Hey, Class of 2013: Don’t Plan. Live
Most of you won’t end up doing what you set out to do. That’ll be good for you, and the world.
I didn’t go to my college commencement. I was too embarrassed.
I was embarrassed because I wasn’t graduating “on time.” I had been so lackadaisical for 3-1/2 years that it took me two extra semesters to get the credits I needed to graduate from New York University.
I turned in my best performance during those final semesters, but it wasn’t nearly strong enough to significantly improve a GPA battered by all the indifference which had preceded them. I ended strong, but had nothing really to show for it, I thought. Insult, meet injury.
I was a slacker before that’s what you called people like me. I didn’t go to most classes. I mean, at all. I majored in philosophy because there was no math. I dropped classes incessantly — hence the final sprint. My study ethic was to read 800 pages of advanced psychology the day before the final. And then I’d spend that day procrastinating and really only start at 8 PM.
I’m not proud of having been lazy. I was ashamed. For years I even concealed my college graduation date on social networks because I didn’t want anyone to do the math. “Wait, What – he graduated college five years after high school! Slacker!”
The point is, it mattered to me. It mattered a lot. It mattered way too much.
Timing is everything of course, but it isn’t the only thing. Parents obsess when their newborn is still in diapers way after his peer group isn’t. The wise ones in the mommy group know that there are no kids in diapers in kindergarten. Late bloomers actually do start in bloomers they wear late in life.
Look around you: There are kids who have already done way better than you and kids who have not done nearly as well. But remember: You’re all kids. Most of you won’t end up doing what you set out to do. That’ll be a good thing for you, and the world.
My first job out of college was as a bookstore clerk. I was a “temp” at Reuters for 2-1/2 years until they finally hired me full-time, at the same entry level position, news dictationist — and put me on company-mandated three months’ probation. It would be years before I made the far-from-certain leap to the re-write desk.
It felt like an eternity to me, but it was just a blip. You’ll spend a lot time over the next few years agonizing over your pace. Don’t. And if you must agonize, see a therapist — it’s even worse to pretend you aren’t stressing out over your success rate.
As I am successful as I could’ve been? Almost certainly not (though you, too, will have days when you just know you’re a complete fraud). Would I have made my father proud? No idea. Am I at peace with my place in the world? Yes.
The toughest job you’ll ever have is finding one that you enjoy. You can’t put a price on that position even if the world puts prices on things that require you to work at jobs you don’t like.
Of course, this is all very easy for me to say. And you have much better things to do. Like coping with the fact your best friend just got first-round funding for a project he started in his dorm room on a drunken dare. And studiously not figuring out how long it’s going to take to pay off your student loan.
Look at the bright side: Most startups fail, so casually bring up “Burn Rate” as you heartily congratulate your first-mover buddy (you also get to cross “schadenfreude” off your bucket list early). Rejoice in the knowledge that President Obama didn’t pay off his student loans until he was running for the US Senate. Take a moment to let sink in that no guidance counselor will ask you, ever again, where you’ll be in five years. Savor the knowledge that you’ll get paid to go someplace every day for the rest of your life instead of paying somebody for the privilege.
Now, don’t look around you. Be smug. You’re one up on all of them all now. You’re positive you have no idea where you’re going, and just as positive that anybody who says he does is an idiot.
And that ignorance will set you free.