With graduation season upon us, new graduates have much to celebrate after navigating a brutal year. Now they face a big transition from school to work (or further school, or gap year, or other pursuits). Here are tips to help them craft their life and work–and make big decisions that will serve them well.
Your work now is to find your work.
Don’t commit prematurely to the first path you walk. Don’t over-invest in or over-identify with a professional area without having pressure-tested the reality of it against your initial conception of it. Don’t satisfice. Create an intentional process for your search—a quest to discover your calling—and use “low-cost probes” to try things so you can learn where there is a good fit with your strengths, passions, values, purpose, and opportunities, and where there isn’t. Work hard in what you do, but don’t forget to work on finding what you want to do and where you can make a difference.
Avoid making choices for the wrong reasons.
You’re probably under a lot of pressure, both from yourself and others. As you look at work options, consider not only external motivations such as income and status but also internal ones such as meaning, values, and fulfillment. You’ll spend lots of time at work, so be intentional about finding a good fit for you. Don’t get caught up too much in “climbing mode” (focusing so much on climbing the ladder of success, and on achievement and advancement) without also complementing that with “discover mode” (discovering who you are, what you love, and what you long to do in the world).
Take the Traps Test
We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.
Work on something that matters.
Your days, weeks, and months all add up to something called your life, so make sure it’s something you’re excited about now and that you’ll be proud of when you look back. How will you have served others and made a difference?
Choose work where you can drink lessons out of a fire hose.
Yes, choose work where you can learn a ton from great people and daunting challenges. Invest in learning, growth, and development, and lean into challenge. These pay big dividends that compound over time.
Personal Values Exercise
Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.
Lead your life—your whole life.
That includes your professional endeavors, your health, mind, body, spirit, relationships, education, and whatever else you choose to pursue in life. Do you think you can presume to lead others without learning to lead yourself first?
Play the long game.
These days it’s easy to fall into the trap of playing the short game. Our culture is geared toward it. With our devices, we’re developing the attention span of a gnat. We swipe and scroll. We get fidgety with a few seconds of down-time. The power of the long game is astonishing.
Quality of Life Assessment
Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.
There will be a reckoning for your choices.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind, with so much to capture your attention. Don’t forget to look up and see the larger sweep of things. Some day in the future, you may find yourself wondering:
Is this what I wanted?
Did I choose this?
Is this a good life for me?
Get good at taking stock of the path you’re on. And be brutally honest with yourself. Better to face hard questions now. They get harder the longer you wait. Be like the buffalo and run into the storm, not away from it.
Here’s to celebrating all you’ve done so far, thanking all those who’ve helped you get where you are, and blazing your own path in life with courage and conviction. You’ll thank yourself for it someday.
Wishing you all the best!
Tools for You
- Traps Test (Common Traps of Living) to help you identify what’s getting in the way of your happiness and quality of life
- Quality of Life Assessment to help you discover your strongest areas and the areas that need work and then act accordingly
- Personal Values Exercise to help you clarify what’s most important to you
Watch my TEDx talk on LIFE Entrepreneurship and the importance of balancing “climbing mode” with “discover mode” as you chart your course in life and work.
- Alex Budak, “The Best Books for New Graduates,” Shepherd, Spring 2023
- Getting Good at Overcoming Fear
- Beware the Disease of More
- Are You Trapped by Success?
- The Conformity Trap
- Is Your Identity Wrapped Up Too Much in Your Work
- The Mental Prisons We Build for Ourselves
- Do You Have Margin in Your Life?
- The Trap of Deferring Dreams and Postponing Happiness
- The Trap of Caring Too Much about What Other People Think
- Tired of Settling? How to Light Your Life and Work on Fire
- Feeling Behind? It May Be a Trap
- The Comparison Trap
- Are You Playing the Long Game?
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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, TEDx speaker, and coach on leadership and personal development. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!