First off, read insatiably. Living in the Information Age, everyone is bombarded with information. We have more media than ever. Yet, we are becoming shallow and settling for crumbs rather than the full entree. This is why graduates should start with reading. Notice that reading is not skimming. It is also not listening. It is definitely not scrolling. It is reading, or the activity that people have done for thousands and thousands of years. It is a form of slowing, thinking, and contemplating. It is adamantly opposed to immediate reactions, meaning thinking is required!

What should you read? In short, everything. Your learning should be insatiable. It should challenge you, and at times, tick you off. There is a growing danger in our world of only skimming what we agree with. If you want to set yourself apart, read what you vehemently disagree with. Understand the other’s point of view. Don’t be surprised when others judge you for doing this because it will change you. It will also give you the kind of depth that is intimidating to those who are shallow. But press on, because you can only become the real you by reading insatiably. For, it is the surest way to self-discovery!

Next, define the endpoint. The endpoint is your destination. Others may disagree, but I found it impossible to “chase my passion” when I was twenty-years-old because I had so many passions. It was not until I read hundreds of books (yes hundreds!) that my passion became clearer. From there I could define the endpoint and set the course.

This advice seems obvious, but it is easy to fall prey to the temptation of chasing multiple endpoints. For example, some say their endpoint is a successful career in whatever field their passion is. In their next breath, however, they also claim to want to —eventually —be happily married with kids. The conventional advice nowadays is that you can have it all! I have come to discover that is only partly true. In this example, a successful career and happy family can be opposed. The career may cost more than the spouse, or kids, are willing to pay. So, which endpoint are you willing to sacrifice for?

I am not making a judgment statement on which one matters more. Rather, I am asking you to decide and be clear on your decision. What are your priorities, really? What does success look like to you? What can’t you live without? These are some of the questions you need to answer in order to define your endpoint. There is no rush in determining these answers, but they have to be determined eventually. Otherwise, you risk gaining the whole world and losing your soul.

Finally, this brings us to the last point, begin. Be impatient to start! Here is something I learned later, no one tells you when the race begins, so just start! If you want to be an entrepreneur, start a business online now. Learn what works in attracting customers, and also learn what does not. If it fails, so be it. The same can be said for just about any other field; start small, begin, and learn.

This last step takes what you have learned in reading, combines it with the direction you want your life to go, and tests it in the way a hypothesis is tested in a lab. Action is humble in its respect for the preciousness of time. For it never presumes time’s availability at a later date. So, out of gratitude it uses what’s there today by beginning.

These three together—reading insatiably, defining the endpoint, and beginning—place one at the start of a trail. Notice that your gender, sexuality, religion, race, or any other marker, does not matter to the advice given above. Nor, do the limiting beliefs inside your head, or of those around you.

All of that is noise.

What matters is your ability to take in the surroundings, absorb what is around you, and move towards your endpoint one step at a time.

So, let the journey begin!