3 Tips I Wish I Knew As a 22 Year-Old Graduate

In Business, Life, Reflection by Joe Sweeney

It has been over 30 years since I sat in a classroom and daydreamed about the goals and aspirations I had for my future. After spending 4 years obtaining an undergraduate degree and a few more years working toward my graduate degree, I, like many other students thought I had all the right tools to take on the next phase of my life, primed for all that was to come.

At 22 years old, I thought I had all the answers, and those that I didn’t have – I was deeply searching for. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it isn’t always about having the right answers, but rather, about the ability to ask good questions. One question that you have probably heard again and again over the last few years is, “What do you want to do when you graduate?” One piece of advice that I can give is to stop thinking in terms of your career.

I have always known what I wanted to be:

A good father. A good husband. A good brother and a good son. A loyal and supportive friend and someone who likes to give back to my community. Someone who is not afraid to show my passions and weaknesses and vulnerabilities to others. A guy who loves helping others by coaching and mentoring. And a guy who believes that life is a place we go to give and not get.

So when someone asks you the question, “What do you want to be when you graduate?” THESE KINDS of answers are much more important than those such as an engineer, a business owner, lawyer, etc. You see, the relationships we build, the commitments we make, the values we live by – these are the things that determine what kind of people we are. And if you don’t do a good job determining what type of person you are, it won’t matter what kind of job you have.

I recently had the opportunity to reflect back and answer another important question, “What do you wish someone had told you when you were 22 and starting your career?” Along with 22 authors and leaders representing Wiley Publishing, we each shared personal tips that new graduates can learn from and put into place as they embark on this transitional adventure of their lives. My three tips include:

1. Establish wingman or a personal board of directors and find a mentor or two.

I’ve always envied top executives at large companies. When they get stuck on an issue, they can simply pick up the phone and call their board of directors for clarity and advice. However, there aren’t a lot of CEO’s in this country with big boards of directors. Most of us are small business people. We make up the majority of companies in America and we don’t have the luxury of a formal board. We don’t have a built-in place to go for that clarity and advice.

That’s why we need to create our own personal board of directors to act as a sounding board and offer us an outside perspective to the problems and issues we confront.

How do you acquire a personal board of directors? I like to think of it as a collection of “wingmen” (or wingwomen). The term “wingman” is military in origin. According to the U.S. Air Force, a pair of fighter jets always flies in formation with a lead aircraft while the other jet flies just off the right wing and slightly behind the lead pilot. This second pilot is called the “wingman” and is given the charge to watch the lead pilot’s back.

A wingman is someone who knows and likes you – someone you can trust to keep your conversations confidential. A wingman will pick you up when you fall down and get in the foxhole with you when times are tough. A wingman will tell you to keep your head down until the offensive fusillade is over and encourage you to leap into the unknown when the time is right.

2. Take time first thing every morning to get quiet.

To get quiet, you could spend an unplugged weekend in total silence at a monastery, but that isn’t realistic for most. Instead, carve out small windows of time to contemplate and reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to be. This time can also serve as a reset, where you close the books on details that have been weighing on you and start anew. Next, think about these questions, knowing that your answers may change over time:

  1. Who are you? What defines you?
  2. What is happening inside you?
  3. What drives you?
  4. What are your passions?
  5. What are some things you can do today to get clear?

These five questions can help you be more present and aware of what direction your life is taking.

3. Establish a system of solid rituals and habits. 

Your habits are great predictors of what your life will become because what you do and how you act speak volumes—much more than words.

We all have habits — mannerisms and idiosyncrasies that define what we do and who we are. The habits we choose to nurture are very important because, as Gandhi so eloquently said, they are a reflection of our beliefs, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.

If you want to be in a different place from where you are today in a year, look at and figure out how to change your habits in areas such as your health, your attitude, and your mind. It helps to start by asking the right questions:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to go?
  • Where do I want to be one year from now? Five years from now?
  • What things do I need to change from where I am right now to get where I want to go?

Our habits affect the direction we take and help create clarity in our lives. Whereas bad habits can limit us, good habits set us free because they establish routine, develop a sense of order, and produce efficiency. If you really want to change your life, you start by changing your habits.

To read all of the #IfIWere22 responses, view the slideshare below.