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The 3 Advice Tips Commencement Speeches Never Mention

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The best commencement speeches inspire us to be better people by offering us guiding principles by which to live. Yet, as graduation slowly becomes a distant memory, I’d like to share a few themes that commencement speeches often overlook. To all the new graduates and young professionals who are just starting your careers, this one’s for you.

Here are the three things that may not have been mentioned on your graduation day that will help you to begin to maneuver in the real world.

1) The Identity Change

Your identity is about to change in a big way. For over a decade, you have primarily self-identified as a student. By graduation, you had undoubtedly perfected your own unique combination of procrastination, cramming, and caffeine that worked for you during finals week.

Moving forward, your student identity has now been replaced by your role as an employee or entrepreneur. Your dress and mindset will change and 3 p.m. nap time will become a thing of the past.

Changing your identity takes time and energy.

2) The Learning Curve

The first few years in the workforce involve a steep learning curve. Not only are you learning how to do your job, you’re also learning how to set up your lifestyle in a way that supports yourself as a working adult.

While living on a college campus, your classes, friends, and favorite spin class were all within walking distance of each other. Now you’re dealing with a commute, your friends have spread out across the country, and spin class feels like the last thing you want to do once you get home from work.

Of the many young professionals I have spoken to who have been in the workforce for five or more years, they have all consistently found their first two years as professions extremely challenging. Know that feeling in over your head while you’re in the middle of this learning curve is normal and that life will become less overwhelming in the years to follow.

3) The Relationship between Compensation and Quality of Life

This one is a biggie. Common commencement advice recommends that recent graduates, “Do what you love.” I agree with the sentiment, but no one breaks down its implications.

In general, there is an inverse relationship between compensation and the quality of your life. Note that I said quality of life, not standard of living.

Pay is called compensation for a reason. It compensates for the less than ideal aspects of jobs. When a job is inherently enjoyable, there is less of a need for society to entice people with money to go after it.

This cuts two ways. If you are thinking of becoming a lawyer because you’ll make a lot of money, realize that along with this sizeable paycheck comes a big lifestyle hit involving late nights, weekend work, and the dreaded billable hours.

Conversely, if you’re considering becoming a stand-up comedian because you love it and you get so much intrinsic enjoyment out of writing your jokes and performing, realize that this profession comes with less pay, particularly when you’re first starting out.

There are definitely exceptions to this seesaw between compensation and quality of life. My wish for you would be that you do what you love and get paid handsomely for it, but when picking your career direction please take a minute to consider the impact your choice will make on both your bank account and your quality of life.

Congratulations class of 2013! With the combined efforts of your commencement speaker and this article you are now fully prepared for the real world.

What advice were you told at graduation that turned out to be spot on? What do you know now that you wish you would have been told as a new graduate? Leave a comment below.


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As a recent grad, I can definitely say that number one is a big difference. Being a student is an easy tag for your identity and leaving that behind makes it difficult to even understand yourself at times, much less present yourself to others!

Number three is a big one for me. I've always leaned towards the more "creative" professions, but the thought of not making enough money, and possibly having to rely on others, really freaks me out. I think that sometimes people aren't honest, especially around commencement, about the challenges that come with living on your own and not making any money, and I appreciate how candid this article is about that issue.

I believe that recognizing there is a learning curve in life is really important. There's a huge learning curve in moving from high school to college, and an even bigger one post-graduation. Accepting the fact that you are going to have to struggle and learn new things will help ease the transitions!

I really like this article! Commencement speeches are of course meant to be lofty, dreamy, and inspiring, but it is also critical to come down from the clouds at least a little and not forget to think practically about the life change, compensation, etc

So true. I remember when I first graduated from college I missed the variety of different classes and activities. I kept thinking, 'You mean you want me to work with this one subject all day, every day?!'

Great point Olivia!

One of my mentors, Martha Beck, offers this mantra for when we're in the middle of an identity change: "I don't know what the hell is going on... and that's okay." It always makes me smile.

Thanks so much Lauri! I'm glad it resonated with you. :)

Having graduated about 5 years ago, I do wish someone warned us about #1 because that student identity took awhile to shed itself. Same goes with #3, some people are lucky enough to be doing what they love or even just knowing what they love. Most of the time it's going through cycles of trial and error and. Thanks for pointing this out. And new grads, take note!

I believe to a certain degree it's about emotional intelligence. I did not learn about or develop these skills in business school. I developed these skills when working in many different companies.

The shift in identity from student to worker is a big deal that really isn't spoken about.

You're on point that it takes some trial and error to find your way! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Interesting point. There is certainly something to be said for real world experience. It's a knowledge base that is quite different from what we learn in school!

I dreaded having to say good-by to my 3pm nap time once I graduated college....I was the queen of the "midday power nap" LOL!

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