From Campus to Career: Essential Tips for New Grads (Part 1)

I remember leaving Elon College (now Elon University) in 1998. One of my best friends/roommate left before me. He drove away in a U-Haul and forgot his golf clubs. I realized it 15 minutes after he left and tried to chase him down, drove an hour up I-85 at 85 miles an hour before giving up the chase. Impossible to catch his lead foot even when dragging a trailer behind him. He wasn’t answering his cell so I turned around and headed back to Elon. The reality was, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

The next day I was on the road too. I was headed South back to Jacksonville, FL. Tears in my eyes, the best 4 years of my life in the rearview mirror. From the initial nerves of leaving home and meeting thousands of new people, to graduation, and every class, social event, new friendship, romantic moment, golf round, volunteer event, party, hangover, intramural sporting event, part-time job, and new experience in between, I loved all of it. Despite some serious challenges along the way, every moment was truly memorable.

When I got home, I moved back in with my mom. I love her dearly, and she has been a phenomenal influence on my life. However, after four years of freedom, living under any restrictions, even looser ones than in high school, just didn’t work for me. Thankfully, I had secured a decent job at Merrill Lynch Credit Corporation and was able to find a roommate, allowing me to strike out on my own with gusto and continued freedom. I was at work 3 days after graduation, and living in an apartment just a few days later.

However, this freedom comes with tremendous responsibility. And frankly, I wasn’t ready for it. Please hear this before I go on. I am not writing this to dissuade anyone from making mistakes. I am sharing the knowledge I gained from my mistakes to limit the depth and breadth of your own mistakes. Why is this important? The Law of Compounding. The sooner we get on a journey of personal growth and development in the real world, the more positive impact our good habits and resilience will stack in the form of successes over time, and the less our bad habits and negative experiences will bring us down.

Here are 10 areas where you might borrow some wisdom, I am also including quotes from some friends who are some of the most successful people I know in all aspects of life and business:

  1. Leave college behind!
    Well, at least the part of your college experience that has to do with excess. It was parties and alcohol for me, and I continued that phase well through my twenties and even into my thirties. Socializing and attending events is great, but my just-out-of-college crew took it to a whole new level and I was definitely one of the ringleaders. Drinking and going out 6 nights a week, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, Taco Bell or Krystal runs at 2:00 am. Calling out “sick” from work on more days than should have been possible. The habits were bad. Period. Even though it was fun, it came at the expense of my health and early career success. Where is the excess for you? It may be drugs, or it could be late-night eating, or video games, you are most likely aware of areas that could use reduction in your focus. Most things, even those that seem good like working late hours all the time or going to the gym, can become negative if taken to excess. Harmony across FORBES (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Body and Health, Education and Personal Development, Spirituality) categories is the target and is quite difficult to achieve. Aim for a little progress each day. The earlier you start, the more the compound effect will work for you.

  2. Stay connected with friends and family, and focus on building new relationships
    As my party phase wound down, I got really focused on career and personal development. I did a poor job, however, of sustaining friendships from college and developing new relationships outside of my work bubble. You’ve heard this before, relationships are a game-changer. It’s the truth. There are systems to help you intentionally stay in touch with people. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems can help you be proactive here. Social media has great benefits here too if used to build and develop connections. Proactive is the keyword. Even if you use your phone’s simple contact system, the key is to keep in touch with people who are important to you. Family too. Your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles won’t be around forever. Don’t take those relationships for granted. And, be intentional about forming new relationships. I hear people say they want to connect with “like-minded” people. Nope. Not like-minded, but like-principled. You want diversity of approach, of experience, of background, of mindset, and world view. Character and values are the real litmus test. And, with your relationships, make sure you are intentionally adding value through support, encouragement, and connecting people.

  1. Put the credit card down!
    Unless you pay off the balance every month, don’t spend it unless you have it. The only exception in my mind is if you are making an investment in yourself and you have a plan to pay it down beyond minimum payments. Otherwise, leverage should be used to acquire appreciating assets. Not to buy a round of drinks for your friends you can’t afford, or the clothing you can’t afford, or stay in a hotel you can’t afford on a vacation you can’t afford. Or buy too many cars, or streaming services, etc. Opportunity cost is real and when you consider the ridiculously high interest on credit card debt, you are wasting money compared to investing it for your future. Earn money and save a portion, invest a portion, spend a portion, and donate a portion. By definition, a portion is a part of a whole and should not be exceeded. Budgeting is a great place to start.

  2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
    There is no doubt about it, real growth and expansion happens almost entirely outside of (most of) our comfort zones. If you are always relaxed, and at ease, with no friction, and limited challenges, I would submit that you might not be stretching and living life to the fullest. When we make big moves that involve risk, when we start the new venture, go for that promotion, invest in a new relationship, try and land that big deal for our company, start a new exercise regiment, well these things generally cause some stress and perspiration! There is some fear involved. Life without fear is impossible, but life where your courage overcomes fears is a life well lived. Mistakes will come. We learn and get better. Make some adjustments. And as a result, we level up even if we need to change tactics.

  3. Work hard, play hard reframed
    Working hard is important. The discipline to do the right work correctly is a game-changer. Make sure you identify the most important aspects of your work and bring your absolute best to those things. But you also need to build in time for your health. You need strategic disengagement to recover. For me, the key has been to develop a strong work ethic that includes high-level effectiveness in the time I allocate to my craft. This allows me to be present and fully enjoy time away from my work. And, if the play-hard part for you includes overuse of substances like alcohol and drugs, stop it. If I could make an impact here, get that under control imminently. Seek help if needed. The negative effects can be catastrophic, and the major life improvement of replacing these bad habits with some good ones can be dramatic. Playing hard can be socializing without excess, and also sports, traveling, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, working out, you get the point.

Congratulations on reaching this incredible milestone! As you start the next chapter of your lives, I hope you find these insights helpful. Leaving college is both exciting and challenging, but it’s also a chance to grow.

Remember, progress, not perfection, is key. Each day is an opportunity to learn and grow, and the sooner you start your personal growth journey, the more you’ll benefit from your efforts.

Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll tackle five more tips and also hear from some very successful friends and family with their top tips!

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