Woman walking up stairs to receive her degree
Megan Q Daniels/Getty Images/First Light

They should breathe before jumping in.

By Patrick Mullane
May 25, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What advice do you have for college graduates entering the workforce?” is written by Patrick Mullane, executive director of HBX, Harvard Business School’s digital education initiative.

If you are graduating this month or next from a higher education institution, let me congratulate you. Generally speaking, you have increased the odds that your economic prosperity and well-being will be enhanced by this accomplishment.

I am sure you are tired of hearing old goats offer their advice through the written word or lofty commencement addresses, but I’d like to share my thoughts while you have a chance to breathe before entering that next period of your life: the employed adult phase.

Those who came before you know something too

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of articles in which corporate leaders bemoan the expectations and demands of millennials. I think that many such criticisms of your generation are unfair. That said, I’ve read an equal number of articles about how corporations need to change to accommodate you.

As with most things in life, the truth is in the middle. There is little doubt that you will have the opportunity to shape the way work is conducted. But don’t forget that there are literally centuries of acquired knowledge about how to do things that came well before you were even born. Don’t throw all of those ideas out. Pick the best of your world and the “old” one.

Things won’t go according to plan

This is one I’m sure you’ve heard. But it bears repeating: You are not completely in charge of your own destiny. Finding a passion you didn’t expect, falling in love, getting sick or injured, being fired, losing a loved one, working for a horrible boss—all of these things and hundreds more can derail you. Plan for that.

I’m not arguing that you should expect the worst. But do train yourself to be nimble and comfortable with the idea that where you end up is likely not to be where you originally planned. Expect this in both your work and personal life. Jobs and companies come and go, so dive into what you are paid to do but think about how you would use your skills in another context.

Don’t worship money

I love money as much as the next person. I’d rather have more of it than less of it and you should negotiate like hell to get the best deal for yourself when getting that first “real” job. But never forget that one day you won’t be there. That’s so hard to keep in mind while you are still young. But it’s a truth that’s inescapable.

Experiences are much more important to humans than goods. So when you do get money, save for retirement and take care of your family. But also use some of it to travel with those you love, or skydive, or hike Mount Everest, or learn to fly. When you are taking your last breath, you won’t be saying to those gathered around you, “Remember that time I got a bonus and I bought 200 shares of Google?” You’re much more likely to say, “Remember the time we watched the sunrise from Haleakala on Maui?”

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