Quint's Column: 21 insights for new grads (and all business leaders)

College Graduate
It’s the time of year when people like to share their reflections and insights with new grads. While no one has all the answers, if we’ve lived awhile—and paid attention—we’ve learned some truths about what works and what doesn’t. I’m no exception. I have made my share of mistakes (I still make some!) and learned from them. I’ve also met a lot of smart people over the years and learned from them as well. Now I’d like to share some of these learnings.
 
These insights also apply to business owners, leaders, and employees at all levels. The majority of new grads will enter the workforce, and most will lead others in some capacity (official or unofficial). So I hope that it’s not just young people who find something helpful here, but readers of every age. What serves us well at 21 serves us well through retirement and beyond. It’s never too early or too late to become a better leader and a better person.
 
That said, here are some of the most powerful truths about work and life that I’ve learned so far:
 
Do what you are passionate about. There is no perfect job. There will be speed bumps, sharp turns, and, at times, a smooth, flat road. If you’re passionate about your work, you will make it through the tough times. Choose the work you want to do, not what others push you to do.
 
Have a personal mission, vision, and values statement. Think it through and write it down. This is not easy, but it’s worth it. This will become your blueprint for making hard decisions. It will keep you from drifting through life and settling for less than you truly want and need.
 
Decide, right now, to be a lifelong learner. This is a must for staying viable in today’s business environment. Lifelong learners are more creative, better able to empathize with others, and more likely to stay sharp and youthful. Learn something new every day. Never stop.
 
Be self-aware and coachable. These are the two most important qualities a leader can have. Self-awareness means knowing what you’re good at and what you aren’t. Coachability means you’re open to (and even grateful for) the feedback that makes you better. They are connected, and each one leads to the other. (Click here for an earlier column on this subject.)
 
Manage your ego. Strive to act with humility. This doesn’t mean being meek or submissive. It means seeing ourselves objectively—knowing our strengths and our weaknesses. An inflated ego is the enemy of lifelong learning. It can lead us and others down the wrong path. Never assume you’re the smartest person in the room. You probably aren’t.
 
Be interested, not interesting. It’s natural to want to share our knowledge and tell our story when we meet someone new. Resist the urge. When we practice the art of being interested in the other person, we form more authentic connections. People like and trust us more.
 
Be curious. If you don’t know something, ask. Dig deeper into subjects that interest you. Make a practice of asking great questions. It will help you build strong relationships, and you’ll be amazed by how fascinating most people really are.
 
Keep an optimistic spirit. It attracts the right people and it just feels better. We all need a positive mindset to get through the curve balls life throws at us with grace and resilience.
 
Keep your standards for yourself higher than what others expect from you. By this I mean character traits like integrity, honesty, kindness, loyalty, fairness, etc. Don’t let yourself down. What you think of yourself matters more than what others think of you.
 
Grit matters. Do hard things. Do them often. There’s no other way to develop grit. Where others give up (and many will), keep going until you finish the job or solve the problem. 
 
Know that the best way to succeed is by helping others succeed. Instead of asking what someone can do to help you, ask what you can do to help them.
 
Choose your inner circle wisely. Entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker Jim Rohn says you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Be aware of the values and habits of those who make up your inner circle. You will almost certainly be influenced by them.
 
Develop and nurture real relationships. Social media can be helpful for some things, but make sure you are spending real time with people and connecting. Strong relationships are how business gets done (and life gets lived), so put in the face time.
 
Get a great mentor. If you’re hired by a company that has a formal mentoring program, take advantage of it. If not, try volunteering with organizations that attract high-level people. Go in with no expectations, but keep your eyes and ears open. You never know who you’ll meet. Later in your career, pay it forward by being a great mentor yourself.
 
Learn to recognize opportunities. These usually aren’t big-picture, game-changing events. They’re often small, everyday chances to make something better. Be watchful. Don’t let them slip by. Here’s a hint: They’re often disguised as problems and a whole lot of hard work.
 
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. This mindset keeps you from getting things done. I have found most of the time 80 percent is good enough. When you strive for perfection, you are more likely to lose momentum and stall out.
 
Have a good working knowledge of change management. Study and understand the stages of the change process and the psychology associated with it. The world we live in now requires it. Change is the one constant and tends to get way too little attention.
 
Be okay with being unsettled (and be willing to unsettle others). Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.” This is one of my favorite quotes. When you’re willing to be unsettled, it means you are able to move through discomfort. Only when we embrace discomfort can we grow and get ahead.
 
Get comfortable with failure. It can be the quickest path to success. If we don’t risk failure, we can never achieve anything. Also, we need to be okay with the fact that everything doesn’t work out. Know when to throw in the towel.
 
Invest in your community. Invest your time, or your money, or whatever skills you have to make where you live a better place. Working hard to lift up Pensacola and my fellow citizens has been one of my greatest joys in life.
 
Make a gratitude list. Look at it every day. Add to it often. Grateful people are happy people. By making the daily decision to focus on what is going right in our lives, we spend less time dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. We live in the present, which is where life happens, and where we can make deliberate choices to shape our world for the better. 
 
Life is a gift and a constant adventure. My greatest wish for new grads—and all of us—is that you’ll strive to always remember this truth. Let it inspire you to make the best you can of each day. In the process, you’ll be creating a better workplace, a better home, a better community, and a better world for everyone.
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