It’s been a year since I wrote the blog below but two years since I first really thought about what to tell the boys when leaving for their adventures. Two years later, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. As I coach new graduates, it’s sometimes hard not to put my “mom” hat and rattle off the 14 things below.  As we work through the challenges of the first real job hunt, there is always a sharp sting of reality that is balanced with hope for the future. If we achieve that, then perhaps, that is success.

The Non-Passion Commencement Speech – or – 14 Things to Tell Your Young Adult When Graduating College

Passion. Do what you love. Find your strengths. Love what you do. We’ve heard or read it all and drank the Kool-aid. passion koolaid

On National Public Radio this morning a recent college graduate, Max Kornbith, questioned this common mantra shared at college commencement speeches of finding, following and living your passion. Stumped by his lack of passion, Max requested assistance from economist, Tyler Cowen.  Cowen and a small group of economists asked Max a variety of questions but in the end, did not advise Max on a career.

The reality is we grow and change. Industries grow and change. We may grow into leaders or experts in our field. We may morph into other careers and professions of our own choice or respond to external business and industry factors.  What we don’t want to do is become extinct because we are not evolving or adaptable, even if we are living our passion.

I’ve certainly had this “passion” conversation with both sons as well as used this concept in my career and in my career coaching. Yet, there is a reality to a job and work life.

I’m not a mom but I am a step mom and grateful that I can be helpful in my stepsons’ lives. We are a bit guilty of being hover-parents but we are fortunate both boys are doing what they love albeit 800 or more miles from home. Both took a risk and I am incredibly proud of their courage.

Regardless of where your young adult is heading, there are always things you wish you had told them. You may wish you had that special last moment like parents in the past sending young adults off across the prairie to the Oregon territory, transitioning them to college, moving to a big city, immigrating to the US, going into the military or just heading off on their own for a global adventure. I think we all want our kids to be accountable, successful and independent. We want to see them get along with others, do well in their jobs, truly enjoy their work, and have a long, employment life.

If I were to give a commencement speech it would include these 14 points I wish I had a chance to tell the boys. I probably won’t get any accolades because it doesn’t include the magic word of passion, but the best things we can send our children off is a dose of reality sheltered and supported by hope and encouragement.

If I could “do-over” our last special moment it would include:

  1. I’m sorry. I wish it was different but life isn’t perfect. But, life is good.
  2. Dissatisfaction can be a motivator.
  3. We encouraged you to dream. Continue to dream big.  Dream jobs do come along but they may not be your first job. That’s OK.
  4. For the most part, bosses are doing the best they can. They aren’t perfect. Figure out a way to get along.
  5. Work helps you decide what you enjoy and don’t enjoy doing. Give everything a try.
  6. Organizations are trying hard to create better work environments for their employees. But you are still ultimately responsible for finding the joy in your work.
  7. Making connections and building relationships will help you just as much if not more than education in helping your career.
  8. You have strengths but use them properly. Identify and manage the “dark side” of your strengths. Your strength could be critical thinking but don’t become a critic no one wants to be around.
  9. Everyone has barriers or constraints that can prevent them from success. Try to find a way to grow outside of your comfort zone.
  10. Be kind even when you don’t feel like it.
  11. Remember people when you make decisions. Try to see things from the other side.
  12. Balance logic with empathy.
  13. The less than perfect job can build important skills and characteristics like patience, flexibility, adaptability, and cool stuff like idea generation and creativity.
  14. Difficulties and disappointments can make you bitter or better. Choose the latter.

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