To grads: Follow your dreams, but keep your day job


Holy cow, where do I start?

I have been writing these “advice to graduate” columns for almost four decades and each year some of the main points remain constant.

For example, go find some mentors.

Also, if you fail, move on.

You are young — that can be your advantage. And so on.

But this year? It has taken me a few weeks to put this message together. We are living in the strangest times.

At my current age, I could never have imagined living through a worldwide pandemic that killed 1 million Americans. Or watch as Russia pounds a perfectly innocent country into submission while threatening the rest of the world with nuclear annihilation. Or watch our federal government fumble and bumble on every conceivable serious issue.

Yes, these are strange times, indeed.

I worry a lot about this generation of graduates — that is, until I spend some time with them. The ones I hang around with are just wonderful. But these young people are way different from their parents and grandparents. They are among the first of the digital generation to graduate from high school and college.

It has been widely speculated that because of social media, these human beings are wired differently from previous generations. Their attention spans are smaller compared to the rest of us. Their faces are buried in their phones for countless hours of the day. A great many of them are paranoid because they have spent their whole lives barely avoiding being ruined socially by social media.

All of us, when we were in junior high and high school, walked through our days worried that someone would start some awful gossip about us. But that was child’s play compared to what the internet can do to a reputation of this generation.

My advice to grads today is to do what you love. I have long promised to write a booklet of advice to my grandkids called: “Follow Your Dreams — but keep your day job.” It is a work in progress.

In 1964 when I graduated from high school, the last thing we worried about was finding a job. Good-paying jobs were everywhere. It has taken 58 years for a similar time to come along.

A young Cowboy State Daily reporter Leo Wolfson begged to differ with my above conclusion about the easy job market today. “When I graduated college, it took me four months to get my foot in the door in journalism and another four months after that to find a halfway decent full-time job.

“There are lots of jobs out there no doubt, but due to the skyrocketing inflation and housing shortages, there are many jobs people aren’t taking because they simply don’t pay enough,” he concluded.

Up in Sheridan, Pat Henderson, who manages the fabulous Whitney Benefits, offers this advice for grads: “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If you believe in your idea — stick it out. Exhaust every opportunity to finish what you have dreamed. Remember your words always matter.

“These students should hold close the things that count — Family, God, Country, Friends, and Community. Be gracious and grateful. Have courage,” he says. 

Retired military leader Bob Tipton of Lander still advises young military men and women. “I am afraid we have young people who lack the skills or tools to deal with failure. They fail to understand that through failure you have the opportunity to get stronger.

“Failures we can’t protect them from and failures that will happen are a part of life. I believe that when a failure occurs there is an opportunity to not only learn from that failure but it makes us stronger and more resilient to handle future adversity. I believe there is a connection here to our increased suicide rates,” he says.

Thanks Leo, Pat, and Bob for that additional advice.

To wrap up, my last piece of advice concerns seeking a job. It is important to follow the latest trends – will this job be necessary in the next 10 years? Today’s employers know that these young people have strong social values and they will cater to them. Many of today’s young people are not willing to put in the extra time like most of my generation. I loved my work and couldn’t get enough of it.

Just remember this when you go to an interview. Look your future employer in the eye. Be prepared. Answer questions truthfully. Dress appropriately. And for God’s sake, leave that cell phone in your pocket.

Good luck and Godspeed.

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