Graduation is here. You’ve worked hard to achieve this milestone, and now that your efforts have paid off, the world is waiting for you to take it on. Yes, you’ve learned a lot, and you know that forging a career and a life of your own are next on the agenda. But how will you know whether the first steps you take are leading you in a positive direction? Needless to say, a few pearls of wisdom alongside all of the graduation gifts you’re receiving wouldn’t go amiss.
Take a deep breath—you don’t have to start going it alone the minute your diploma is in your hand. There are a lot of tried-and-true pieces of wisdom in the world—and if you pay attention to them and put them into action, those truths can guide you in the direction of great things.
“Success is about getting the fundamentals right,” points out Ben Newman, coauthor along with Dr. Justin B. Short of the new book Pocket Truths for Success: 365 Daily Principles to Become the Most Successful Person You Know (Mill City Press, Inc., January 2011, ISBN: 978-1-936400-67-6, $12.95, www.continuedfight.com ). “There’s no magic bullet for building a home-run life—you have to get up every day and hit singles and doubles.”
Newman believes that there are certain truths every graduating senior—and, in fact, every person in general—could benefit from knowing, and he’s gathered a year’s worth of them together to help and guide you during your first year tackling “the real world.”
“You may have heard some of these short, sweet, success-oriented instructions before,” Dr. Short adds. “But they bear repeating because they’ve withstood the test of time, and because if you take them to heart, they’ll help you get the fundamentals right.”
There are 365 daily principles found in Pocket Truths for Success, and Newman and Dr. Short have chosen 29 to showcase here, as well as short explanations of why each is important for graduates to know:
The first impression is made in the first 90 seconds. Each time you encounter a new person, he or she forms an opinion of you that’s surprisingly difficult to change as time goes by. So don’t underestimate the value of a well-groomed appearance, firm handshake, a friendly smile, and a genuine demeanor—they’ll help you start relationships off on the right foot every time.
Your age does not matter. You might be intimidated by your relatively young age and inexperience right now. Never forget, though, that quality is as important as quantity. Your ideas, your commitment, your character, and your willingness to grow and improve are every bit as valuable as years on the job.
Dress the part. College students have gotten a bad rap for wearing pajamas and sweat pants to class—but the fact is, our society as a whole has gotten into a casual routine, and we’ve moved away from dressing our best. Yes, it’s important to express yourself and to be fairly comfortable, but so is wearing appropriate clothing. When you dress as though you’re already in the position you’d like to have, you’re one step closer to being there.
Be the plow horse, not the show horse. Focus on doing diligent, reliable, honest work, not on receiving accolades. If you put in the hours and truly earn the respect you want, your time in the spotlight will last longer and will be much more fulfilling.
Set goals that scare you. Then set bigger goals. Many wise individuals have pointed out the importance of living outside your comfort zone. That’s because if you’re not challenging yourself you’re probably not growing—so set goals that you know will stretch your intellect, your persistence, and your ingenuity. And once you’ve achieved them, set more. Think of these goals as being your “life plan.” Staying focused on your goals will help you not to inadvertently waste time and effort. And most of all, remember that what gets planned gets done.
Take great notes. Taking notes in every situation is a great habit to develop. Whether you’ve just had dinner with your significant other’s parents or have just left an important meeting at work, jot down important points. Your memory is never as good as you think it is—and when you record important information (whether it’s your prospective mother-in-law’s favorite flower or the finer points of your boss’s sales strategy), you give yourself a way to meaningfully connect later.
Never overestimate the competition or underestimate yourself. It’s good to have a healthy respect for the competition, as well as an accurate understanding of your own weaknesses. But don’t let this knowledge keep you from trying. Remember, no one is perfect—and you yourself possess many strengths and assets!
If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit that you don’t. Find the answer and return to the person. This will benefit you both. When you don’t have the answer you need, your immediate inclination might be to fib, hedge, or prevaricate. Resist those impulses and, even though it may mean humbling yourself and swallowing your pride, be honest about what you don’t know. This will win you the respect of others with integrity, and will also give you the chance to find the correct answer rather than one that might confuse and mislead.
Cheaper isn’t always better. Yes, you’re young, you’re full of ambition…and you’re probably also broke, or at least close to it. For now, you can get by with a secondhand kitchen table if you need to, but realize that, if there’s any way you can afford it, there are some things that are worth the money. For example, a quality suit that fits will look better and last longer. And eating cereal and ramen noodles for every meal might not cost much—but your body will perform much better on a healthy diet.
Be a great self promoter. You are your own best advocate—period. Learn to volunteer when your skills are needed, and always try to add value to any organization or endeavor you’re a part of. Remember, your actions as well as your words can show people that they want you on their team.
Be humble. In our reality-show culture, it’s not surprising that people are more than eager to toot their own horns, especially if they think it will win them recognition or a spot in the limelight. So when you let your actions and character speak for themselves, people notice. The truth is, humility doesn’t mean being a meek, weak pushover…it just means you’re not a showboat. When you let humility govern your decisions and actions, you’ll be vulnerable in a good way—others will feel comfortable approaching you and connecting with you.
Own great suits and learn to tie a good knot. You’ll need a classy, good-quality suit to wear to interviews—and possibly to your first job as well! (And guys, make sure you can tie a tie well…sloppy knots and clip-ons won’t do you any favors.) While inner character is important, never forget that what people see forms a large part of their opinion of you. Plus, when you wear clothes that you know look great, you’ll feel and act more confident.
Donate money to great charities. At this stage in your life, you might be tempted to hoard every cent that comes your way. But remember that useful donations don’t have to be large (and also that not all valuable donations are monetary!). The fact is, giving back will make you feel good, will help you to grow in important ways, and will give you a valuable connection to humanity at large.
