Professorial Advice to My Students: RELAX

Professorial Advice to My Students: RELAX

At my university it is that time of year again when my students are worried about finals, picking classes for next year, and some of them are graduating. To those that are graduating or will graduate it is bittersweet. I have watched these young people for 4, 5, or even 6 years grow and become wonderful young adults. I have grown quite close to some of them and some of them I even socialize with outside of the classroom, which only happens when/if they graduate.

However, more and more of my students as they approach graduation or even before that, particularly during their freshman year, are worried about that first job or what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. In fact, a lot of them are tied up in knots thinking about it. They are 18 and have to have their lives planned out. When we talk about this I can see the fear in their eyes. They don’t know what to do. They don’t want to disappoint their parents, themselves, etc.

My advice to them and others who advise students, even seniors, is I tell them to RELAX. Stop worrying about it.

Now that might seem counterintuitive or even blasphemous. How can a college professor, their adviser, tell them not to worry about their immediate lives after college? My answer is I try to take the long view of what they are facing, which most of them don’t. While I have only lived for 42 years on this planet I do try to put everything into context. I hate it when people talk about how this is the worst time ever like in politics or President Obama or President Bush were the worst presidents ever? Really, they were worse than James Buchanan? Andrew Johnson? Richard Nixon? Really? Do we never think about the long-view?

So this is what I try to tell a lot of my students.

First, when I advise my freshmen and they are worried about a major and what to choose I tell them to relax a bit. They shouldn’t know what they want to do at 18. No one should. If you are doing the same thing at 22 you did at 42 then either you are genius at planning your life or something else has happened. If you have everything planned out and where you want to go I suggest you change your plans because they will change for you. I certainly didn’t think I was going to be where I am today at 22 both good and bad.

Second, I tell my students to enjoy their college experience. That doesn’t mean go deep into debt, which I discourage completely. However, there are three things I do think makes a college experience. 1) Getting involved on campus and I don’t care what that means (e.g. Greek Life, the cheese club–yes we have one of those, intramural sports, whatever); 2) Internships–all students should leave college with at least one internship, even if it is at their part-time job try to get an internship; 3) Get the hell out of the state they live in. For most that means study abroad or a study tour or a student exchange with another university or maybe even an internship away from home (e.g. the Disney Internship program). However, get the hell out of where you are. People are too provincial. They need to expand their horizons. And what better time to do that when you in college.

Third, I tell my students don’t worry about not having a job right away when you get out of college. Most universities, when they put out statistics about how many students are employed or gone to graduate school, wait about six months. In other words, it might take you six months to a year to find that first professional gig. That is ok. Don’t worry about it.

Fourth, sometimes you just have to start somewhere. In other words, there is no such thing as the perfect job. Every job has quirks to it. I love what I do, but there are times when I certainly don’t like it. Along with that, their first job won’t be their last. Most of my students will work for the next 40 to 50 years of their lives. That is a long time to stay with one job and one company. My dad did that, but that is a rarity.

Fifth, be flexible. Most career projections have millennials and future generations changing careers, not jobs, careers at least 5-6 times in their lifetime. Mrs. ROB is on career 4 or 5, depending on how you ask her. However, she has always succeeded and always used her degree. I am on career #2 and maybe I will have a third one someday. I am lucky that I have found what I love to do, but that doesn’t mean I might not change.

Sixth, sometimes you might not love your job and that is ok. As I talk to students and people more and more I am convinced that there are just a good chunk, if not most of the population, that will never LOVE their careers or work. Recent surveys have stated that only about 70% or less actually like their job. For a lot of us, work is a means to an end. Money is a means to an end. Some people just want to work to live, not live to work. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to personal finance blogs so much. So many of the people I read are done with the rat race. They are done with answering to someone else. That doesn’t mean they stop living and/or working, but they have figured out that time is the most important commodity and they are going to grab onto it with both hands and go for it. I admire that. I think there is tremendous beauty in that. For me, I love my work so it goes hand in hand. Mrs. ROB might even say that I live to work, which I hope to change. I actually want more balance in my life.

Finally, I tell my students that it is ok to embrace the ambiguity. They are so worried about having the perfect job, house, car, etc. And they can’t live their lives like that. There is no such thing as perfect house, car, job, etc. There will always be problems. Welcome to life. You can’t control it. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes you travel down a path and you don’t know where to go. Ambiguity and uncertainty suck, but that is part of going through life. They will figure it out. They are smart, intelligent, bright human beings who will do great things in their lives, but it won’t be sunshine and roses a lot of the time. Ambiguity is ok. Just let it happen.

What do you think of my advice? If I was 18 or 22 I am not sure I would listen to it. However, being 20 years their senior I know that what I am saying is pretty sound. Anything you would add?

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