Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

When I was your age, hrrmff, hrrmff

Tonight is the annual Alumni Forum at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, my alma mater. Every year they invite the S&M alumni to come out and talk to the graduating seniors . . . ostensible to give career advice and encouragement, but also to try to tie them into the involved-alumni community and (ultimately) donators to the school.

This is my favorite alumni event of the year. It's even more fun than the reunions, because you get to talk directly to the students. We swap stories with the students, learn the gossip, retell our misadventures and the disciplinary action that followed . . . and that's all in the hallways before we actually get to the panel discussions.

It's not that often that you get asked the completely open-ended question: "So, what advice do you have for me?" It's a really flattering question, because the stakes of the outcome are high. You just might be able to push a student in the right direction as they head out into the world. Unfortunately, it also leads to toxic levels of self-involvement in the panelists (and I am no exception). Everybody, no matter how good or bad they're lives have turned out to be, thinks they have something to say about how others should live their lives.

So, trying to keep my ego in check, I tell them the things that I think nobody else will tell them:
  1. Some people know exactly what they are going to do with their lives and careers when they get out of high school. Those people, the ones with really exceptional talents and passionate interests, have a vocation and should pursue it. The other 98% of people need to take time to find out what they want to do, and they should use college as an opportunity to explore that question, rather than charging through it with the notion of win-win-win job-job-job.
  2. Everyone who gives you career advice will almost always tell you to do what they did. So when someone tells you what to do, be sure to ask what they did, and let that factor into your decision.
  3. Before you commit yourself to a graduate program, try to find a low-risk way to work in that environment for a while. You learn a tremendous amount about the good and the bad of a program by hanging around it for a while . . . you best see what the culture is like before you sign on the dotted line.
  4. Don't be afraid to commit yourself to your family. It's a valid vocation. We need smart moms.
  5. For that matter, don't be afraid to define yourself by things other than your career. Some vocations do not lend themselves to careers, and vice-versa.
  6. You can have it all . . . just not all at the same time. Accept the fact that you will have to make some hard decisions about what's important to you.
  7. Your relationships with other people are the most important thing in life. Your success in business, family, and spiritual life are directly tied to those relationships. Cultivate the right relationships. Don't neglect them.
  8. Don't worry about finding a job right away. There are lots of jobs out there for smart people.
  9. Almost nobody I know is doing the same thing they started out doing. Be prepared to make several career changes.
  10. Your grades will get your first job, or your graduate degree. That's it. They are not nearly as important as you think they are.
  11. When you're in college, run something. Find a leadership position somewhere, be it a club, an association, a business, a political movement, something. You will learn more useful stuff that way (both hard and soft skills) than from all your classwork.


Post a Comment

<< Home