It seems like yesterday, but it’s now been more than 40 years since I received my undergraduate degree from UConn. Seniors, you are about to step over that same threshold, and if your experiences are anything like mine have been so far, hold on tight! It’s a wild and crazy ride.
Sometime after I completed college, Jay Rothberg, one of my Zeta Psi brothers who was a few years ahead of me, shared a list of suggestions for career, personal and leadership success that I reread each year. They have truly helped me avoid many “life-traps” along the way. Let me share them with you.
1. Postpone specialization. While it is in your employer’s best interest to have you specialize, it’s in your best interest to delay specialization. Gain knowledge and experience in as many areas as you can.
2. Be flexible. Too many people are unwilling to be flexible. Don’t complain about occasional drudge work, and don’t reject a relocation offer out-of-hand. Remember, as Calvin Coolidge said, “The winning edge is not in a gifted birth — or a high IQ — or in talent. The winning edge is in attitude, not aptitude.”
3. Go into work a little early, stay a little late, but remember to stay healthy and sharp. Sadly, there are too many clock watchers. Your boss won’t be one, and you shouldn’t. You should also stay healthy, by eating right, getting regular exercise, and doing stress relief exercises. Some years ago, John Malloy wrote “Dress for Success,” which I found very helpful in terms of what to and what not to wear at work.
4. Keep up professionally. Set aside one evening a week to keep up-to-date in your chosen field (or fields you are still seriously considering).
5. Continue perfecting your writing skills. Your speaking and oral communication skills may be excellent, but the first time the top people in your company will know of your existence will be through a report you will have written.
(Added note: Never send out sloppy, grammatically incorrect, or cutesy e-mails at work. And be especially careful with social media.)
6. Work for climbers, not conservers.
7. Make your boss’s surprises pleasant ones. Keep him/her informed. Strive to produce. As Peter Drucker says, “Nobody wants to hear of your labor pains, they just want to see the baby.”
8. Hone your selling skills. You’re always selling a new product, a new idea or yourself.
9. Become a problem-solver. Our country is full of problem identifiers, but precious few have the ability and guts to solve problems. In memos to your boss, always provide a recommendation.
10. Paraphrasing Wayne Gretzky, “Don’t skate to where the puck is now — skate to where it’s going to be.”
11. Embrace technological change. It’s going to keep changing the way we live and work. As soon as you leave college, your technology skill set will begin to become obsolete.
12. The biggest risk in your career is taking no risk at all. If opportunity is there, take it. This includes starting your own business.
13. Success comes to those who are persistent, focused, and organized. No matter what the endeavor, you can only be successful once you clarify your objectives and focus on achieving them. The link between goals and success is well established. (I recommend preparing written, definitive goals once a year: People who set goals accomplish more.) It’s important to remember:
- Nothing is as easy as it appears.
- Everything takes longer than expected.
- As Murphy said, if anything can go wrong, it will — and at the worst possible moment. And remember O’Toole’s corollary: Murphy was an optimist!
- Any time things seem to be getting better, something has been overlooked.
- People have the right answers to all problems — but those answers disappear when those people are put in a position where they can really understand the problem, and can do something about it.
- Whatever happens, there is always someone who knew it would.
14. Be prepared to enjoy several careers. Be attentive and flexible. In the first 10 years, the average person has six to seven jobs.
15. Save at least 10 percent of your annual income for retirement.
16. Buy a house and pay It off in 10 years.
17. Recognize that effectively balancing family and career is close to impossible, but you’ve got to do the best you can.
18. Make a difference in a young person’s life.
19. Be supportive of your parents. They’ll say they don’t want to be a burden on you, but they probably will be. Always keep in mind how much they gave to you as you grew up.
20. Be happy with what you’ve got. You’ve got so much already. Don’t waste your life feeling like you have to have more and more.
Congratulations on your soon to be realized achievement. And most importantly, “ENJOY LIFE, THIS IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL.”
Steve Rogers is the president of Subway Development Corp. of New England. He is a Leadership Legacy mentor, was a founding board member of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership and was a former national president of the University of Connecticut Alumni Association.