Do not burn bridges. You never know when a word spoken in anger, frustration, or even disgust might come back to haunt you. Remember that people change, and realize that treating everyone with respect, in spite of negative circumstances, will give you a reputation for fairness and integrity.
If you must choose between wealth and character: Choose character. Our culture seems to value success—in other words, money, power, and status—more and more highly. However, this kind of “wealth” all too often comes at the expense of integrity, balance, and healthy relationships. When you choose to preserve and develop your character over your bank account, you’ll be making the far wiser investment in your future—and you’ll attract the sorts of people and opportunities that you really want.
Support your peers; the impact is greater when they also succeed. You’ve probably heard that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and that you have to put Number One first. Yes, seek success for yourself—but not by throwing others under the bus. The fact is, when you support others, your collective efforts will achieve much more. Plus, you’ll have a source of help when you need it.
Celebrate success! We’ve become a culture that talks about and dwells on the things we don’t get right rather than the things we do. (For instance, is the exam you failed or the exam you aced likely to occupy your mind longer?) Yes, it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize so that small victories don’t cause you to become complacent. But on the other hand, all work and no play will make you a dull graduate. When something positive happens, acknowledge it! Celebrating your own successes (as well as those of others) serves as a great motivator and reward and is also a wonderful way to relieve stress.
Send handwritten thank-you notes. In an increasingly digital age, this is one tradition that is best left in its original form. Writing out your appreciation by hand shows true gratitude—and receiving a personalized note will always have a more profound effect than an email. Send thank-you cards to coworkers who have helped you, to clients who have been loyal, to mentors who have guided you, and much, much more.
The biggest obstacles mask the greatest opportunities. Outside the world of fairy tales, you usually don’t get something for nothing. You can either put in mediocre efforts for mediocre results, or you can push yourself to overcome more than you ever thought possible…and achieve a truly great outcome.
Be your own boss. Yes, be in charge of steering your own course in life, and don’t allow other people to make important decisions for you. Being your own boss means more than this, though. It also means being accountable for your own actions, taking responsibility for tasks that are given to you, and not passing the buck (even if you can theoretically get away with it).
Be on time. You’ve heard this one practically since birth—and it’s still great advice today. Punctuality is a good trait to have for many reasons: Being late makes you seem less responsible to others, and it makes you a nervous wreck. When you’re running behind schedule, it’s also more difficult to roll with the punches and accommodate life’s little deviations from “the plan.” Just remember that whatever you’re doing will always take longer than you think—so budget your time accordingly!
Pay for lunch. You don’t have to shell out for grub every day, but offering to pay once in awhile gets people’s attention. It’ll mark you as a team player who truly cares for others. Also, consider taking people you admire out to lunch from time to time. Talk to them about how they reached their current levels of success and ask their advice regarding your own future.
Learn what the best do and imitate it. Throughout your life you’ll come into contact with people who have done well for themselves, but not at the expense of others. Watch them carefully, work with them if you can, and ask them for advice. Find out what they do differently—often, it’s nuances that set them apart. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel in order to become the best. Simply be observant and put together a “best practices” manual to use as you move forward.
Let your YES mean YES and your NO mean NO. Be a person of your word. Period. Don’t give in to the temptation to tell white lies, to engage in double talk, or to renege on a promise. Gaining a reputation for reliability will set you apart, will help you build genuine relationships, and will make others want to partner with you.
Be committed to self-improvement. Yes, you’ve graduated from school…but that doesn’t mean you’re finished learning and growing. Constantly strive to improve your mind, your relationships, your knowledge base, your empathy, and more. You will notice new things about yourself, about others, and about the world around you that will continue to open doors and propel you forward.
Putting others down is the quickest way to lower oneself. In business and in your personal life, make this your mantra. Saying negative things about other people in a non-constructive way only showcases your own insecurities. And on top of that, “mudslinging” does nothing to show people why you yourself are valuable.
Be the best at treating others well. This goes back to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When you treat others well—better, in fact, than anyone else treats them—you will see your honesty and kindness reflected back into your own life. More people will seek you out, more people will respect you, and more people will be willing to put in a good word (or action) on your behalf.
Discover what you do best and focus on that. We live in a culture that expects us to do everything well. Think about it—did you spend more time learning more about the subjects you loved in school, or did you spend it trying to bone up on what you couldn’t seem to get a handle on? You’ll do much better for yourself (and for the world at large) if you identify your strengths and passions and develop them to the best of your ability. It’s better to be great in one area than passable in all of them—and remember, there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it!
You will have your share of good and bad luck. Your success is determined by how you handle the bad. No matter how much you plan, how well you prepare, or how good your intentions, you’ll experience failures amongst your successes. That’s what it means to be human. You can’t always control what happens to you, but remember that you can control how you react to bad circumstances. You can choose to get up and keep going, or you can choose to stay knocked down.
“Life will never stop challenging your abilities, your integrity, and your motivation,” Newman concludes. “So you have two choices: You can meet life’s challenges forewarned and thus forearmed, or you can learn a lot of important lessons the hard way. As you navigate life’s obstacles, these pocket truths will give you a useful starting point in terms of forming good habits, attitudes, and viewpoints. And if you take them to heart, they’ll serve you well your whole life through.”
About the Authors:
Dr. Justin Short owns a dental practice and is a personal and business coach for other dentists. He and his wife, Rebekah, are also successful internet and real estate entrepreneurs. Justin’s passion lies in helping others succeed in the midst of adversity. He helped institute his community’s first dental program for drug rehabilitation patients and is active in providing dental treatment to underprivileged children. He is also active in We Love St. Charles (WLSC) as well. He and Rebekah live in St. Louis, Missouri, with their daughters, Reese and Rowan.