As graduates across America bask in the pomp and circumstance of commencement festivities, I have tried to reflect on the indispensable words of wisdom famed news anchor Dan Rather shared with my fellow classmates and me during his commencement address to the University of Texas, College of Communication, Class of 2002. … As it turns out, I can’t remember a word he said.
Here are 10 pieces of advice I wish someone had told me (or that I had written down) at graduation:
1. Listen. Duh!
Just like in postapocalyptic movies, when someone who has gone before you takes time to report back on what lies ahead, listen! In fact, write it down. Even if what they have to say doesn’t make sense or seem relevant right now, as “the old folks” say, “If you just keep on living ….”
2. That said, your parents only know what they know.
While your parents were right about more things than you’re willing to acknowledge yet, you’ll discover that they were wrong about a few things too. Be open to the possibility that some of the things you were taught were misguided or just plain wrong. Don’t hold it against them.
3. Life is once.
People waste years, decades and entire lifetimes chasing other people’s dreams. You don’t have to know what your dream is on graduation day. Try several options until you figure out what fulfills you. And when that thing stops fulfilling you, try something else. You only get to do this thing once. So make the most of it.
4. Screw the stats.
For women and people of color, the statistics concerning the number of people who look like you who have succeeded in your desired field can be dispiriting. However, we need people like you to be bold and fearless in the face of these odds. Someone has to crack the door open, kick it down, climb on top of the table and start chipping away at the ceiling so that when you’re invited to give a commencement speech to a new crop of dreamers, those statistics won’t be so harrowing.
5. Closed mouths don’t get fed.
Once you figure out what you want to do with your life, tell everyone who will listen and ask if he or she or anyone he or she knows can help. You will be surprised at how many people are willing to help if they know what you need.
6. Express gratitude.
Never let someone help you or even offer to think about the possibility of maybe, perhaps, one day helping you without thanking them. People who take the time to say “thank you” receive more help, and you can accomplish just about anything with enough people helping you. By the way, have you ever received a handwritten thank-you note? It’s thrilling! Your mother was right about sending those.
7. If you can, you must.
When people talk about networking, they often focus on what you can get out of networking, but giving fuels the entire machine. So when people ask for your help, if you can, you must. Answer their calls and don’t let their emails languish in your inbox. Someone’s willingness to answer your call or respond to your email is the only reason you have resources and connections to share with someone else in the first place.
8. Worry about yourself.
Don’t compare your success with other people’s. It’s unfair to you because you end up comparing your behind-the-scenes footage witih other people’s highlight reels. You never know what someone else had to do to get or keep what he or she has, and as it relates to your life, it doesn’t matter. Comparing yourself with others causes you to be blind to your own favor.
9. Your self-esteem is clutch.
A healthy self-esteem is more valuable than any diploma or network of connections. There may even come a time when your confidence in your own worth is the only thing you have left to hang your hat on. Protect and nurture it at all costs because there are plenty of people who will tell you that you aren’t good enough, and you can’t be one of them.
10. Set aside some “f-you money.”
When you make money, save some, stack it and set it aside. Should a boss place an unwelcome hand on your thigh or you find out that your husband has started another family on the other side of town, if you can help it, you don’t want lack of money to be the reason you stay.
What pieces of advice do you wish you had received when you graduated?
Akilah Green is a recovering Washington, D.C., lawyer-lobbyist-politico turned TV and film writer and producer living in Los Angeles. She currently works for Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show, Chelsea. She has also worked as a staff writer for Kevin Hart’s production company, HartBeat Productions, and as a consultant for Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO. In addition, she co-wrote and is producing Scratch, an indie horror-comedy feature film, and is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow Green’s adventures in La La Land on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.