Dear graduating class of 2013: Do what you know, don’t do what you love, and stop comparing yourself to other people.
That’s the latest career advice for college grads this month as they toss mortar boards into the air to celebrate their acceptance of freshly minted diplomas.
To be sure, commencement addresses have become an annual rite, with the nation’s movers and shakers delivering nuggets of wisdom crafted to inspire ambitious young grads as they step into the work world.
What is arguably the greatest commencement speech ever, commonly known as the “Wear Sunscreen” speech, was thought to be delivered by writer Kurt Vonnegut back in 1997. But the “speech” was in fact never delivered at all because it was actually a newspaper essay, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich.
Among other bits of advice, Schmich urged graduates to wear sunscreen, keep old love letters and “do one thing every day that scares you.”
Over a decade before the financial crisis of 2008, Schmich also had the luxury of advising graduates not to worry about the future. “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life,” she wrote, “The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”
Today, in this fearful climate of lost U.S. jobs and scarce resources, much of the advice being meted out to young graduates is more doom-laden, practical and business-focused. In the following collection of current advice for college grads, the pundits talk a lot about going beyond hard work to bring value to the table. Read on for the best career advice from Thomas L. Friedman, the Harvard Business Review and more.
(Read ‘What’s a 529 Plan?’ Americans Ask at AdvisorOne.)
1) Do What You Know
Writing “How to Get a Job” for The New York Times on May 28, op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman received 400-and-counting angry online comments when he suggested that there has been a shift in the education-to-work model in America that goes beyond the huge drop in demand that drove unemployment to 9% during the recession.
“It is best summed up by the mantra from the Harvard education expert Tony Wagner that the world doesn’t care anymore what you know; all it cares ‘is what you can do with what you know,’” Friedman writes. “And since jobs are evolving so quickly, with so many new tools, a bachelor’s degree is no longer considered an adequate proxy by employers for your ability to do a particular job—and, therefore, be hired. So, more employers are designing their own tests to measure applicants’ skills. And they increasingly don’t care how those skills were acquired: home schooling, an online university, a massive open online course, or Yale. They just want to know one thing: Can you add value?”
The Winning Progressive blog objected to Friedman’s advice in the Times’ comments section, saying: “I find it quite amusing that Mr. Friedman tries to minimize the importance of an Ivy League education in the same paragraph in which he finds it important to mention that the ‘education expert’ he is quoting is a ‘Harvard education expert.’ While perhaps a small point, it demonstrates the fallacy of the claim that it increasingly does not matter if your skills come from ‘home schooling, an online university, a massive open online course, or Yale.’”
2) Don’t Do What You Love
“Sure, there are many people doing what they genuinely love. But how many of us love just one thing?” writes Carl McCoy, an English language instructor at the Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture in Boston, in Dear Grads, Don’t ‘Do What You Love‘ in the May 28 Wall Street Journal.
“It’s romantic to imagine that each person is destined for a particular career path, one capable of being discovered with sufficient soul-searching,” McCoy says. “But most people have multifaceted interests and abilities and could probably be successful and happy in several fields.”
McCoy, a writer himself, acknowledges that there are people who love things that will never pay very well. But then he makes his point: “As someone who has tried living as a starving artist, I can attest that there’s nothing romantic or noble about being impoverished in pursuit of doing what you love. When you’re working two or three jobs, and you can’t pay your bills, it doesn’t matter how much you love any of them. You just get worn out.”
Like Friedman’s column in The New York Times, McCoy’s thoughts won him hundreds of comments, including a man who quotes from H.L. Mencken’s 1922 essay “On Being an American”: