In My Infinite Wisdom
June 18th, 2010

Earlier this week Jane posted a challenge to her fellow bloggers: write the commencement address that you would give.  I’ve sat through several commencement addresses, and most of them have been pretty worthless.  The one such address I’ve ever heard that I found worthwhile, or at least thought-provoking, was actually a Baccalaureate address.  I’ve thought a bit about what philosophical brilliance I might impart on young graduates, but after much mulling over I’ve decided that intangible insights are not what we need most as we embark upon the real world.  So, rather than stumble my way through something that would almost certainly be no better than those speeches I’ve heard in my past, I’m providing a list of real-life lessons I think would be most valuable to the new college grad.

The Financial

  • Pay yourself first.  When you sign up for direct deposit at your first job, divert a set amount straight into your savings.  If you never “have” it, you’ll never miss it. 
  • Plan to retire.  Want to work until you’re 70?  If not, put at least 10% of your salary into your company’s 401(k) or comparable plan.  If your employer doesn’t have one, set up a Roth IRA.
  • Credit card debt will be the death of you.  Pay off your credit card every month.  No matter what.

The Practical

  • Buy machine washable clothes.  I’ll never forget my first really big dry-cleaning bill.  I had to pay $90 to get my clothes out of hock and literally cried because it was such a big (and unplanned) chunk of my entry-level income. 
  • Change your oil.  No matter what fancy-pants synthetic oil they put in it.  Even if they tell you it only has to be changed every 7,500 miles.  Change it every 3,000 miles.  It will do wonders for the life of your engine.
  • Don’t go to the dealer.  Car dealerships pad their service tabs with unnecessary services.  Find an independent service facility that specializes in your brand of car. 
  • Exercise.  You may not like it, but your metabolism is slowing down.  Establish a regular exercise routine now and maintain it.

The Personal

  • Meet people.  Rooming with a friend from college?  Great.  But meet new people in the “grown up” world.  Have lunch with a coworker.  Go to church.  Join the Junior League.  Surround yourself with new people and make friends who give you room to grow beyond your college self.
  • Harness your strengths.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  Rather than spending a lot of time trying to be something you’re not, work on playing to your strengths and working around your weaknesses. 
  • Do things alone.  If you have the courage to do it, outings alone can be one of the most freeing experiences you’ll have.  Go to a movie alone.  Go out to eat.  Sit at the bar and chat up a neighbor or bury your head in a book.  Besides being liberating, it’s a valuable life skill. 
  • Get regular checkups.  You are young and you think you’re invincible.  But regular check-ups, teeth cleanings, and (if applicable) gynecological exams are crucial to long-term health.

The Professional

  • Don’t apologize for not knowing.  More than any other time in your life as a young professional it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” Take advantage of your neophyte status and use it to ask countless questions and learn as much as you can.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch gears.  You don’t have it all figured out just because you donned a mortar board.  If your first foray into the working world doesn’t turn out to be a fit, remember that your career ship hasn’t sailed.  Your entire adulthood is in front of you.  Find something you love!

With that, I would politely sit down and let the kids go out to enjoy their lives.

6 Responses to “In My Infinite Wisdom”

  1. anne Says:

    Great advice! I admit…some of these I follow, but didn’t for a long time and learned my lesson:) This is WAY better than the weird graduation speech I had in high school where the guy talked about doughnut holes.

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    *Cringing in guilt because I totally need to change my oil…*

    Very sage advice, I must say.

  3. Eva @ Eva Evolving Says:

    Yes, this is such great advice! Applicable to most anyone, relating to different areas of life. And so simple! My #1 advice to new grads is to start saving. No matter if it’s $20 a month. Just do it and make it a habit. Of course, later there may be things like employer-sponsored 401k (which of course you should do) and a Roth IRA and CDs… these complicate things, but don’t worry – you’ll learn as you go. For now, just keep it simple.

    I realize this advice to save is so boring, so un-sexy to a new grad. But some of the best advice really is! Like seeing the doctor, getting insurance, and changing your oil.

  4. Jane Says:

    I love this. Direct. Straight forward. To the point. And so very, very practical! And I loved when you said, “Work on playing to your strengths and working around your weaknesses.” So very, very true! (Thanks for playing along!)

  5. And The Winner Is…… « Theycallmejane's Blog Says:

    [...] Gale at Ten Dollar Thoughts - Straight shootin’ advice that is so very practical and real. I love her line:  “Work on playing to your strengths and working around your weaknesses.” [...]

  6. faemom Says:

    This was an amazing speech. And I could use (and be reminded of) this advice. Actually I think I need to print it.